Leadership: Transitions

Questions have been raised in some areas regarding the time for men in leadership in assemblies to hand over some responsibilities to younger men in order that crises may be avoided if older men are suddenly removed and the assembly finds itself with no established leadership. Many assemblies have suffered in such cases when unskilled men have striven to establish themselves as leaders without having had the proper credentials or training. We are given Scriptural guidance as we trace the public testimony of the people of God in the Scriptures.

Moses and Joshua

Joshua is first mentioned in Exodus 17. His development is well documented for us.

Moses recognized leadership qualities in Joshua and engaged him in choosing men to go and fight with Amalek. Then Joshua went out and overwhelmed Amalek while Moses interceded on top of the hill. Joshua is a beautiful picture of a young man being guided by an older man and successfully triumphing over the flesh.

Joshua was introduced to the interaction of Moses with God on the top of the mountain.

In Exodus 24:13 he was there when God gave the meticulous instructions regarding the tabernacle and thus learned the value and interest God has in His dwelling place.

In Numbers 11:26-29 Joshua learned how Moses valued the people of God. In Mark 9:39 the Lord Jesus taught the Apostle John a similar lesson.

In Numbers 14 Joshua spied out the land and earnestly pled to go in and possess it. Joshua fully appreciated the wonderful land that God had provided for His people as evidenced by the grapes of Eschol, the figs, and the pomegranates.

In Numbers 27:12-23, Moses was told to go up to Mount Abarim and view the land before he died. Moses immediately asked God to appoint a man to replace him so that the congregation of the Lord would not be as sheep with no shepherd. God told Moses to take Joshua, a man in whom was the Spirit, and lay his hand on him and commission him in the sight of all the people.

Joshua not only was a successful leader to replace Moses, but led Israel as long as he lived, and left Israel in a stable condition. “And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel” (Josh 24:31).

Moses was instrumental, with direction from the Lord, to recognize and train the man who would succeed him.

David and Solomon

After the death of Saul, there was a division in Israel as some followed Ishbosheth who was established by Abner; but Judah anointed David as king of Judah (2Sam 2:4). This is a common phenomenon where no clear transition has been indicated to the people of God before the sudden removal of a leader. Two factions emerged, but David had been anointed by Samuel under God’s direction to be king of Israel. An extremely interesting incident arose where the champions of both sides met by the pool of Gibeon. Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and play before us” (2Sam 2:13-14). It was intended to be a display of talent, possibly to determine which side would be victorious. But zeal outran discretion and many perished, among whom was Asahel, David’s nephew. David’s reign began in tumult, but Abner eventually came to acknowledge David, and David reigned over all Israel. Such lessons should have taught David to be sure that someone was prepared to succeed him; but unfortunately this was not so. Because of his sin, and by his own verdict on it, he would lose four sons (2Sam 12:6): the child born to Bathsheba, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah. The rebellions of Absalom and Adonijah occurred while David was still alive, but under the guidance of Nathan the prophet, David finally decreed that Solomon would succeed him as king of Israel (1Kings 1:30). Solomon initially began in humility and God gave him a wise and understanding heart (1Kings 3:12). But he was unprepared to lead Israel and leave it in a stable condition to his successor. Rehoboam’s reign is pitiful to read, as he rejected the counsel of the old men and received the counsel of the young men which rent the nation apart. This breakup would be permanent and beyond restoration.

The Lord Jesus Christ

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). “And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14). “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The Lord Jesus understood the importance of selecting men to carry on His work, and spent the whole night in prayer before doing so. The result of their interaction was that they became like Him, and this was apparent to even their enemies (Acts 4:13). It was the continuation of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). How wonderfully these twelve normal men, taught by the Lord Jesus, began to evangelize the known world.

The Lord Jesus saw to it that these men participated with Him in spreading the gospel, but He also spent a great deal of time in counseling them. When the time came for Him to leave, He counseled them intently (John 13-16), and, finally, commissioned them, promising His presence and the presence of the Holy Spirit to empower them (Matt 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8).

The Apostle Paul

Paul and Barnabas were accompanied by John Mark on their first missionary journey; but Mark left them in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). As a result, Paul refused to take him as he embarked on his second missionary journey and chose Silas who, along with Paul, was recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. Paul was eager to have the fellowship of the brethren in making that choice, and soon after coming to Derbe and Lystra, he chose another young disciple named Timothy (Acts 16:2-3). The brethren there discerned the spiritual gift in Timothy and identified themselves with him (1Tim 4:14). Paul’s exercise to have Timothy accompany him was to be able to instruct him, to teach him skills in conveying truth to others, and to teach him values as Paul himself received them from the Lord.

The time spent together assured the Apostle that Timothy had indeed learned to value the assembly and the things of God just as he himself did, and would truly substitute for him. This confidence was the result of time spent together profitably. When the time came for Paul to depart, he confidently charged Timothy to continue in the work of the Lord (2Tim 4:1-5). He also instructed Timothy to pass along the responsibilities to others (2Tim 2:2).

The Apostle Peter

The Apostle Peter left us a remarkable example of transition of leadership and care. He was called by the Lord Jesus to become a follower of Himself, and told that he would become a “fisher of men” (Matt 4:19). He was uniquely trained by the Lord Jesus and was given the special privilege of introducing not only Jews and Gentiles to the truths of the church, but also of coordinating the work among the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17). His mission was to see that all gospel work should be unified, and that no rival systems would be tolerated. His influence in this way is still seen in Acts 15 where he supported the work of the Apostle Paul (Acts 15: 7-9). It is obvious that Peter was fulfilling the mandate of the Lord Jesus to provide the necessary environment for the welfare of the flock of God.

Apart from the incident recorded by Paul in Galatians 2, Peter’s activities are not recorded in the Scriptures until his first epistle was written some 18 years later. From this we gather that he maintained a watchful eye over the saints who were displaced because of the persecution of the Jews, and continued to serve as a shepherd among God’s people, not in a public leadership role, but by becoming an example to them (1Peter 5:3). Peter thus followed the example of John the Baptist (John 3:30), “He must increase, I must decrease.” From these wonderful men we conclude that God may raise a man to publicly lead His people for a specific period of time, and then allow him to serve in a more private sphere while still performing a great service to the Lord and His people.

Practical suggestions

1. It is important for elders to identify younger men, guiding them in the principles of the Scriptures to value the house of God and the people of God.

2. Younger men should learn from their elders how to guard and feed the assembly by supporting them in their care for the assembly. This requires that younger men be introduced to situations as they arrive for consideration.

3. If the Lord Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before choosing His disciples, how much more should elder brethren spend much time in prayer before laying hands on those who should succeed them!

4. Moses, the Lord Jesus, Paul, and Peter all charged their successors with the solemn dignity and responsibility that was required of them.

5. Peter exhorted his fellow elders to remain humble, and not to be lords over God’s heritage, but to be examples to the flock. Leadership by example is God’s plan.

6. Most of the great exploits in the Bible were done by younger men. Responsibilities should be given, as opportunities arise, for younger men to facilitate such things.