The Importance of Passing the Baton Well

Photo credit: Passing the baton in a relay race is the most critical part of the race. It happens three times, and each pass impacts the race. When it's done in a smooth, swift manner, precious seconds are gained. When the transition is rough, it slows the pace of both runners and valuable time is lost. If the baton is dropped, the whole relay team loses.

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is paramount for a relay race. Sadly, there have been some horrendous baton mistakes in recent Olympic races. Can you imagine working for years to get to the Olympics, only to watch your hopes of a medal vanish in seconds? It happens.

The passing of a baton is a good illustration for a transition of leadership. When it's done well, the benefits are immense. When it's done poorly, the losses are incalculable.

The transfer process

Reading through 2 Chronicles, in the midst of genealogies and royal histories, the Lord opened up some thoughts for me about transition of leadership.

[bctt tweet="When transition of leadership is done well, the benefits are immense"]

The transition of power from King Solomon to his son Rehoboam is a clear example of how not to do leadership transition. Let's be honest, for anyone who has gone through a transition of leadership in any field, it can be tricky and difficult for everyone concerned.

When it comes to spiritual leadership, especially pastoral leadership, transition is difficult, and costly when not done well. The fallout of a failed or troubled transition affects the people in the church and community, as well as, the immediate leadership involved—pastors, elders, the board, and ministry leaders.

[bctt tweet="The fallout of a failed transition of leadership affects many, many people"]

A lack of wisdom

Photo Credit: tableatny, Flickr

This is the first in a three-part series on transition of leadership. This post will look at the immediate context of a young leader stepping into the very large shoes of a bigger-than-life leader, namely, King Solomon. The text is 2 Chronicles 10:1-19.

[bctt tweet="When leadership transition is done poorly, the losses are incalculable"]

After King Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam finds the people of Israel coming with a request. They express how difficult it was for them living under the strong-handed leadership of his father, and the cost it required. They request a lighter burden to bear in exchange for loyalty and continued service.

Rehoboam seeks the counsel of his father's advisors who suggest he grant the people's request and the people will be faithful and loyal as his servants.

But Rehoboam is not satisfied with their counsel, so he seeks out his own advisors—those who've grown up with him, his peers in experience and age. Their counsel is to be even more harsh than his father had been. So, when the people return for the king's response, they are met with a harsh rebuke.

The people responded with rebellion! When the king refused to listen to them, they abandoned him, or as others have said, they voted with their feet.

The right person

Why did this happen? Many answers could apply, but here are a couple of observations.

Rehoboam was no King Solomon. He didn't have the stature, wisdom, nor leadership gifts of his father Solomon. Four decades of full-time ministry taught my wife and I that one person cannot be replaced with just anyone. There is no magical transfer of leadership gifts and capacity.

In fact, we found that two or three people were needed to take the place of another who served in a major role for a significant time. Primary leadership (as a director, pastor, etc.) is certainly not just a hole to be filled. It requires more than just a warm body. It requires the right person. Wisdom and discernment are needed, as well as clear guidance from God.

[bctt tweet="There is no magical transfer of leadership gifts and capacity"]

The right time and the right way

Rehoboam refused to really listen to the people and consider the implications of what they were saying. A common problem for many young leaders is to try to bring change too quickly. Another problem is trying to lead with the same style of leadership as someone else. Neither is wise.

[bctt tweet="Trying to lead with someone else's style of leadership is unwise"]

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When I prepared to turn over the church I planted in the late seventies, to join another ministry overseas, I had a simple prayer request. I asked the Lord for a man who had senior pastoral experience to come take the church. I saw enough failed and troubled church transitions to know the consequences of inexperience.

I wanted to have a clean hand-off of the baton of leadership. Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayer, and the church saw no downturn in giving or attendance, and the church experienced strong growth within months of the final transition.

How can it be done well?

In the next installment, I'll ask some specific questions related to transition of leadership. General principles can be gained through examples in the Bible, but specifics for each transition need more consideration, and plenty of prayer.

In the meantime, to get started in that direction—

What is God showing you through this text (2 Chronicles 10:1-19) about leadership in general?

What experience do you have witnessing or participating in a transition of leadership (at any level)?