Here are 5 ways a true servant-leader begins and completes leadership transition. These are qualities and roles of leadership seen in Jesus, as He washes the disciples feet the night before His death on the cross (John 13:1-17).
We see how His example of confident yet humble leadership—servant leadership—prepares and makes the way for leadership transition. This is a follow up to a 2-part post on 8 Qualities of Servant Leadership—Part 1 / Part 2.
Some of these things I learned along the way in my own experiences with ministry transition but they became more clear when I stumbled upon them here in John 13. I’m sure more can be gleaned from Chapters 13 through 17 of John but this is a good start.
5 Ways of leadership transition—Jesus Style
Know the Way (verses 1, 3)
The Lord was confident in who He was as God’s Son. He knew where He came from and where He was going. He knew the way His disciples needed to go as leaders and He showed this by loving them to the very end in the fullest way.
Our confidence is not to be in ourselves nor our abilities, but in the Lord and who we are in Him. Every leader within God’s kingdom needs to be confident in their identity as a child of God. If we’re not, why should anyone put their confidence in our leadership?
Knowing the way is basic for us. The first step is to deny ourselves—our selfish nature—die to our self, and follow Jesus (Mt 16:24). It’s a way of faith guided by the Holy Spirit. The people we lead need to be confident that we know the way.
Walk the Way (verses 4-5)
By far, the most common and important element of true servant-leadership is being a living example. This is the picture we have of Jesus as He washes the disciples’ feet. Everything Jesus did was a model for all those who follow Him.
He showed them how to lead by how He walked through daily life—the way Jesus carried Himself in various situations and public settings, and how He interacted with people other than His followers.
We also see the impact of Jesus’ life example as a young man among leaders in the temple (Luke 2:46-47)—an essential element of His leadership even in His youth.
This example of walking the way was carried on by leaders such as Paul and Peter to those whom they led and mentored. This is central to God’s design for leadership.
Show the Way (verses 6-13)
Showing the way is simply an extension of walking the way but moves beyond example to help others see or know the way. How? By teaching and training in a relational and interactive manner.
Here in John 13, we see this of Jesus in His dialogue with Peter and then His instruction to all the disciples. This is not classroom or pulpit teaching but a relational discipleship process. We see Jesus do this often throughout the gospels.
In the early days of the Jesus Movement, this type of discipleship was common. It’s not today. It requires time and commitment because it’s intentional and relational. I believe this lack of interactive discipleship has weakened the church.
It’s resisted or avoided in many ways because of the distractions and insistent demand for people’s attention in our culture. Healthy leadership transition requires interactive leadership that shows the way.
Make a way (verses 14-15)
An important part of leadership is training up new leaders. Again, it is not a program but an intentional and relational process of discipleship. Discipleship done well naturally produces leaders.
The responsibility of leaders and mentors is making way for others to step up and into leadership roles. It may require creating opportunities for others to move forward in leadership or allow for innovation and creativity beyond existing leadership roles.
This requires a willingness to look beyond ourselves as leaders. Jesus had this vision from the beginning. It was always in mind in everything He said and did. Jesus knew His time on earth was short and that raising up leaders for the new church was essential.
Regardless of our leadership role we are responsible to raise others up who can take our place. Pastors don’t always have this in mind but they ought to because of unforeseen situations and knowing when to step away in later life-stages.
Step away (verses 16-17)
One of the more difficult roles of leadership is knowing when it’s time to move on or get out of the way. It’ s usually a matter of timing—the Lord’s timing not ours. For pastors, this timing can be difficult to know but it’s important to prayerfully consider it.
How a leader steps away is also important. If it’s done too quickly, it’s likely to fail. If it’s done awkwardly or too slowly, it’s difficult on everyone involved. Planning on a transition—choosing to step away—may not be something we want to do, but it’s wise.
Again, we look to Jesus as our prime example, but other examples are Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas knew Saul (Paul) was gifted by God and called for the work in Antioch and beyond. Paul gave detailed exhortations and encouragements to both Timothy and Titus for handling and leading ministry transitions.
Stepping away requires self-denial on the leader’s part who steps away. The timing is difficult for those of us who are church-planters and founders of ministries. It’s a lot like letting go of our young adult children as they grow into their own lives.
5 Ways to transition leadership summarized—
So, for a healthy ministry transition—whether pastoral or ministries within or beyond the church—here are 5 ways Jesus demonstrated His transition of leadership.
Those we lead and mentor need to be confident we know the way.
Those who follow us need to see how we’ve walked the way if we expect them to lead as we do.
We need to provide an interactive and living example that shows the way for others under our leadership.
We need to look for and create opportunities for others to step into leadership as we make way for others to lead.
We need to be attentive to when and how to step away from our role as a leader or pastor.
If you’d like more information or guidance on pastoral transitions, please let us know. It’s what we do at Poimen Ministries!