I have watched several leadership transitions and been part of a few in my life. No matter how great the leaders are or how smoothly the transition is handled it is always a season of change. And change creates discontinuity, which can lead to anxiety, doubt and fear. The manner in which the current leader passes the baton can certainly help make the difference. I am reminded of Joshua 24 where we find the last words of Joshua as he passes the torch of leadership. In these verses Joshua clearly does three things in communicating with the people of God. There are principles here for any departing leader.
Remind them of God’s faithfulness through history
In verses 1-13 Joshua reminds the Israelites of God’s faithful leading down every path. He begins with the choosing of Abraham, through their redemption out of slavery to Egypt, and closes this section with a reminder about their entrance and settlement of the promised land. What is critical to note is how Joshua points the people solely to God, not himself as God’s chosen leader. It’s easy as the departing leader to recount your own accomplishments, but doesn’t that just emphasize what people are losing? Leaders change but God remains. Even though God uniquely uses us as His agents of change let’s be careful to point followers to the real source of growth and change. Helping followers see the faithfulness of God through history can be a great source of comfort and hope in times of change.
Remind them to follow God and not person
In verses 14-18 Joshua strongly charges the people to covenant commitment to Yahweh. He marks this charge with his own renewed commitment and he calls on them for a personal response. Joshua realizes that there is still much to be accomplished and that any hint of idolatry will destroy the work and the benefits up to this point. What will carry these people through is not another really good human leader, but resolute commitment and surrender to the God of the universe who has brought them thus far. As leaders we must not do less. Part of our final words must be a clear charge to continue to follow hard after Christ, not the next human leader.
Remind them of the consequences of following anything or anyone other than God
In verses 19-28 Joshua sounds a clear warning to the people about the consequences of covenant disobedience. He reminds them of their weakness as a people and establishes a symbolic witness as to their stated commitment to remain faithful. Sometimes we shy away as leaders from saying difficult words. But there is an appropriateness to a final warning, even as one leaves, lest any follower follows the next leader more than God Himself. We also must call people to true faith in Christ for the future, lest they rely on something or someone else.
What thoughts would you offer?