It’s not easy to give up something you love.
In 1993, along with a group of friends and under the direction of World Missions, we re-founded what is now known as Seminario Ministerial Sudamericano (South American Ministerial Seminary), SEMISUD, in the city of Quito, Ecuador. The optimism, energy and vision we had for the project brought us to submit ourselves to the work ahead with a level of contagious and sacrificing commitment.
Even though I felt so much love for this community of faith and ministry which had built up over fourteen years of life investment in that country, the question arose in my mind: “When is the opportune moment to break away from something you love?” I knew it was important not to overstay my welcome to the point of impeding the natural process of development; by staying too long I could end up negatively impacting the program.
The transition of office is a Biblical concept. In the sacred Scriptures we find clear examples of the difficult but necessary process of the succession of leadership. One of Moses’ greatest achievements was preparing Joshua as his successor; being obedient to God and giving Joshua the position in the right time. Numbers 27:12-23 tells of a moment when Moses starts to break away from his unprecedented leadership, “Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.” (Num. 27: 22-23)
On the other hand, Joshua did not train up a successor, which initiated a long period of uncertainty and chaos. The book of Judges ends by saying, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)
One of the most striking accounts of failure to transition leadership happens in the narrative of the kingdom of Saul. He clearly experienced great difficulty at the idea of considering a successor. Despite being the star of his time, the first mogul, the most respected man in the kingdom, God’s chosen one and Israel’s blessing, he felt threatened by David. Saul was the king and young David had killed the giant for him. It didn’t matter, however, how much David admired and respected him, nothing could alter the great purpose of God.
Saul wasn’t all bad; he simply couldn’t accept change. His great tragedy is shared by millions of men and women today: the inability to say goodbye to the strength that is leaving them! We shouldn’t allow pride to rob us of life and strength especially when we have a popular and promising young man or woman under our charge. We must revel in the time in our life when God says, “Release it” and then give it all to him!
The renowned author Lyle Schaller is clear in highlighting that there are two frequent mistakes that are made in the process of transition: the first is that, more often than not, the leadership tends to stay in a position longer than necessary; the second is that the leaders who do stay in their positions longer than necessary tend to cause more damage than those who do not stay long enough.
It was hard to leave being the director of SEMISUD and the pastor of Capilla del Valle Church in Quito, Ecuador, but if we hadn’t have left, it would have cost the development and growth of an emerging leadership that today is taking these two great institutions to new levels of mission. They are doing great without us. Does that make us feel insecure? Never! Great leaders work so hard they work themselves out of a job.
The apostle Paul spent more time with the Christians at the church of Ephesus than with any other group, but eventually he had to leave them. Why? Because there was work to do elsewhere. It was a good thing for Paul to go even though it was painful. (Acts 20:36-38)
Finishing well is also part of success. Many have gained experience in the beginnings, but there is still much to learn when it comes to ending the process. It is necessary to dedicate time and energy in the planning of the end. Obeying God to start a mission entrusted to us by Him is a clear sign of a good discipleship. But also we must develop obedience when it is necessary to stop doing what we have always done and to plan with precision the end of our part in the process so that we can finish well.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. ~2 Timothy 4:7