As believers, we are often reminded of the exhortation in Joshua 1: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” These verses — taken from Joshua 6:1-9 — are often especially useful to those of us leading in churches, as we quietly steward the church amidst the cultural forces of our time and place in history, trying to be “strong and courageous.”
Ironically, our strength is not found in our independence — our ability to “go it alone” — but in our dependence upon God, and our interdependence with the community of faith. The following are pieces of wisdom I believe will help Jesus-followers who are responsible for anything — a home, a school, a church or a family — learn what it means to faithfully serve over the long-haul.
Put God first. Although our strategies are good, they are no substitute for listening for the prompts of the Holy Spirit. When your priorities are in conflict with God’s priorities, choose to act on God’s priorities.
Admit you don’t know it all (and be a lifelong learner). In some cultures and churches, leaders can feel they are expected to know everything. But none of us know everything! If we see this as an opportunity — not a threat — we can embrace new ways of doing things, and shed old ways of doing things that might not serve us in a quickly-changing world.
Being a lifelong learner means that no matter what age or stage of life you are in, you are always willing to join the mission of the God of new things. Rather than being tied to past ways or practices, you embrace the next faithful thing God is stirring. After all, Joshua could not fight as Moses did; he had to enter into a new territory.
Quiet your heart and mind. Organize your life and time so that you have a close relationship with Christ and discern the reality of Isaiah 43:19; God is doing a new thing, but we often cannot perceive it. Your role is temporary but your place in the kingdom of God is permanent and needs to be nurtured. There is no point if everybody knows your name or ministry but God does not.
Cultivate a “nevertheless” mentality. Sometimes God uses us through our own pain. When you face tragedy, loss or personal crisis, take the time you need to grieve. God can still use you amid that kind of pain and those kinds of losses.
Know your limits/temptations. My temptation is chocolate — too much can lead to diabetes or other unpleasant consequences. I have to act to ensure that my habit of eating sweets doesn’t overcome me or become a method of coping with stress in an unhealthy way. Be aware of your needs and name them before God. Have accountability partners you trust and respect, and (perhaps more importantly) that you will listen to and act on their advice.
Be a safe space and never abuse the trust God and others have placed in you. You will receive information that is uncomfortable to hear about yourself or other leaders. Be prepared to confront yourself and others with things that are uncomfortable and true.
Find a successor. There is no success without a successor. Christ poured into his disciples and then moved on. As Dr. Wayne Schmidt says, “We are only keeping the seat warm for someone else.” Wherever you lead, work to find people in the next generation of leadership and make it easy for them to take the mantle of service when the time comes (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). And as you multiply your leadership, multiply people who are truly themselves. Multiplication does not mean making more of you, but helping others become themselves in Christ’s image, and releasing them to do the same.
No matter what phase of career we are in, we are invited to be bold and courageous in our honesty about the joys and losses that every transition will bring our way. When we think about the end of our careers, especially, we have to do the hard work of embracing endings.
Pete Scazzero says, “Embracing endings in order to receive new beginnings is one of the fundamental tasks of the spiritual life and this is especially true for Christian leaders. Not every problem can or should be solved or overcome; some things just need to be allowed to die.” This principle — found just as powerfully in Ecclesiastes 3:1 — is a powerful remind to each of us.
As I am now in the process of my own transition of handing over to the next generation, my role is to endeavor to make it easy for the next leader, even as I stay honest about the fact that I will miss the people that have been a significant part of my life. My preparation for this next season — and my belief in God’s faithfulness as the One who stewards the church — helps me know I can trust God as I take my next step.
Rev. Ruth Lowe is a member of The Wesleyan Church Europe Ministerial Development Team.
*Adapted by Ethan Linder from Rev. Ruth Lowe’s graduation speech to KFXLI (Kingdom Force Executive Leadership Institute) in May 2022.
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