Leadership transitions can happen for a wide variety of reasons. In some cases, they are expected and a long time in coming. In other cases, they are sudden. But in all cases, transitions in leadership are difficult and need to be engaged with intentionality.

Here are five different kinds of leadership transitions:

5 kinds of transitions

1. Retirement or Death

Many long-time ministry leaders will retire or die in their position. Moses provides us with a biblical example of this type of transition. He had grown old, sensed the end of his ministry was coming, and appointed Joshua to go forward in his stead. In the case of Moses, words of affirmation were spoken and he was laid to rest with his ancestors.  

2. Sending Off to a New Calling

Sometimes new fields of ministry open up, leaving opportunities for younger leaders to be sent out and commissioned. This happened in the Bible when Paul was sent out as the Apostle to the Gentiles. 

3. Going Down in Flames

Not everyone leaves ministry voluntarily. Judas left due to betrayal and a process had to be undertaken for someone to fill the position he left vacant.  

4. A Change in Ministry Needs

Sometimes there is a change in the needs of a ministry. This happened in Acts 6 when deacons were appointed to help with the distribution of food to the widows. 

5. Ministry Expansion

When a ministry grows, new generations of leaders need to be raised up to continue the work of making more disciples. We see this with Paul raising up Timothy and Timothy raising up others. 

See Transitions Through in a Healthy Way

In all cases, we need to engage in an intentional process to identify and develop new leaders. Consider including the following items in your process: 

Have a Plan

Succession planning isn’t only for the elderly. Healthy leadership is legacy minded from the onset of ministry. Identify new leaders in advance whenever possible. The more forethought involved, the better. Moses had Joshua lined up and gave him the blessing in front of all the people, making for a smooth transition. 

Identify What’s Needed

Identify specific qualifications for the particular role. Consider the reason for the transition and the specific needs of the church and surrounding community in the next season. What skills and abilities does the next pastor need to possess? For instance, when the disciples were replacing Judas after his betrayal, they wanted someone who had been with Jesus the whole time from John’s baptism to the ascension so they could bear witness (Acts 1:21-22). 

God’s Input is Essential

Any process needs to be rooted in prayer and discernment, stemming from a clear discussion of qualifications, and be an intentional practical process of considering candidates. Invite the church community to devote themselves to prayer and discernment, as was done in Acts 1:24-25a: Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry.


Conflict Resolution Skill Builders Booklet: Conflict is a seemingly inevitable part of leadership transitions. If handled properly, conflict can highlight problems that need to be rectified. Good conflict resolution can lead to new ideas and behavior, enhance communication and foster better long-term relationships between individuals and groups.

The Calling: Focused Ministry Coaching Guide and Storyboard: People need purpose during transitions. Help people get involved in effective and focused ministry and discover their unique contribution to ministry and take necessary steps to living into it.

Managing Transitions* by William Bridges: Organizational transitions affect people; it is always people, rather than a company, who have to embrace a new situation and carry out the corresponding change. While not written specific for ministry, this book provides a clear picture for what the staff and congregation go through during a transition of leadership—and provides ways to keep them engaged and growing in the interim and during the search for a new senior pastor. A must read!

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