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Passing the torch – a biblical model for a smooth transition

Passing the torch – a biblical model for a smooth transition

by Marcia Lee Laycock


Transitions. They can be difficult, especially in regard to church leadership. The announcement of retirement or resignation can send shock waves through a congregation. The shock is exacerbated when there are complicated circumstances, such as personal conflicts or moral failures. In such cases it can take a church years to recover. But it need not be so. If done properly, at an appropriate time, a transition of leadership can be accomplished with a minimum of trauma.

There is a lot at stake. It is not just the torch of leadership that is being passed on, but, as Christians, we are charged with passing on the torch of the gospel of Christ. The world is watching, and it is imperative that these transitions be handled well, with the focus placed on following our Lord, not a mere man.

It is important to stand firm at such times, reaffirming our core beliefs according to the Word of God. When we uphold the truths of the Gospel, understanding who we are in Christ and our purpose as his disciples, the path will be clear. 

Such was the motivation at the recent western region conference of the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada, held May 4-6 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The theme was Passing the Torch, as the association transitions from the ten-year leadership of current president, Bill Fietje, to the incoming president, Bill Allen, who will be installed at National Conference in June. 

Rob Cochrane, pastor of Church of the Open Bible in Swift Current, was the first of four speakers who pointed the audience of pastors and delegates to Deuteronomy 31: 1-8. All four noted that the familiar story of Moses passing the torch to Joshua was a powerful Biblical model for transitioning well.

Moses acknowledged before his people that he was getting too old to lead and it was time for him to step aside. This attitude of humility before God and man is one all leaders should emulate. Then, in obedience, Moses appointed Joshua as the new leader, telling him, and the people, to be “strong and courageous,” and assuring them that God would go before them as they entered the land. That focus was stressed by the speakers at the AGC conference. They acknowledged that there would be challenges of all kinds in the future, especially considering the current political and anti-religious climate in Canada, but they reminded the pastors and delegates present that “the LORD, He [is] the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).

Outgoing President Bill Fietje referred to some of the challenges that will face the churches in the coming days, and the need to prepare their congregations for things like the loss of religious freedoms and loss of the status the church has enjoyed since the foundation of our country. We will see an erosion of these things, no doubt, as we move more and more toward being a non-believing society. But, from his experience in the mission world, Rev. Fietje assured his audience that it is through adversity that God reveals His glory, as evidenced by the fact that the church is growing around the world. 

He gave five reasons: 

1. This is the Age of the Holy Spirit – God is not slowing down, He is speeding up.

2. The work of Bible translation is ongoing and having an impact around the world.

3. The indigenous movement in countries like China, Nepal and Mongolia where the gospel continues to spread at unprecedented rates.

4. More and more Christians are engaging in the public square, having influence and impact.

5. The power of the whole Gospel is both drawing people in and impressing them to act with compassion as they see the needs of those around them and work to do something about it.

Yes, transitions can be difficult, but if handled in a way that follows the Biblical model, all will be well. When Jesus installed Peter as the first leader of His church on earth, he asked him a vital question – “But who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). When Peter answers, confirming his belief that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus tells him,on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). 

It is on the rock of Jesus Christ that we all must stand, especially during times of transition.