The true mark of a healthy transition is how you leave your ministry. You should be able to look back and see that ministry is continuing as normal despite your absence. Everything you leave behind should be able to stand on its own two legs. What do I mean by that? I simply mean that in your time of ministry you should have built up leaders and empowered them to do the work of the ministry without you.
Ephesians 4:12 gives us a wonderful definition for ministry – “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
Nowhere in this verse does it say that everything should depend on the ministry leader. In fact, it says the opposite. It says that the ministry leader should empower others to engage in the ministry. A healthy ministry leader is ultimately a leader of leaders. If a ministry leader has done his or her job properly, no aspect of ministry should suffer when that ministry leader departs because they have invested in other leaders.
Is this easy? No way. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders are lone rangers. They feel as though everything depends on them, and they operate as if they are superman or wonder woman. When a leader operates in isolation they are not taking time to prepare God’s people for works of service. There are many reasons why ministry leaders might fall into this temptation.
If you don’t want to be a lone ranger in ministry and you are going to take Ephesians 4:12 seriously, there are two things that must be paramount in your leadership.
First, you must carry yourself with humility. A humble leader is good at keeping things in proper perspective. In humility, you view yourself as someone that God is using to accomplish a specific task. You see yourself as replaceable. You see the importance of others. You know that your task is to live out what John the Baptist proclaimed in John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.” The true source of all ministry success must be recognized. Any credit you receive should first be redirected to God and second to those that support you. Whenever you choose to take the credit for yourself, your humility and your leadership are compromised.
Second, you must be selfless. Humility and selflessness are intimately connected. But, consider this—humility is about you, selflessness is about others. If you are going to lead selflessly, you should not only keep things in proper perspective but you will also need to fight for others. As a leader, you will quickly learn that ministry is not about you, but rather about others being empowered to do works of service so that the body of Christ can be built up.
So, when the day of your transition comes and the Lord calls you away from a ministry that you have poured your heart into, what will your ministry look like without you? This is a question that you should ask yourself regularly, even when leaving the ministry isn’t even on your radar. You could even post that question somewhere in your office to keep you centered. If your ministry suffers without you, chances are you didn’t lead well. If your ministry is healthy and doesn’t miss a beat, chances are you lead well with humility, selflessness, and a commitment to Ephesians 4:12.
The investment in others is always worth the time. One day God will call you elsewhere or take you home, and if you haven’t made the investment in others your ministry will suffer.
Have you walked through a ministry transition? What did you learn from that season?
Ryan Wolfe is the Disability Ministry Pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Proverbs 31:8a, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” has become Ryan’s calling. He strives to be an advocate and champion for people with disabilities and their families. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Ryan @ryanewolfe on Twitter.