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All In or All Gone—Leaving Well When It's Time to Go

Moses knew that he would not enter the Promised Land—he grasped the reality we all have to face as leaders: There will be a day when we will no longer be the leader. Younger Joshuas and Calebs will have to take over. Leadership transition is a natural part of all ministry—we need to make it as successful as possible.

Moses was man enough to ask God to find his replacement. How many of us are instead threatened by the notion? Have you ever noticed that when God called Moses at the burning bush to start his leadership assignment, Moses opposed the idea vehemently and gave God five excuses why he was not the man for the job? But fast forward 40 years later—there was no argument at all when God told him he was done (Numbers 27:12,13). What Moses did do—he prayed and asked God for the right successor:

“May the LORD, the God of every human spirit, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num.27:16,17 TNIV).

That’s a great prayer for every leader: “Lord, help me identify those young emerging leaders who are coming up behind me.” God answered the prayer and identified Joshua and then asked Moses to empower him:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him” (Num. 27:18-20 NIV).

When our time is over, we have to let go. Moses gave us a great example of a successful leadership transfer. For 40 years, Moses looked forward to finally taking his people into the Promised Land. But it was not to be. His successor, Joshua, fulfilled Moses’ dream. In fact, the day before he died, Moses was shown the Promised Land and told that his descendants would possess it but that he would never set foot in it: “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deut. 34:4). It’s just my opinion, but I think Moses was OK with that and happy to see his successors fight the new battles that these young men had to fight across the Jordan. I felt the same way when I left: “It’s time for fresh warriors to fight the fresh battles that lie ahead.”

I have gone on to start up a new career since I left that position two years ago. I am doing what I love and loving what I am doing. Jumping out was the best decision of my life … scary but exhilarating. One of the Joshuas in the ministry I left took over for me and is doing a great job. That is what I call a win-win for everyone. I get to follow my heart, and my former ministry is doing just great without me.  

—Adapted from chapter eight, “Thou Shalt Lead to Leave,” from The Top Ten Leadership Commandments by Hans Finzel. David C. Cook, 2012.

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Dr. Hans Finzel is a successful author, speaker, teacher and leader. He has written eight books, including his bestseller The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. His books have been translated into over twenty foreign languages. Today he serves as president of HDLeaders and is chief leadership guru on "The Leadership Answerman" podcast.