Leadership Transitions: The Perspectives of the Leader

Transition is essential for growth.  God set up His Creation that way. All living organisms grow through cycles of change. So, to lead well through transition, a leader must understand the organic nature of change.

Scripture describes the church as a living organism–the Body of Christ. The nature and function of the church is different than a business and every other enterprise. The Church is God’s agent to reconcile and redeem a fallen world where things are constantly falling apart, changing and dying. Your call to lead a church is a call to God’s creative, redeeming work of reconciliation..

Here are five principles for recognizing transition and leading dynamic growth in your church:

  1. All living organisms start small. You may have a big vision for your church. But in the Kingdom of Jesus, faithfulness starts small, like a mustard seed. In fact, Jesus has a lot to say about seeds. Seeds represent the source of life, the word of God, and the Alpha of God’s eternal plan. There are seeds that produce grain, and seeds that produce weeds, with sowers of each kind.  There are seeds that grow and bear fruit, and seeds that are trampled and die, depending upon the ground where the seed falls. Seeds only yield fruit “after their kind,” so care must be given to the kind of seed sown.

In God’s Kingdom, growth often begins when one person changes, repents, begins a new way of thinking, speaking, and embodying new life.  When Rosa Parks sat down in a “whites only” section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, her goal was not to start a civil rights movement.  Her feet were tired and she was tired of injustice.  But when she refused to give up her seat, a movement was born. Jesus inaugurates a Kingdom that starts small and grows big,

moving through cycles of change from birth, decay, death, and rebirth. Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

What has to die in your ministry for new growth to take root?

  1. All living organisms resist control. You cannot coerce change, so don’t try. The opposite of faith is not unbelief, it is control. Now, faithfulness and good planning are not directly opposed.

Stewardship requires planning. But faithfulness belongs to a higher order, a different realm.  Planning is about human control. Faithfulness is about abiding in Christ. The problem is that we equate leadership with control. “The more control,” we think, “the greater likelihood of success.” So, we employ leadership strategies that treat the church like a machine. Control makes sense if you are making widgets. When a machine breaks down, you fix it.  You find the broken part, throw it away, and replace the part.

But the church is about serving people who are living and dying in a dynamically interconnected social, spiritual system. Touch one part and you touch all. Living organisms cannot be fixed, controlled, or managed. Instead, the church and all living organisms must be nurtured, healed, and redeemed. Congregations are animated by Spirit, not invention. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Jesus says that human flourishing and fruitfulness is entirely dependent upon our connection to the vine. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

  1. All living organisms change in relationship to limiting and reinforcing processes. A limiting process is a barrier, obstacle, or difficult force that restricts and hinders growth. Picture a wall that blocks a plant from the sun. The plant will struggle to survive. Reinforcing processes are the forces that encourage or heighten growth. Now, imagine removing the wall. The plant will flourish under the sun.

What are the reinforcing and limiting forces at work in your church? What is moving with, or blocking, the flow of God’s Spirit? All growth requires change. In nature, to stop growing is to start dying so that, in death, new life might be formed.

  1. Power for growth lies in the underlying structure. Making a river flow in the opposite direction is impossible without changing the underlying riverbed, and not without a lot of excavation. It’s the same in the church. The older and more established the structure, the longer and more difficult will be the change. In fact, any change in the church that does not address the fundamental assumptions and practices of your history will be rejected. Beware of making any change without first addressing what lies underneath. Here is the rule:  any change that is not supported by an underlying structure will not last.
  2. Strength grows through crisis. (Or, obstacles are our best teachers) Living organisms have an amazing ability to adapt and change. Hardship produces character. Pain can be a pathway for healing. Failure can bring wisdom and reorder hope in God. Learn to embrace crisis as an opportunity for growth.

Is your church in transition, perhaps stuck, or stagnant, or maybe dying?  If so, maybe God has you in the perfect place to plant new seeds of life and growth.


By Jim Van Yperen

Leader Development Lesson Series

Welcome to the Leader Development Lesson Series presented by the Jack McDowell School for Leadership Development, in cooperation with and based on, EQUIP’s Million Leader Mandate materials. We are excited to offer this leadership material that can be used to encourage, equip and enliven the current leaders in your area and prepare them to be ready for service.

As indicated by EQUIP, this Leader Development Series will serve to train, grow and equip leaders through lessons that focus on the development of the following key dimensions of a leader’s life:

1. Spiritual Formation ~ Building the leader on the inside (Matthew 7:24-25)
2. Skill Formation ~ The practical doing part of leadership (Psalms 78:70-72)
3. Strategic Formation ~ Compound, or multiplying, results in ministry (Mark 1:16-17)

As you endeavor with your leadership group in this Leader Development Lesson Series, we would encourage you with the words from Dr. John C. Maxwell:

 “Our objective is not simply to give you tools to become a better leader. We do hope this will happen.
Our goal however, is far more than that . . . We want you not only to be a leader, but a leader of leaders.
We want you to be a mentor to leaders, who will multiply in others the training you’ve received.
Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy? He wrote . . .

 ‘And these things which you have heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses,
entrust these things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also . . .’

Remember, leadership development is not an ‘event’ but a ‘process.’ We don’t believe you can prepare
to be a great leader in a day.
We are asking that you decide now to be a student of leadership.
Be a part of the process. Learn it. Live it. Pass it on to others.”


Download the Leader’s Information Packet to get started with your Leader Development Lesson Series.

Leader Development Series Unit

Unselfish Thinking

Unselfish & Bottom Line Thinking – Leader Guide
Unselfish & Bottom Line Thinking – Student Guide

Biblical Generosity

The 360 Degree Leader and Generosity – Leader Guide
The 360 Degree Leader and Generosity – Student Guide

Practice to Lead Across

The Principles 360 Degrees Leaders practice to Lead Across – Leader Guide
The Principles 360 Degrees Leaders practice to Lead Across – Student Guide


Influence – Myths of Leading from the Middle of  an Organization – Leader Guide
Influence – Myths of Leading from the Middle of  an Organization – Student Guide

Failing Forward

Failing Forward – Leader Guide
Failing Forward – Student Guide

The Power of Partnership

 The Power of Partnership – Leader Guide
The Power of Partnership – Student Guide

Are We Willing to Focus on Others

Are we Willing to Focus on Others – Leader Guide
Are we Willing to Focus on Others – Student Guide

Leading Different Personalities

Leading Different Personalities – Leader’s Guide
Leading Different Personalities – Student Guide

Are We Wiling to Invest in Others

Are We Willing to Invest in Others – Leader Guide
Are We willing to Invest in Others – Student Guide

Are We Prepared for Relationships

Are We Prepared for Relationships – Leaders Guide
Are We Prepared for Relationships – Student Guide

The Right to Have Followers

The Right to have Followers – Leaders Guide
The Right to have Followers – Student Guide

Managing My Personal Growth

Managing My Personal Growth – Leader Guide
Managing My Personal Growth – Student Guide

I like Your Style

I like Your Style – Leader Guide
I like Your Style – Student Guide

Your Decision Determines Your Destiny

Your Decision Determines Your Destiny – Leader Guide
Your Decision Determines Your Destiny – Student Guide

Leaders Lead Across

Leaders Lead Across – Leader Guide
Leaders Lead Across – Student Guide

Leaders Lead Up

Leaders Lead Up – Leader Guide
Leaders Lead Up – Student Guide

Mutual Trust

Can We Build Mutual Trust – Leader Guide
Can We Build Mutual Trust – Student Guide

Win-Win Relationships

Can We Create a Win-Win Relationship – Leader Guide
Can We Create a Win-Win Relationship – Student Guide

Managing My Family, Thinking, and Commitment

Managing My Family, Thinking, and Growth – Leader Guide
Managing My Family, Thinking, and Growth – Student Guide

Managing My Generosity, Values, and Growth

Managing My Generosity, Values, and Growth – Leader Guide
Managing My Generosity, Values, and Growth – Student Guide

Managing My Attitude, Priorities, and Health

Managing My Attitude, Priorities, and Health – Leader Guide
Managing My Attitude, Priorities, and Health – Student Guide

Leadership Challenges

Characteristics of a Giant Killer – Leader Guide
Characteristics of a Giant Killer – Student Guide

Leadership Credibility

Making the Tough Call – Leader Guide
Making the Tough Call – Student Guide

How Leaders Pray

How Leaders Pray – Leader Guide
How Leaders Pray – Student Guide

The Foundation for Our Leadership

The Foundation for our Leadership – Leader Guide
The Foundation for our Leadership – Student Guide

Leadership and Relationships

Leadership and Relationships – They Make Me or Break Me – Leader Guide
Leadership and Relationships – They Make Me or Break Me – Student Guide

The Leader’s Time: Tick, Tock, Manage the Clock

The Leader’s Time: Tick, Tock, Manage the Clock-Leader Guide
The Leader’s Time, Tick, Tock, Manage the Clock-Student Guide


Officers on the Move

One thing people in The Salvation Army are familiar with is change.  Army officers expect to move on average every five years.  This means change not only for the officers and their family, but for the corps family as well. Given this historical perspective, you might think that people in The Salvation Army would be experts when it comes to change. This is not always the case.

Today, we live in an environment of rapid and continuous change.  Some people handle change better than others, but no one escapes change.  There are many obstacles to deal with in change and continuous change can create what is known as “change burn-out”. This is especially true if past changes have failed or resulted in minimal success.

Thankfully, there are change tips and techniques that can help. The tips shown here are offered as helpful advice for officers who are On The Move.



Tips For Receiving New Leaders


1. Throw a welcome party/picnic. Your new officers need fellowship with their corps people and community leaders. It will give them the opportunity to begin forming relationships, and this will strengthen their influence.

2. Avoid the “fix-it list” approach that we can get caught up in whenever new leaders arrive. While some problems may get resolved just because of the change, let’s be realistic in our expectations and give new leaders the time they need to observe us and strategize about how to best lead us.

3. (This one is for corps leaders) Make sure the quarters is clean and in good repair. If you want to make the officer’s family feel welcomed right off the bat, then make sure it is a nice place to live. If there’s a yard, have it mowed and in good shape. Take care of your officers as you expect them to care for you.

4. Receive the officer as one whom the Lord has sent to be His spokesman. As St. Paul says, “Here is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1).

5. Receive the officer with understanding and charity. If he is just out of college, cut him some slack. Allow him time to settle into his new role. If it seems appropriate, ask how he likes being in charge and if it is what he expected. Help him learn as he goes and forgive his mistakes, even as the Lord forgives yours.

6. Avoid playing the “Captain, people are saying” game. Also, avoid letting someone tell you “people are saying…” as they encourage you to tell the officer. Instead, encourage that person to go speak to the officer.

7. Remember your officer is not a mind-reader. She will not simply know when somebody is sick or hospitalized unless you, or a member of your family, lets her know.

8. Be open to some change. Your new officer may come with suggestions and new ideas. And if, in his enthusiasm, he fails adequately to explain the ideas, speak gently to him and let him know your feelings. Do consider that sometimes changes are good and even necessary. Because his ideas are different doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

9. Learn your new officers. Every leader has specific likes, dislikes, preferences, quirks, and hot buttons. Have coffee with them, check out the grapevine, observe carefully. Modify your own behavior accordingly.

10. If you and your new officer “have a history”, take the high road. Try to have an honest discussion, practice some attitude adjustment if necessary, and ask how you might help support the ministry.



Tips For Officers Leaving An Appointment


1.  Talk with a few key people privately before public announcement.  They deserve process time.

2.  Say it in a sentence.  When you make the announcement, say it in the first sentence, and then explain later.  Long build-ups that lead to a statement create apprehension and tension, and then do not leave time for internal processing afterwards.

3.  Be straightforward with your explanations.  Assure folks you are following God’s leading as best you understand it.

4.  Maximize your remaining moments.  As far as possible, finish well the projects you have started, or smooth the way for others to keep momentum going.  This is a period of consolidation.

5.  Don’t offer to come back for weddings and special events.  Those sensitive moments are important for bonding to your successor.  Don’t short-circuit the future.

6.  Don’t abdicate-consolidate.  Keep your ministry positive, based on your trust in God that He will provide for the corps.

7.  Keep to a minimum any references to your new appointment.  Keep the corps focused on its future with new officers, not on your future.

8.  Be fair to your successor.  Don’t stack the deck by making last-minute decisions in your favor.  Trust the process and allow it to work.  Stay out of the way.

9.  Don’t criticize your critics.  Let your record stand and leave the reckoning with God.

10.  Be positive about your successor.  Affirm the new officer no matter whom headquarters appoints.  This will give them a better chance of succeeding together.


Tips For Officers In A New Appointment


1. Enjoy the honeymoon benefits.  Make the most of the early going by having an initial 90 day plan.  This is the best time to lay the foundations of productive relationships by getting to know your people.  Remember that the corps family is going through a big change as well.  Be a good listener, positive and encouraging.

2. Resist the temptation of making yourself look good at the expense of your predecessor with phrases like “before I came”, “when I came”, after I came”. Your predecessor likely has good friends in the corps and they will be greatly affected by your words. Try not to compare your new corps to previous corps appointments or make constant reference to what happened in those appointments.

3. Avoid a Messiah complex. It’s okay not to have all the answers about all the corps business.  Get used to saying, “I don’t know” (because you don’t!) and be diligent to find answers whenever possible.

4. Affirm your predecessor’s ministry. Minimizing another’s hard work will lead to questions of your own authenticity. Don’t criticize the previous officer. You don’t know all the details, so you can exercise grace.

5.  Be Yourself. Make the most of the unique gifts, abilities and insights God has given you for His glory. Share your story, your convictions about ministry so that the corps people can begin to know you and understand where your priorities will lie.

6.  Unless necessary, avoid making changes until you can conduct a change audit to determine the history of change in the corps. Identify obstacles and pockets of resistance and begin building a guiding coalition to help guide any change process. When possible look for opportunities to build on the positive and effective things already in place.

7.  Remember the people entrusted to your ministry are the Army in that location. As you assume leadership involve them in discussions about the vision and direction of the corps.  Teach them how to take ownership and responsibility by setting the example yourself.

8.  Be patient during the initial culture shock. Your family will likely be under great stress as you find new doctors, piano teachers, sports programs, etc. Take time to establish these connections in the days following a move.

9.  Be committed to an extended learning curve.  Don’t be over-anxious.  There may be a sense of urgency over many things, but rushing is a different matter.

10. Remember that communication, conflict and change all go hand in hand. Read and learn as much as you can about transitioning well.

Making a Smooth Transition

This time each year, The Salvation Army prepares for the movement of officers. For those contemplating unknown locations, the season brings uncertainty.  To ease this anxiety, those who have “been there, done that” offer the following words of encouragement.

New Frontier
Major Edward Hill, Hawaii/Pacific Islands 
divisional commander
“My advice for the officer changing appointments is to wholeheartedly smooth the way for his successor. I would also suggest that if the officer has children, to take their concerns about moving very seriously. The last thing I would say is that once you arrive in an appointment, refrain from criticizing the officer you have followed or downgrading their contribution.”

Major Timothy Foley, Crestmont College
“Moving is a time when the curtain comes down on one act in your life only to be raised on another. Embrace the moments you have remaining in your current ministry. Around the corner awaits further challenges and blessings. Trust God. For those who havechildren moving, make sure to discuss the pending move and listen to what they are feeling. We have always tried to make an adventure out of a move. Try using Google Earth to explore your new community and home. A good habit is to always leave an appointment in a manner that you would like to receive it. Leave a good brief of the details of your ministry for your successor. Finish well.”

Major Douglas Danielson, 
Southwest divisional commander
“Trust the Lord in this move. He has been with you in the past (Psalm 63:7) and has not changed (Isaiah 59:1). Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight”(Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).

Major Victor Doughty, 
Intermountain divisional commander
“In many respects, George Scott Railton is the patron saint of officers on the move. Not only did he pen the words to ‘No Home On Earth Have I,’ but he offers a prayer that all farewelling officers can take to heart: ‘Wherever we may be, God grant us grace to persevere to the end in work that does not show, but which somebody must do if the Army is always to be marching along.’”

Major Donald Hostetler, Cascade divisional commander
“Every change of appointment brings exciting opportunities to explore. New people, new places, new cultures, new languages. My wife and I have had appointments from New England to Southern California to the Pacific Northwest. In each place (and in all those in between) we experienced fulfilling relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ who enriched us on our ministry journey.
“As you are in the throes of change, it is sometimes easy to get lost among the myriad things on the ‘to do’ list. But take the time to celebrate the ministry you have had with those you are leaving behind, then face the new with excitement for what God has in store for you there. Enjoy the adventure!”

Lt. Colonel Victor Leslie, Southern California divisional commander
“It takes a lot of courage to let loose of the known and take hold of the unknown. Be brave! Our security is that God is always relevant and still eager to engage us—wherever we are.”

Lt. Colonel Douglas O’Brien, Northwest divisional commander
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7 NIV).

Lt. Colonel Joseph Posillico, 
Golden State divisional commander
“Officership comes with challenges and opportunities. We especially note this with new appointments. We should expect both so that our focus would remain on him who called us. Be slow to speak, but listen well. Build on what you are given as a foundation, and as Paul wrote to the Colossians: Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

Major Stephen Smith, 
Crestmont College
“June can be a challenging time for officers who are under farewell orders and can be difficult for their families and the congregations they leave. It is in times like this that we learn to trust God even more than before. As we trust God more, we acknowledge that he is in control and his purposes will be accomplished.”

Major Doug Tollerud, 
Alaska divisional commander
I have always looked at moves as a new adventure. As I prepared my family , we focused on the opportunities to develop positive relationships in our new community. In my 25 plus years of service, I have taken to heart the words of Sidney Cox, ‘I’m in His hands, whatever the future holds, I’m in His hands. The days I cannot see, have all been planned for me. His way is best you see, I’m in His hands.’
“The scripture verse that has been so supportive can be found in II Timothy 1:12: For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

Major Doug Riley, 
Del Oro divisional commander
“Remember, you are pastoring in a time that is the most exciting yet with the greatest generational challenges. People of all ages are looking at you to make some sense of this upside down world. Remember the mission and be assured of a God that comes beside you to encourage, comfort and guide you. Keep positive, it is contagious to those who are watching you in these transitions: your church, friends and family. Our world and lives become like patchwork on the quilt of our ministry. God is in every move…
If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:11b.This time each year, The Salvation Army prepares for the movement of officers. For those contemplating unknown locations, the season brings uncertainty. To ease this anxiety, those who have “been there, done that” offer the following words of encouragement.