The time had come for leadership transition. As death neared, Moses made a plea that God would give His people a godly, qualified leader who would lead them with courage. Obviously, Moses could not be with the children of Israel forever. Moses longed for the right person to succeed him. It was time for a transition. The transition of leadership for the next generation had already begun with Eleazar’s replacement of Aaron as high priest (Num. 20:22-29).
How did Moses handle the process of leadership transition to Joshua? Several vital principles emerge from the inspired record in Numbers 27.
1. Moses prayed and asked God to make this choice (Num. 27:15). He did not appoint someone out of personal favoritism or other human considerations. His prayer was focused on passing on the responsibility of leadership to the next generation. It was a focused prayer for this specific need.
2. Though he was about to die, Moses did not think about himself, but he had a great concern for the future and welfare of Israel (Num. 27:15-17).
3. Moses did not simply ask for a military commander or political leader, but someone who could lead and direct the people like a tender and caring shepherd (Num. 27:17). Moses desired that the newly appointed leader would be just as concerned as he had been for the welfare of the nation. The shepherd language (“the assembly of Jehovah be not as sheep that have no shepherd”)1 underscores the basic principle of spiritual leadership in the Bible.
4. In this whole process, Moses acted in total dependence on God (Num. 27:15-22).
5. Moses did not steal Joshua’s glory; he gladly affirmed it. He was willing to pass on some of his “authority” (“honor” or “majesty”) that he had to Joshua (Num. 27:20). This was done at the Lord’s command so that the people who used to obey Joshua while Moses lived, might more cheerfully do it afterwards (“that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient”).
6. As a responsible leader of God’s people, Moses knew the importance of training other leaders along the way, so they be would ready and equipped to shepherd the people of God when he left. Moses had this vision. Joshua had been prepared for it. All through the time of Exodus, Moses worked with Joshua. He was Moses’ assistant and even led the army (Ex. 33:11; 17:8-10) and was one of the faithful spies in Numbers 13. Early in his leadership, Moses sought to train a leader that would replace him.
7. Moses did not delay or hinder the process of transition. As a leader, he did not cling to his position selfishly (Num. 27:22). He was ready to hand over the responsibilities to the next generation. God answered Moses’ prayer by commissioning Joshua (Num. 27:23), “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Num. 27:18). New leaders may be very different from their predecessors, but they have nevertheless been appointed by God to do the job that needs to be done.
“One of the responsibilities of Christian leaders today is to see to it that the next generation is equipped to carry on the work (2 Tim. 2:2). Each local church is one generation short of extinction, and unless we teach and train new leaders, we jeopardize the future of our homes, churches, and nation.”2
What a sobering thought!
The goal of ministry is, “pass it on” (2 Tim. 2:2). The buck may stop with you, but truth must never stop. Christian life is not instinctive, it is taught. Disciples are made not born. I believe the “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2) is connected to: 1 Timothy 3:2 (“able to teach”); 1 Timothy 5:17 (“the elders…those who labor in the word and doctrine”); Titus 1:9 (“…that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict”)—a requirement for elders. The primary, though not exclusive audience for Timothy’s teaching in this context, may well have been such elders in the church. Elders must take the initiative in teaching, training, mentoring, discipling, and equipping other men who eventually will take the responsibility of leading the assembly in the future as spiritual shepherds of the people of God. This is an intentional and planned ministry carried out by responsible and visionary spiritual leaders. Such men are the ones to lead the assembly of God.
Our culture is all about leaders—how to find them and make them leaders and celebrities. But Scripture is clear about the true nature of spiritual leadership. God chooses, appoints, and empowers shepherd leaders to lead His people. God sovereignly raises and replaces leaders. When God removes a leader, He has a plan of succession in place. Trust Him to provide and depend upon Him. The Moseses and Pauls among us must take the time and effort to intentionally train and equip the Joshuas and Timothys of the next generation. This role of the elders is perhaps the most neglected one and therefore must be emphasized in the local church.
Let us seriously ponder over these scriptural principles of leadership transition. Does this really happen in our assemblies? Many assemblies around the world have suffered serious setbacks because the baton has largely failed to be passed from one generation to the next. If the Lord has placed you in a leadership role in your local assembly, always be looking for ways to pass the baton. That means equipping people for the work of service (Eph. 4:11-12).
Some years ago, I took a series of studies on spiritual leadership in a large assembly in North America. After the meetings, one of the elders came to me and whispered: “Brother, I searched the records of all the sermons and Bible studies in the assembly for the last forty years, and to my surprise, I could not find a single message or study on eldership or spiritual leadership.” I gently whispered back to him, “I know it is a “missing link” in many assemblies. We must rediscover it from the Word.” Shall we?
1. Darby Translation
2. The Wiersbe Study Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009) p. 236
by Alexander Kurian