A note from Kelly King: Debbie Stuart is one of my women’s ministry heroes. I’ve learned so much from her over the years, and now she is in a new role at a new church. I think you’ll appreciate her perspective on transitions in ministry and how to do it well. If you want to hear Debbie, attend the You Lead event next July in Eugene, Oregon. For more information, click here.
So this just happened. I became the “new” Women’s Minister at Green Acres Baptist Church. I am following Linda Lesniewski who served in this position for 24 years! (Oh yay, this transition will be fun…said no one ever.) The women know her, love her, and follow her. How do I take the reins of leadership from a veteran war hero of mine who has put everything into this ministry? This church has experienced great progress and growth under her leadership, and it hardly seems right to “take it from her.” What does the hand off look like?
I will illustrate it this way: Our son, Jarrad, was a prodigal for many years, and those decisions landed him in prison where his faith became his own and he began walking with the Lord again. Make no mistake, we poured everything we had into helping him and furthering his spiritual, mental, and emotional development—money, doctors, attorneys, prayers (oh, the prayers), blood, sweat, tears (oh, the tears!). Now he is doing very well, and if some young gal came along with the “I will take him from here” mentality, she would have the fight of her life on her hands. She did not give birth to him, she did not suffer through this long process, and she did not pay the price we paid. Sometimes this can be our thought process when the time comes for someone else to “take it from here.”
Well, this transition of leadership was fun because it was handled biblically (which is Linda’s only way!). I learned some valuable lessons from this process that I hope will be beneficial to you as well. I have served in ministry for 27 years through 3 major transitions, and this one was the only successful one.
Upon arrival to Green Acres, the overwhelming statement I was welcomed with was: “You sure have big shoes to fill.” Yes, but those aren’t my shoes! Those are fit for her, and I am not called to walk in them.
Lesson #1: Walk in your own shoes. You are called to walk behind her shoes, not in them. First Timothy 1:18-19 (MSG) says, “I’m passing this work on to you…All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight we’re in.”
Please note your 3 action steps in this process: “do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself.” This instruction is for the one passing the baton as well as the one receiving it.
Lesson #2: Get a grip. Get in your shoes, in your lane and grip that ministry baton. Do not yank it from your teammate. This is a relay. It takes more than one person to win this race. There is a hand off. Each person runs for a while, then hands the baton to the next person to run. There is an exchange zone—a 20 meter stretch in which members must pass the baton or be disqualified.
Own that baton every minute it is in your hand. But when it comes time to transfer it, let. it. go. Trust the Lord with the one He called to come behind you. One of the greatest things Linda ever did for me was set me up for success. She did not (as MANY leaders do) walk away and let the new girl figure it out.
Lesson #3: Set up a successful exchange. Linda put a strategic process in place, with a specific time limit (the exchange zone) to involve me in important conversations (even before I was actually on staff), share history, explain processes, point out potential blind spots, introduce me to key leaders, point people to me for answers, and challenge me to be the leader God has called me to be. She shared with others (staff included) her delight and confidence in me, and she explained with enthusiasm that things will likely be changing as Debbie has different ideas and approaches to ministry, but these things will be good for continued spiritual growth.
And with that I had the baton.
First Timothy 1:12 (NLT) says, “How thankful I am in Christ Jesus for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him.” Other translations record: “giving me strength to do the work” and “judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” My favorite is from The Message: “making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb, you know in trusting me with this ministry” (my sentiment exactly). Please note your 3 character qualifications.
Zig Ziglar said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could.”
We will not win the “ministry race” if there is not someone behind us for the ministry hand off.
Debbie serves as Director of Ministry Initiatives at Hope for the Heart and is a certified Life and Ministry Coach through AACC. She has served in Women’s Ministry for more than 25 years and has a wealth of ministry and leadership experience. She has served as Director of Church and Leadership Development for Women of Faith, and as Director of Women’s Ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church for 10 years and Willow Point Baptist Church for 10 years.
Debbie is the author of 20 Minutes a Day for the Rest of Your Life and the sequel, 20 Lessons Learned from 20 Minutes a Day (available on EBay). She is a conference/retreat speaker and Bible teacher and current contributor/writer for WomensMinistryTool.net. She is the 2011 recipient of the “Shining Star” Award, recognizing Outstanding Women in Leadership as well as the 2015 “Woman of the Word” Award from Salem Communication.