Leaders, legacy and succession

No leader gets to lead forever. But every leader leaves something behind when his/her leadership season ends.

Take Moses, one of the great biblical leaders.

The end of his leadership journey was sad: failure to protect his heart from bitterness had led to him failing to trust God and honour his holiness and in turn he was excluded from the Promised Land.

However, among what he left his people were:

  • A promise – that even though he would not go into the Land with the people, the Lord would go with them
  • A warning – that future prosperity would lead the people to desert the Lord
  • A blessing – in fact a series of specific blessings for each of Israel’s tribes
  • A reputation (every leader leaves one!) – Deuteronomy states that there had not been a prophet like him.
  • A successor – Joshua.

It’s worth making these three observations about Joshua’s path to succeed Moses as leader.

  1. Preparation. In terms of the biblical narrative, it is not really a surprise that Joshua is named as Moses’ successor. Among the clues are the fact that early on he is described as Moses’ assistant from his youth; he gets to accompany Moses on key occasions; Moses delegates leadership in battle to Joshua while he supports him by means of the staff of God on the top of a hill; Joshua (along with Caleb) brings a minority report from the spies’ trip to Canaan – he understands that if God is with them, they need not fear the opposition.
  2. Prayer. Moses demonstrates his character as a shepherd leader when he asks God not to leave the people leaderless – like sheep without a shepherd. A genuine shepherd leader is not just concerned about his own season of leadership: he knows that the people need leadership that outlasts him.
  3. Encouragement. Moses commissions Joshua and encourages him to be strong and courageous – just as the Lord himself does in Joshua 1. Leaders (not just new leaders) need to be encouraged in this way because sometimes the task of leadership may appear huge and sometimes the opposition may start to appear insurmountable.

To those of you currently in leadership, how aware are you of what you will leave behind? What are you doing about your succession (particularly as you get older)? Are you looking out for Joshuas who will observe your leadership and your walk with God? Whom you can support as you delegate tasks to them? Who demonstrate bold faith in God? Are you praying that the the people in your care will prosper when you are no longer their leader? Are you ready to speak words of faith and courage to young leaders?