Six Principles for Leading Through Transition

Beverly Skinner - Collegiate Ministry Catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board

Transitioning semesters, transitioning from one leadership team to the next, transitioning to new methods of outreach as campus environments change—collegiate ministers live and lead in an almost constant state of transition. In addition to the normal transitions that happen through the course of any year, there are also those exceptional seasons of transition such as moving to a new position, moving into or out of a building, or changes in convention or church leadership. You can probably think of at least a dozen other transitions you have or will navigate. The challenge all collegiate ministers must rise to face is how to effectively lead students and staff through those seasons of transition. 

Over the past (ahem…none of your business) years, I have transitioned in and out of six collegiate ministry roles, plus a short term of service in women’s ministry. Fourteen months ago, I moved back into a collegiate ministry role. Of course, every role change meant a season of transition, but some have included more challenging transitions than others.  I did not intentionally sign up for the “Leading Through Transition” course, but perhaps some things I have learned can be valuable to you. 

 Recently, as I was reading Romans 12-15, I was struck by how much of Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome can be a help when leading through transition. These six principles reflect what I have found to be most critical in even the most challenging of transitions. 

Start With Humility

12:2b-3 “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect…Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”

I like that Paul starts this whole section with a generous helping of humility! I once heard a Bible teacher say, “you can bend your knee before God or He will break your legs. Either way, your humility matters to Him.” How do you think rightly about God and yourself? Surrender fully to Him daily and allow Him to transform the way you think. At the same time, remember you are in a position of leadership by God’s plan.  Whether you are glad to be there or wish God had chosen someone else for the task, He divinely appointed you for it. Rather than lead to pride, allow this truth to lead you to humility.

Respect The People You Lead

12:5b-6 “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.  In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well…”

Just as God has divinely appointed you for this moment of transition, He has appointed the students, staff members, and colleagues you lead. Each of them are gifted by God and are an important part of the body. Listen to them, learn from them, discover and empower them to use their gifts. 

This is worth repeating—LISTEN to them. Especially during times of transition, everyone in your ministry needs the permission and freedom to express their fears, concerns, and excitement about the future. After you have listened, be responsive to their concerns. When you act on what you have heard, people will know they can trust you and will be more willing to stick with you through the transition. 

Perhaps most importantly, listening to people will give you insight on how to best empower them to embrace their God-given role in the body of Christ. 

Take Responsibility and Work Hard

12:11 “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.”

Chapter 12 verse 8 reads, “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously.”  Here, just a few verses later, Paul tells us to work hard—with enthusiasm!  This task the Lord has given you deserves your best attention and commitment. Every leader will make mistakes—be gracious and forgiving with yourself and others; but, don’t allow fear of making a mistake keep you from taking your responsibility seriously and working hard…with enthusiasm! 

Expert Challenges

12:12 “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” 

Don’t be surprised by challenges along the way and don’t give up. Sometimes the trouble will be so overwhelming you may think you completely misunderstood God’s direction. Keep praying. Keep trusting Him in confident hope. Remember, “He who called you is faithful and He will do it.” (1 Thess. 5:24)

Shepherd The People You Lead

12:13 “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”

Your role as a leader during transition is to steward and shepherd the students, staff, and colleagues in your ministry. A shepherd cares for her sheep and leads them where they need to go. Don’t let the second task overtake the first. When the people you lead are in need, be ready to help them. Even the most difficult transitions can be successful, if students and staff know you care for them by the actions you take to demonstrate it.

Respect Authority

13:1b-2 “…for all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.  So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.”

Every leader is under authority. The authority of God first and then the authority of another leader. Treat those leaders with the respect God commands. Rebelling against authority can look like: speaking of and to them and with disrespect, neglecting the duties assigned to you, undermining their plans, and so much more.  To lead successfully through transition, a leader needs the favor of those he leads, but he also needs the favor of those in authority over him. The quickest two ways to earn favor are to work hard and show respect. 

Finally, the most important thing I have learned: depend only on the Unchanging Father to be YOUR shepherd and leader through every season of transition!

Beverly Skinner is the Collegiate Ministry Catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. You can follow Georgia’s BCM ministries on Instagram @georgiabcm. 

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