One of the most recent changes to my world happened Sunday with the abrupt departure of my Pastor. Therefore, I thought I would use this situation as an opportunity to talk about how we should respond when a leader leaves. Losing a leader has many impacts, regardless of the reason they left. It can rock the very foundation of what people know to be true of the environment in which they function. Very much, like an airplane in mid-flight when suddenly the flight finds itself without their captain at the controls. The crew becomes a bit uneasy, uncertain; on edge, they may even begin to panic.
A leader is an inspirational force that drives the group forward. A leader provides structure, consistency, and calm. A leader is often beloved. So what happens when a leader leaves? We change. We adapt. We must overcome. Above all, we must remain calm. Being calm is important during a transition, especially when the leader leaves unexpectedly; regardless of how you may actual feel in the natural. When Moses, the pastor of the people left the congregation to go up to Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God the people were anything but calm they went crazy, and chaos ensued when their leader was no longer at the helm.
When a leader leaves, even if only temporary we find ourselves in that strange in-between time called “the interim.” Even with the best preparation and an adequate amount of time allocated for the separation process, the departure of a leader usually brings sadness, anger, disorganization, uncertainty, and grief to all involved. Should we be worried? Should we be scared? Should we be angry? When Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14:28 – 29 He said to them “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” The disciples were very anxious about Jesus leaving because He had been with them every step of the way for three years and now He was about to go, and they were not sure why He was leaving them or where He was going.
The disciples grew sorrowful that Jesus was telling them that He was going to leave them saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” John 16:16-20. During this exchange with His disciples, Jesus never tried to hide the fact that He was going to leave them and that they would be sorrowful because they would not see Him for a time. Much as the people did with Moses, when they saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain the people without their leader went berserk. Now the disciples find themselves in a very similar situation as their anxiety over their Leader’s departure grew to confusion.
The disciples feared, “Jesus is abandoning us. When He leaves, we won’t know what to do.” Many people feel this when their leaders move on. Jesus Himself knows what it feels like to be abandoned as He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” Matt 27:46.
It was customary in the time of Jesus to take leave and wish peace (shalom) to others as you left them. When someone in that ancient culture said peace while departing, it was without any particular meaning. It was like when we say goodbye in our culture today. However, Jesus in John 14:27 tells His disciples “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. Jesus wanted them to know that when He said peace I leave with you, it was not in the casual, empty way that most people said it.
He carefully described the peace as ‘My peace.’ His peace was a heart untroubled and unfearful in spite of all the suffering and conflict ahead of Him before the cross. We need to take our cue from Jesus and remain calm, and people around you will take their cue from your peacefulness. You will set the tone. If you are calm and confident, it will create a calming effect on those around you. Whether it is a parent, a teacher, a boss, a team captain or even your pastor when a leader leaves, it just may be a time of growth and newness of life for everyone involved.