By Stephan Teng

When Leaders Leave

“I’ll be leaving InterVarsity”, I heard him say. A leader had asked for me and a colleague to walk with him so he could share the news personally. The invitation felt sudden and odd at first, but it made sense as he explained his departure and transition to a new job. “My time here is ending, and I’ll be a pastor of a church. I wanted you two to know that I appreciated working with you.” 

Some of us are experiencing transitions of leaders too. For you, it might be a graduating senior who was always there for you and your friends. For others, maybe it’s a campus minister or a church pastor who always encouraged your faith. Whoever it may be, saying goodbyes can be hard and leave a mix of feelings –– some of us will feel confused about what happens next while others may feel fearful of the shoes we’re stepping into. We may feel lost or even betrayed. Thankfully, we aren’t the first to experience such transitions. 

In the Bible, the story of Joshua begins with the death of Moses and the Lord appointing Joshua to be the next leader of Israel. Moses not only led Israel out of slavery from Egypt and set up the laws and policies of the young independent nation, but he also personally heard from God, did miracles on his behalf, and spoke on God’s behalf. Talk about big shoes to fill! With his death would come not just mourning, but uncertainty and fear –– for Joshua and everyone else in the community. Sound familiar?

Thankfully, the God who was with Joshua then is the God who is with us now. And if you're in a season where your leader is leaving, here are a few points I believe God would want you to remember.  

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

As a child, I recall being encouraged to memorize this verse, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I meditated on it. God's words to Joshua imply that Joshua felt anxious and uncertain, and God wanted him to address his fear. 

But also notice the reason why God says, “Be strong and courageous. ”He doesn’t say “YOU GOT THIS (cue the double thumbs up)” or “You’re smart, and you’ve studied for this.” Instead, God says “Be strong and courageous…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” God himself is the reason why Joshua should be comforted. God himself is the reason why Moses said and did great things in the first place! And God is with Joshua even now. Personally, I know if I constantly compare myself with the inspirational leaders before me, that only leads me into an anxiety spiral! But if I fix my eyes on Jesus, the one who called my leader to serve and who calls on me too, then I can rest in knowing that it’s Jesus who will help me lead too.


How did you see GOD reflected in your leader's character? How did you see God love others through them? How did you see God’s wisdom reflected in their decision-making? What difference does it make to focus on God?

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “... Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” Joshua 4:4-7

Real talk: if I were to ask you what you ate for lunch last Wednesday or how God met you two months ago, would you be able to confidently answer either or both questions? It’s hard, huh? I think God knows how forgetful we can be, and so he appointed his people throughout Scripture to set up holidays or even stone monuments that would remind them of his faithfulness (and our need for him!). But this wasn’t an individual activity, this was a COMMUNAL activity. When the people of God gather to remember, not only does memory retain better, but the impact of God is seen more broadly!


Gather some friends from your fellowship or church and write a thank you card to your leaders. Spend some time thinking about what you have learned most from them. Perhaps it was how they exhibited patience and initiation. Perhaps it was how they checked in on you or were incredibly generous. You can even host an event to celebrate them! You may also want to consider ways that they could have improved. Your leader is human after all, so we shouldn’t raise them up too high or lay them down too low. Reflecting will help solidify lessons you want to take away from their time as your leaders. 

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

As encouraging as the story of Joshua started, I believe it’s also important to see how his story ended. In the story of Judges, his passing is recorded, and the immediate next verse tells how the people completely forgot the Lord and the lessons Joshua and his generation learned. What came next were decades of turmoil as many leaders of questionable quality stepped up to fill his leadership void. 

One of the best ways we can honor our transitioning leader is to develop new leaders, so we can pass on the lessons and gifts we’ve received! Just as our former leaders passed on their love for God and wisdom to us, we can do that for others. 


Who can I develop and disciple so that they can grow in their love for God and others? Who around me can I meet with to pass on what I’ve learned from my leaders? When and how often will I meet with them?

Leaders leaving can be a sad experience. But it also can be a period of growth and celebration as well. With God himself as our ultimate leader, we can move forward without fears of abandonment or uncertainty. Instead, we can bless our transitioning leaders to their next calling even as we look forward to the future they helped build.


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Stephan Teng serves as an InterVarsity Campus Staff Minister at Indiana University, where he currently staffs an Asian American chapter. He is a fourth-generation minister, alumnus of NYU, and is passionate about creativity and leadership. You can support his ministry at