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How to Transition God’s People from One Leader to the Next: Lessons from David and Solomon

Any church or Christian organization can feel somewhat lost when a pastor or leader steps down, especially if he does so suddenly or resigns because of sin. In the absence of his leadership, there is a time of limbo for God’s people while they search to fill the previous leader’s shoes, or, even if an immediate replacement is found, it takes time for someone new to learn the ropes and pilot the ship into sailing smoothly again.

I am only 36 years old, so I cannot really speak to these things from my own personal experience. However, I can do my best to speak from the Word of God, and we have an interesting example for transitioning leadership in the lives of David and Solomon. There are obviously bigger themes from their lives in Scripture (e.g., even the best kings are still not Jesus; Solomon was the first of many to sit on David’s throne as promised in the Davidic Covenant), but, if carefully done, we can learn other lessons from their lives as well (cf. Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:6, 11).

The first lesson is relatively simple:

Put your house in order before you finish your ministry.

David had a well-organized kingdom by the time of his death, including everything from a well-oiled military to who watched over the donkeys (1 Chronicles 23–27). Having the right resources and people in place, it is no wonder that the kingdom thrived under the wisdom of Solomon.

Even though one might try to put one’s house in order, there will likely be some things that are left undone. This being the case… 

You cannot solve every problem, but you can at least warn your successor of the “problem people” that he will inherit in order for him to handle them well.

David warned Solomon about two men in particular, Joab and Shimei (2 Kings 2:5–9). Joab vengefully murdered a handful of men during David’s kingship and then supported Adonijah’s attempted coup (1 Kings 1). Shimei supported this coup as well and had opposed David in the past when he was on the run from Absalom (2 Samuel 16:5–14). After his second installation as king, Solomon immediately killed Joab for his betrayal of David and then killed Shimei only after he had violated the terms that Solomon had set for him as a lesser punishment than death (2 Kings 2).

Practical matters can linger as well. If something is left undone, you can at least try to…

Pass off projects well.

God did not allow David to build the temple, but he did gather much of its materials for Solomon and gave him the plans as well (1 Chron 28:1–29:22). David knew the task that Solomon had before him and left him well-prepared.

As you near the end…

Don’t wait too long to pass the baton.

Adonijah thought he saw an opening to take his aging father’s throne. Though wrongfully done, he may have been expressing the desire of many to have a younger leader take over. Thankfully, with some frantic persuading by Nathan and Bathsheba, David was still able to hand over the kingdom to Solomon (1 Kings 1).

Off the heels of the last thought…

Give people a proper transition from one leader to the next.

Though Solomon was able to safely become king instead of Adonijah, David gave him a second installation, something more proper and public to help solidify the transfer of kingship from him to Solomon (1 Kings 1; 1 Chron 29:22b–25; cf. 23:1).

More could certainly be said, and the above is more easily said than done. Sometimes circumstances do not allow for a smooth transition, however hard one may try. But, as God is gracious, may He help us all as Christian leaders to do our best to properly transition His people from one leader to the next when He has for us to do so.

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.