The omnipresence of God throughout the history of humanity and in the life of the church is the overarching theological theme that has led the church over the years. All human leaders come and go, whether it was Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Peter, Paul, James, or John in the Bible, or any leader of our time, but God will always be present in the church.
Over the past few months, the Atlantic Union Conference and several local conferences have experienced multiple leadership transitions. New union executive officers, a new education director and associate director, a new youth director, and a new vice president were elected. The union membership, along with both departing and incoming leaders, must trust in God’s leadership and in the Seventh-day Adventist church system. We are reminded by Ellen White that: “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 12.
Successful leadership transition assures the continuity of the workings of God in the lives of the members individually, and the intervention of God in the life of the church collectively. In their book Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, p. 24, William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird rightly understand that “God’s church depends far more on the Great Shepherd than the human undershepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Any church’s future depends ultimately on God far more than the coming and going of human leadership.” The abiding presence of God in the life of the church is the constant compass that has led the Advent movement through transitions.
The church exists for the glory of God and the edification of the saints. Human beings, no matter how talented, are temporal and mortal. God, however, will always be there with the church and for the church. Moses rightfully acknowledged “Lord, you have been our dwelling place. . . . Before the mountains were born you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God”—Psalm 90:1, 2, NIV.
The assurance of God’s enduring presence is central to successful leadership transitions. God is the only “I AM,”—Exodus 3:14, “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”—Psalm 46:1, NIV. Leaders may be in positions for a short or long tenure, but our continual focus must be on God. We must have faith that the omnipresent God will continue to lead the church or institution. Elaine Robinson, in her book These Three: The Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, explains that: “At its core, the excellence of faith can be defined as accepting that God’s will and way are in our best interest, despite rational claims, empirical data, and societal standards that might suggest otherwise. . . . Christian faith acknowledges that God is both the source and the goal of our faith, the alpha and the omega of our spiritual journey.”
Ellen White reminded us that leaders must never “fail of consulting the great Source of all wisdom”—Prophets and Kings, p. 31. We will be wise to remember Moses’ transitional instruction to Joshua: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”—Deuteronomy 31:8, NIV. God was in the church before any member or pastor arrived, and before anyone was
elected, and He will be there after we are all gone. Leadership transitions are inescapable reminders that, ultimately, the church is not about us. We are only vulnerable instruments in the hands of an omnipotent God—the “King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, [to whom] be honor and glory for ever and ever”—1 Timothy 1:17, NIV.
Pierre Omeler is the Atlantic Union Conference executive secretary and director of the Human Relations department.