Today was the last day of school. I gave my Ethics and New Testament exams and--after a faculty luncheon--then ran some of them through the Scan-Tron machine and went on home. It's really be a remarkable year. My Ethics students were especially memorable this year...excitable without being obnoxious. My colleagues and I have some good ideas for future years. And to top it off, within four hours of getting home, we heard a knock on the door: Two students of mine dropped by wondering if I wanted to play whiffle ball.
It's been that kind of year.
But it's been a different sort of year because of where we've been headed. In coming years, my school faces significant opportunities and marked challenges (which I won't get into now), but one major upcoming change is worth noting: After 28 years as headmaster at Westminster Christian Academy, Mr. Jim Marsh is stepping aside. To put that into perspective, within months of Jim's first day on the job at Westminster, the Kansas City Royals won their only World Series--and have not returned to the postseason since. Jim has other opportunities, rather than a traditional retirement--in front of him, but his departure meant the hard work of a search committee this past year to call Dr. Tom Stoner as our new headmaster at Westminster.
28 years. That's quite a while.
Under Jim's leadership, Westminster has grown significantly, built a new state-of-the-art campus, and has restructured and refined its curriculum. He has hired all but two of the present faculty at Westminster. For many people, it is difficult to imagine Westminster without Jim.
And yet that day must come at some point. In some cases, the time in leadership isn't long enough, because the leader might have just a few good years left but circumstances intervene (Winston Churchill, for example). Other times, the leader builds a kingdom and should have stepped down before the rot below the surface exploded (e.g. Joe Paterno's coaching career at Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky scandal).
All this wonderment really masks the true issue: What do we need to keep before us during moments of transition such as these?
Answer: Everything can be just fine.
If you take the Old Testament seriously--which I do--there's a passing-of-the-torch moment that occurs at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses dies. That's Moses--plucked from the Nile River, procurator of plagues, waver of the staff over the Red Sea, and benevolent prophetic ruler over the thousands of citizens of the Hebrew nation during their trek from Egypt to the verge of the promised land of Canaan. After 40 years of leadership, Moses dies before he can enter the promised territory.
The torch passes to Joshua, a tested soldier but nowhere near Moses' aura, from the standpoint of many. Yet he's God's choice. And what the deuce does God tell Joshua to do? Mourn? No. Strategize? No (although Joshua employed military strategy later to good effect). God says, "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore, arise. Cross this Jordan (River), you and all these people..." In short, leadership changes. The vision doesn't. The mission won't falter. What matters is not the person in the driver's seat. Success doesn't happen because you have a certain personality in the driver's seat. It occurs when the leader is a man or woman of integrity and obedience, who believes, does, and inspires what is right, noble, and true.
Jim will be missed by many at Westminster. And yet, Westminster will be fine, as will many schools, churches, businesses, and other institutions that go through similar waters. The questions we must ask are "What does God require?" and then "How do we rightly pursue that good?"
And it always helps to remember that God goes before the situation. As he told Joshua, "Every place where the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you."
God knows where you're headed. Move on toward it. It's that simple.