“When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.” – 2 Kings 2:9
Examples of leadership transitions are found throughout the scriptures, as the time comes for one leader to step aside for his replacement. The time to pass the torch. My wife Jennifer and I arrived in Cincinnati at the end of 2012 accepting the role of Lead Evangelist and Women’s Ministry Leader. At that time, I was about to turn 57. Jennifer and I are now 61 and 64 respectively. From the very start, we were determined to prepare for the future by training younger leadership in the Cincinnati Church and the entire Ohio Valley family of churches (total number of churches in the Ohio Valley is now ten). God has blessed that plan. In the seven years we have been in Cincinnati, three new churches have been added, all with young leaders. Another three churches have changed leadership since we arrived, with new leaders in their 30’s and 40’s. Three years ago, we were blessed to appoint two elder couples, and our elders and their wives are also younger than we! Additionally, in Cincinnati we hired two young staff couples all in their 30’s to lead our Campus and Young Professional ministries.
Another main focus for us was to hire a couple who would eventually take on the lead ministry role while we were still here. Our plan was to make that transition before age, health, or circumstances forced such a decision. We wanted to hire our replacement not because we had to, but because we believed it would be best for the church to have someone younger than us in the lead role as we looked toward the future.
After three years of fasting and praying and conversations with the elder couples and other church leaders in the Ohio Valley, we invited Sean and Mindi Kirklin to join our staff as the planned successor couple. Sean and Mindi had done a phenomenal job leading the church in Lexington, KY and in fact raised up their own younger replacements. They are true partners in the gospel. Sean and Mindi accepted the invitation and joined our ministry staff on July 1, 2019. The plan was that they would shadow us for a year in leading the church in Cincinnati and then take over our role while we continued to help with the other nine churches in the Ohio Valley. Our plan was that they would become the lead ministry couple in June of 2020 and lead the Ohio Valley beginning in 2021. But God had other plans.
In September 2019 we were in Madrid, Spain visiting our son and daughter-in-law, Will and Kristen Lambert, and celebrating our grandson Weston’s first birthday. Jennifer wasn’t feeling well, and on the recommendation of a brother in Madrid, we went to the hospital, and Jennifer was admitted to the hospital with what turned out to be pancreatic cancer. After one surgery in Madrid, we returned to Cincinnati for another surgery and months of chemotherapy treatment. Since the time of Jennifer’s diagnosis, Sean and Mindi Kirklin had to take on much greater responsibility far more quickly than had been planned. Once we realized Jennifer’s recovery would not be quick, and recognized what Sean and Mindi were already doing, we moved the official transition date up by several months. The Kirklins were officially named the Lead Couple on March 11, which turned out to be the same night that everything shut down due to COVID-19. The Kirklins have done an amazing job leading the church during this time dealing with the challenges of the pandemic as well as the important social justice issues. God has blessed them and the church as 17 souls have been baptized since the Kirklins stepped into the Lead Evangelist and Women’s Ministry Leader role. That is an average of a baptism a week.
My wife and I have taken on different roles. Jennifer was approved for and has begun receiving Social Security Disability. We continue to pray for her recovery from pancreatic cancer with the knowledge that this type of cancer has an extremely high rate of reoccurrence. I now serve as the Associate Evangelist and Jennifer volunteers as the Associate Women’s Ministry Leader. The Kirklins lead the Cincinnati Church of Christ and we are here to serve under them and to support, help and encourage them in any way we can.
We praise God that he put it on our hearts to pass the torch sooner rather than later. Praise God for his will, his ways, and his timing. We are grateful that God blessed our conviction that older leaders need to pass the torch to younger leaders and step into support roles so that the gospel can continue to advance and impact all ages now and in the future. How different this narrative would be if we had waited to find our replacements until it was absolutely necessary. We had three years to find the Kirklins for this role, never imagining that two months after their arrival they would be stepping up, filling the gap, and six months later being appointed into their God-planned roles.