The Fear of an Empty Handed Leader

After investing in James* for such a long time, I was beginning to see him really take off as a leader!  It was incredibly exciting, confirmed what I had thought months back when I began the discussions with him about leading, and felt God’s hand on my back as He told me He was proud of both of us.

And I was so caught of guard by the fear and hurt of it all.

I wasn’t ready for the feelings that came with it all.  I really wasn’t.  I had years of experience in training up young leaders, mentoring them, coaching them, praying for and with them, and watching them succeed.  I would get them ready to take off on their own, launch them in the air, and they would fly away.  That’s why, while I missed every one of them, it never hurt too badly.  They flew away and began serving somewhere else.

But James?  He was a great success, an amazing leader, way past where I was at his age.  The difference this time, the thing that caused the hurt, was that I had helped him soar so that he could replace me in my ministry.  He was taking my place.  After all the worry that I would be in his way, working so hard to back him up publicly to everyone through the transition, and having tons of honest conversations about how we were doing in the handoff, here he was, running the show. He was doing great, and learning more everyday.  As he succeeded, I wasn’t needed anymore.  I know, this isn’t rocket science, and I did know it was coming.  I still wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for the feelings of sitting outside of a world I had served in for so long, and watching everyone do exactly what I asked them to do.  They moved on without me.  That is the goal, right?  But, after 20 years of leading in that area, to be on the outside watching was really, really tough.  It unnerved me.  You see, the fact that neither James nor I were leaving was the hard part, the part that caused the crisis.

I had no issue with not being needed as far as worrying about how everyone else would do.  I had huge issues with not being sure of who I was at that point.  Once I actually let go of so many things I had held before, I wasn’t sure of what to grasp instead.  So, I stood to the side, empty handed.  This emptiness really reflected on my soul, and how much of who I am is defined by what I did.  I was known as “the guy who…”, and you could fill in the blank with a couple of dozen descriptions.  When I handed all of them away, and they thrived, I was successful as a mentor and re-producing leader.  I was left anchor-less inside though.

It was then that I had to come to terms with who Jesus is calling me to be.  It’s still a process.  I think it’s this fear, this weightless free fall that re-creating leaders fear.  We serve faithfully, Jesus blesses, and we accomplish a lot.  We begin to hand it off, to transition out, and it terrifies us.  I have a friend on the receiving end of this right now.  He’s been handpicked to replace a good leader.  As the process is moving forward, the primary leader is pushing the brakes more and more, without good cause.  The primary leader’s entire staff sees what’s happening, but the primary leader doesn’t.  It seems to be because of the same things I’m facing.  Who will this guy be when he hands off everything God has called him to for so long?  So, he is avoiding what is in front of him, and holding up the process well past where it should be going.

So, if you’re a leader looking to mentor and train others, dig deep and pray honest prayers.  What is God calling you to let go of that you’re fearing?  What do you hold, not because you need to, but because you are afraid of standing around empty handed?  Jesus won’t leave you there.  At the very least, He will take your hand.  That’s way better than what you’re holding now.




* Not his real name