Moses Is Dead: Strategies for Pastoral Transition

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In the independent church, where there is no bishop to call and no presbytery to consult, which strategies ensure a successful transition from one pastor to another? Using the biblical narrative of the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua as a guiding metaphor, this thesis examines why leadership transitions are fraught for all churches and uniquely complicated for independent churches. It then proposes viable strategies to use when transitioning from one pastor to another.

The problem of pastoral transition is addressed by studying the successful leadership transitions that occurred within the Hampton Roads Consortium of Churches between 2013 and 2023. The thesis presents their stories, gives voice to the often-neglected perspective of successor pastors, and reflects on the findings through the lens of the classical theological disciplines: historical theology, systematic theology, biblical studies, and practical theology. It also engages the broader literature on leadership transitions within secular organizations as a way to evaluate pastoral leadership transitions in a wider context.

Out of the qualitative analysis conducted on interviews with the successor pastors of the Hampton Roads Consortium, five strategies emerged: look for one-eyed pastors; deploy a prophet, priest, and king; speak with candor; drop the baton; and seek interdependence. These strategies represent a framework from which independent churches may begin to develop much needed processes for when their inevitable moment of pastoral transition arrives. The strategies may also serve denominational churches desiring to inject creativity into the stale parts of their approach. Together, the strategies outlined in this thesis are intended to help churches move from the loss of a leader to renewed mission as a community.





Simone, M. Travis (2024). Moses Is Dead: Strategies for Pastoral Transition. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.