Friday, September 3, 2010

Passing the ministry baton

In 2008, both the U.S. men's and women's 400m Olympic relay teams were disqualified for dropping the baton. But how many pastors are guilty of failing to pass on the ministry baton to the next generation? In the Pastoral Epistles, we see Paul's effort to make a clean pass to younger men who will minister long after Paul has finished his leg of the race.

Perhaps most significant is 2 Timothy 2:2, where we see the transmission of truth between four generations: "The things which you [Timothy] have heard from me [Paul] in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men [Timothy's disciples] who will be able to teach others also [their disciples]."

How should this be applied in the local church? As I once heard and often tell others, one of the main roles of a pastor is to work himself out of a job. That is, over the years, and as I disciple my congregation, there should be an increasing number of trained and godly men who are able to receive the baton from me and carry it on for a new generation.

Colin Hansen has a must-read article for all pastors today on Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession. It frames the issue in a historical perspective, giving both some healthy and unhealthy examples of succession. Sadly, he points out that often,
Senior leaders don’t want to let go. They realize too late that they’re slowing down, a process that begins in many cases around age 60. Various aspects of the church’s vision become neglected, and the church stagnates. The senior leader’s gifting and experience mask underlying structural weaknesses, as in the case of Spurgeon. Meanwhile, younger leaders don’t want to wait around to take charge. Many capable young leaders know the long odds of a successful succession. So they prefer to plant their own churches or invest in smaller ones they can grow by God’s grace.

Curtis Thomas, in his excellent book Practical Wisdom for Pastors, gives a tragic example of one pastor:
Everything seemed just right, and it was expected that when he turned the reins over to a successor an ongoing, dynamic ministry would continue.

But he would not step down. His age advanced well beyond normal retirement. His health began to fade. His sermons began to lose their appeal. His influence began to wane. The members and even some of the leadership began to move elsewhere. Young couples began moving their memberships to other churches. Only his close, personal friends stayed with him, many of whom were quite old and less mobile, hence not very energetic when it came to the work of the Gospel.

As he saw his ministry begin to fade, he became bitter and very caustic. Squabbles erupted within the remaining members. Eventually the church voted to vacate the pulpit. Things became very acrimonious. The pastor left the ministry as a tired, pitiful, bitter old man.

I am a mere 32 years old. If the Lord tarries, and blesses me with good health, I have perhaps another 30-40 years of vibrant ministry ahead. Compared to the age of some in my congregation, I'm still a "kid." But ironically, the time to start planning my succession -- and to be training up the next generation -- is right now.

Photo credit: psychbird

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