It is a nice coincidence that “succession” is built out of the word “success.” I understand that “succeed’ can mean both “follow” and “prosper” – and that the former is the connection with “succession.” But I can’t help but notice how important succession is to success in ministry. And I mean more than “finishing well.” I’m coming to believe that everything we do in ministry should have a succession aspect to it – that is, an eye toward sharing the vision, and an eagerness to give up one’s role as soon as someone can take it over.
One of my sons is in a ministry led by a charismatic person whose name is Sixtoe. (Can’t forget that one!) When I was visiting a few weeks ago, Sixtoe told me with obvious pleasure that the summer outreaches would all be led by those who were in their twenties and thirties. Smiling, he said, “All the rest of us will be behind them praying.” His whole vision of ministry was of giving it away.
I recently met someone who supervises a number of people in ministry. We wondered together about the trend of so many who expect their job to be effortlessly fulfilling and to match perfectly their skills and gifts (as identified by the numerous inventories we take). We agreed that many times our calling in administration is to support those who do what we personally feel most excited about. We “succeed” by backing away from the front lines and empower others to step up and own the vision.
This is really all a part of dying. Most of us in leadership have to consider what will happen if we get “hit by a bus.” But are we trying every day to make it easier to get along without us? Do we live well at the intersection of our calling to “do” something in ministry and our calling to slowly and gracefully disappear?
These musings are really inspired most by the ministry of Jesus. God delegated so much to human leaders that when they failed, he promised to come and shepherd them himself. Ezekiel 34 says repeatedly, “I myself will” followed by: feed my sheep…go after the lost… bind up the wounded…etc. Yet in the messianic ministry of the Good Shepherd, Jesus keeps re-delegating the ministry of tending God’s people. “You feed them,” he says on more than one occasion. God incarnate was in no rush to begin his earthly ministry and then, it seems as soon as it started, he began giving it away. He even said that leaving the disciples was important for them. They would do even greater things in his absence. “I must go.” As unique as Jesus’ ministry was, I sense that succession was an element of everything he did.
I suppose that if someone were to ask us about our success in ministry, we would best answer by pointing to the work of others – our “successors” – we have empowered.