“We need to have a four generation view of Christian leadership: those who told us the gospel, ourselves, those we pass it on to, and those who will follow them,” the preacher extolled us. The passage was 2 Timothy 2 verse 2.
I was already stretched in ministry in a mature church, but I knew I needed to take this seriously. So I met with some men weekly to read and to pray, and with others on a monthly basis to read and discuss what it means to be a godly leader.
Years later, in our mid-fifties, Pat and I began an international church in France. One day, the pastor of a Baptist church in the city told me that he would retire that year. He didn’t want to. He didn’t know who could succeed him, but his mission organisation had told him he must retire at 70. In the event, he avoided that by going to glory suddenly one Sunday, leaving the question of planning for the future to others. I thought there might be a better exit strategy.
He didn’t know who could succeed him, but his mission organisation had told him he must retire at 70.
Succession – finding the next pastor – is difficult, and for international churches it is even harder. There aren’t that many pastors in France, and anyway, who wants to come to France and serve in English? (Even we didn’t, but that’s another story!)
God intervened, as he does. Two young men joined Bordeaux Church. They were French but they had grown up in the USA so they were fluent in English. Both were willing and able to preach. We began to work together. Both were open to long-term, full-time Christian service. One had a heart for evangelism, for students and for coffee; he is now in a new church plant in Marseille. The other is more concerned with pastoral ministry. He and his wife have begun preparing for full-time service by training part-time while working and serving in the church.
Why plan for succession?
But why do this, anyway? After thirty years of experience, why not carry on till we drop? After all, the church could learn so much from the sudden death of its serving pastor! I think there are several reasons:
We wanted to build a church, not establish a ministry: a church that would outlive us, bear Jesus’ name, and be there for his reputation. Power, authority and responsibility are to be shared and given away in Christian service, not kept and held on to.
The time to consider passing on the baton is now. It is never too soon, but it can be too late.
Passing on the baton doesn’t mean you then do nothing. Think of relay races: runners stretch forward to give the baton to their successor, then for a while both are running together before the successor speeds away, while the other slows down and cheers them on.
Pat and I have a wonderful team of generous and committed supporters, with almost 20 years of partnership. Once we can depend on the government’s generosity and care, this can enable those people to partner with others in taking the gospel forward.
Jesus commands and challenges us in his word: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 2:2). The time to consider passing on the baton is now. It is never too soon, but it can be too late.
Alan & Pat Davey serve in church and student ministry in Bordeaux, France
“The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 2:2)