I recently read the book 4 Chair Discipling by Dann Spader. I was particularly struck by the following illustration (which I’ve quoted at length), which helps us understand the responsibility we have as Christ-centred servant leaders to maintain faithful stewardship (see Grab a Towel chapter 3) of the Gospel which God has entrusted to us.
‘Every four years the summer Olympics begins with an event that captures the imagination of the world: the lighting of the Olympic flame. At the end of an international marathon relay, one final runner enters the Olympic stadium. After traveling by foot, by bicycle, by boat, or by air, sometimes over thousands of miles, the torch finally enters the stadium in the hands of a runner who, to the thrill of millions, ignites the enormous Olympic flame.
‘Wouldn’t it be exciting to be one of the bearers of the flame? Picture it. Each stride throbs with a sense of mission. Your fingers carefully encircle this forged symbol of Olympic competition. All fatigue fades as adrenaline fills you for this once-in-a-lifetime moment. Your experience would be a family legends… Can you imagine holding that piece of tradition in your hands and knowing that, for a brief moment, you were the link in that historic chain?
‘As Christians we carry a torch. We carry a flame of so much greater value that there is no comparison. The pomp and circumstance of the Olympics pales against the eternal significance of the ministry with which Christ has entrusted us. Proud athletes carry the Olympic torch accompanied by global applause, while Christians through the ages have borne the torch of the gospel despite centuries of persecution and trial. The flame we carry is not a symbol. It is the light of God that is desperately needed by a dark and dying world’ (Spader 2014:33-34).
God is the ultimate succession planner! In his kingdom plan, we must recognise that we are part of a bigger picture – that of God’s sovereign plan that spans the ages of human history. As a leader, we must always be cognisant of God’s supreme purposes of which we are to play a part in our generation. Joshua understood this principle. The torch of leadership was passed on to him by Moses, and his responsibility was to steward God’s people for the tenure of his life, before passing on the torch to the next generation. In the final chapter of Joshua (chapter 24), just before his own death, Joshua summons the people to Shechem in order to renew the covenant. He instructs the people, ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness’ (24:14). Joshua recognised that his legacy was not simply going to be measured by his own faithfulness to God, but by whether the subsequent generation would also remain faithful to God.
The Apostle Paul had the same outlook. Towards the end of his life he wrote to his friend and disciple, Timothy. Paul was not only concerned with passing on the torch to Timothy… but through Timothy to subsequent generations of Christian leaders. He wrote, ‘And 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). Paul understood kingdom succession planning as he identifies four generations through which the torch must be passed:
Generation 1 – From Jesus to Paul
Generation 2 – From Paul to Timothy
Generation 3 – From Timothy to reliable people
Generation 4 – From reliable people to others
Christian leaders are not ‘owners’ of the gospel, the church or their organisation, but are stewards. We are part of God’s kingdom succession planning and have a responsibility to the generations that will follow us. What we have received from a previous generation is not ours to alter, change, peddle for profit, or pervert in any way. Rather it is a gift and responsibility that has been entrusted to us for the generation in which God has placed us. When Christian leaders fail in this task, the gospel is compromised, and its effectiveness is diminished. The church loses its relevance and the light is extinguished to the detriment of all people in the world. The Bible is unambiguous about the call on Christ’s disciples, and particularly upon leaders. Grab a towel because we are stewards of Jesus’ legacy, carrying the torch of the gospel in this generation!