Suppose you worked at ABC Widgets, Inc..And suppose that your responsibility was the very delicate installation of the whosiwhatsit into the widget. You have done it for 20 years. The company has become very dependent on you. But one day, maybe your 62nd birthday, your supervisor comes up to you with some young person. The supervisor says to you, “Please meet Anna. I want you to train her to do your job. Some day she will be your replacement here.”
How would you feel about it. There is a possibility that you will feel relief. You were bothered that the success of the company was dependent on you, and you were already considering the possibility of retirement. But for many, this is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for many to train their replacement. Jesus trained his “replacements” in terms of apostolic (“being sent out”) ministry. Moses did as well, but it seemed to take wisdom from his father-in-law, and a rude awakening from God that he would NOT enter Canaan, to get him to train up Joshua. Joshua did not appear to follow the pattern set by Moses. Elijah trained up Elisha, but only after God assigned him the task of doing it. It is not clear whether the Apostles trained up successors. They certainly trained up church leaders. However, it is not so clear that any of them (except Barnabas in training up Paul and John Mark, and possibly Paul in training up Silas) really took the task of training up the next generation of apostles (missional churchplanters). The 2nd century saw the role of apostle/churchplanter fade and completely die away in the 3rd century.
Some think they are immortal perhaps, or at least do not take their eventual demise seriously. Leaders tend to like to develop followers. One of the more popular church growth methodologies in the Philippines likes to describe itself in terms of developing leaders. Yet the structure and training materials focuses on training followers. It appears to have been developed by someone who is afraid that people will be developed to lead and then leave and create their own similar ministries. And yet, that is exactly what they should do.
Some perhaps feel less important if others can do their job, or, Heaven forbid, their replacement seems to do better than themselves. I recall American football quarterback Doug Williams being seemingly happy that his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was doing so much worse after he left. (Of course, if I had to play for the Buccaneers back in the late 70s and 80s, I may have felt pretty sour about the experience as well. I had a pastor once who firmly believed that a ministerial organization will shrivel up and die (I am using my own paraphrase here) after a great leader passes on. He claimed to get that from Jerry Fallwell. I struggle to grasp where a Christian leader would get such a thoroughly unChristian idea. Perhaps it came from looking around at organizations led by narcissistic leaders who refused to prepare the organization for the next generation. But there are plenty of examples that counter this belief. Strangely, one of those organizations is Jerry Fallwell’s own Liberty University, that seems to be doing quite well in his absence— despite the thoroughly amoral political philosophy of the present leadership.
In some cases, training replacements is uncomfortable because that sort of work is not necessarily what they are good at. The best baseball batting coaches are NOT the best batters. Great singers do not necessarily make great singing coaches. One has to develop new skills to train a replacement. I have dealt with youth ministers who are in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. I suggest to them that it is time to transition from organizing youth ministries, to training up youth ministers. Many balk at that because that is not what they are good at. Frankly, youth ministry is often a bit of a power trip because, although we often decry “rebellious youth,” they actually are much better followers than either children or adults. It can be difficult for a leader who is used to working with followers, to begin teaching future leaders.
In some cases, people think that training replacements is someone else’s job. In the Baptist tradition, ministers do not choose their replacements. Because of that, there is a tendency to not even try to mentor are help prepare the next pastor. That’s too bad because the previous generation can be a great help. Many missionaries who came to the Philippines trained local leaders to be churchplanters, but not to be missionaries. I suppose they were used to the idea that missionaries come from “back home” not from places like the Philippines, which is the “mission field.” Things have changed so much in the last 40 to 50 years that I really struggle to grasp this blindspot in their ministry.
And yet I can fall into the same trap. I didn’t think I could. I teach missions in a seminary in Southeast Asia. As such, I am a missionary (or at least a “cross-cultural minister’) who trains people from the traditional mission field to be missionaries to new fields. I also, at the graduate level, am a missions professor who is training the next generation of missions professors. So I don’t feel like I am failing to train my replacement. And yet… eveyone I have trained have been to go somewhere else. I have not trained anyone to be my specific replacement. Admittedly, seminaries don’t generally work like that anyway. However, when I was in the Navy, I was leaving and passing on my role as A&E officer (A&E as in Auxilliaries and Electrical, not Arts and Entertainment) to my replacement. I promised myself that that I would do my best job, but it is true that to some extent I began to suffer from short-timer’s syndrome, becoming lackadaisical regarding my replacement. I suppose that leads to a fourth reason:
Sometimes we feel that what happens after we leave is not our problem. Leaving a position is, in part, leaving behind the stresses and problems of the job. Therefore, it is hard to motivate oneself to train a replacement to do a job that is about to become someone else’s problem.
And yet, in ministry, it IS our concern. We are serving God and are always part of something timeless and bigger than ourselves. We really have no excuse not to take seriously preparing the next generation for our passing.