In one of the most entertaining exchanges in entertainment history, the comedic duo of Abbott and Costello ask the question, "Who's on First?" in a radio skit about baseball.
What proceeds is a back-and-forth word-play about the lineup of unusually named players, "Who" is on first base, "What" is on second, and "I-Don't-Know" is on third. You can imagine the ensuing hilarity as the game is called.
If I were to carry that same interchange from the playing field to the pulpit and ask a question about ascension planning in the church, the punch line might very well be the same.
I travel in many circles around the globe and I am astounded to find that very few church and para-church organizations have a succession plan in place.
What I discover instead is a host of septuagenarians crowding the plate, while the bull pen of forty- and-fifty-somethings anxiously awaits their turn at bat.
Paradoxically, we serve a multi-generational God. He is Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who clearly establishes generational order in the earth:
• Moses laid hands on Joshua, commissioning the next generation of leadership;
• Elijah spoke to Elisha, saying "if you see me when I am taken from you," signaling that the work would not be done in a single generation;
• The mantle passed from spiritual father to son with the words, "here I am," as Samuel completed his priestly ministry under Eli;
• Ruth entreated Naomi saying, "whither thou goest, I will go" and set in motion a lineage that extends from Boaz to Jesus, establishing the ultimate leadership exchange model in the Biblical context.
Leadership exchange is one of the most pressing issues in the church today.
We live in a time when the culmination of social, medical and technological advances has catapulted the average life expectancy of a male from 69 years in 1960 to well past 78 years presently according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
At the same time, the church has entered an epoch where great leaders like Billy Graham have edged into their twilight years and preeminent voices like Oral Roberts and Bill Bright have passed from this world to the next, having fulfilled the promise in their generation.
In this great leadership chasm I find myself asking out loud, "Who will be the next great voice in Christendom?" More importantly, what can we share with them that will help them be effective at reaching the world for You!
John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach famously expounded, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail." By not planning, we are saying that our best years are behind us – 'well done, thou good and faithful servants,' GAME OVER.
I refuse to accept this premise ipso facto.
All I have to do is look to nature and observe the seed. I find that good fruit emanates from good seed, planted in good soil, nurtured to fruition. Why then wouldn't we follow the same formula for church leadership – why wouldn't we simply imitate the exchange model set by Elohim, the God of order?
In my own ministry, I have taken the pains to establish a lineage of legacy, with four steps of mentoring, that any leader can follow:
1. You watch me do it
2. You do it with me
3. I watch you do it
4. You do it alone
Transitioning leadership is like learning to drive a manual transmission. It requires understanding timing, being attuned to the unique rhythm of the engine, and then letting all the training and fine engineering do what it was meant to do.
Those at the helm must shift. Their ideology must encompass vision and provision. They must begin to identify, instruct and invest in those in the wings. Those who believe themselves to be next must not under estimate the daunting to which they aspire.
When Philip encountered the Ethiopian man reading from the book of Isaiah en route to Jerusalem, he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And the man responded, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?"
Well, how can the next generation ascend unless they are instructed?
Leadership is a constant that must continue to flow, cascading like stair steps, level by level, overflowing one to the next, unifying the body "like precious oil poured on the head, running down…on Aaron's beard..."
My passion for leadership comes from a deep recognition that every organization will rise or fall at the level of its leader. Or as the Greek proverb so succinctly surmises, "A fish rots from the head."
Headship is the authority and power to influence and command. "If you are leading and no one is following, as the Afghan aphorism affirms "then you are only taking a walk."
It is for this cause that I have convened the leading authorities on headship from March 31 to April 2. I am inviting senior pastors and support leadership to join me in Orlando for the 2011 Pastors & Leadership Conference.
Together we will set the agenda for church leadership for the next 20 years. I have assembled an extremely diverse, multi-racial, inter denominational team of experts and senior statesmen to cast the vision for equipping the next generation to be effective in our increasingly diverse society. We will go mano-a-mano and drill down to the essentials.
I am also enlisting entire organizations from the top down to the "skill positions": church secretaries, administrators, music leaders, accountants, missions directors, lawyers, youth pastors, and more. The greatest investment we can make is in people! Preparing them is never for what's next is never a waste of time.
To register your leadership team today, go to www.pastorsandleaders.org. You won't know "Who's Next?" until you prepare who's next.
"Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up , you ancient doors that the King of Glory may come in."