One night many years ago, I had decided to get down on one knee and ask Elaine to marry me. I was convinced it was God’s will, and I knew she would accept. Yet at the last moment, I had a sudden and very real sensation I was about to jump off a cliff. I did jump, and I have never regretted it. Apart from my decision to follow Christ, it was the best call I have ever made in my life.
But the problem with God is that he seems inclined to find more cliffs for us to jump off. Just when we’ve finished congratulating ourselves on our last apparently great step of faith, we find ourselves, like it or not, back at the edge again.
And so it is with Elaine and I. Most sensible people my age are thinking how to stay in their secure jobs as long as they can to pad their retirement fund. But for me, it’s the cliff again. I found myself last week announcing to our church that next year, we will lay down our leadership (and my job) to pursue a wider call of God. We can’t do what God is calling us to do and look after a local church at the same time. Our financial plan is spelled faith, as it always has been.
This is why we are doing such a crazy thing. The things we feel called to do -- raising up young leaders, mentoring couples, preaching and teaching, writing books -- all boil down to one thing: leaving a legacy.
One of the biggest problems with Christian leadership is the tendency of leaders to build their ministry around themselves. When they retire, die, or (God forbid) suffer a moral failure, everything disappears overnight. Yet Jesus taught us to build around others, not around ourselves. He devoted himself to developing a small group of disciples, rather than accumulating a large number of church members. Disciples carry the heart and values of those who have gone before them, and take it to the next generation.
Our highest and most strategic task as leaders is not to build large churches around our own gift, but to invest in those young men and women who will transmit the values we believe in to the next generation. In the world, people are taught to make their boss look good. Christian leaders should be taught to make their followers look good. Or as a friend of mine put it, success is successors. The greatest joy of a parent is to see their kids excel.
It’s a very sad thing when leaders lose their edge as they grow older. Age should bring wisdom, but it can also bring an unwanted kind of conservatism -- the unwillingness to risk or take up a challenge. As much as young leaders need to seek out the wisdom of experience, older leaders need to recharge their batteries by spending time around people half their age or less. The benefits of wisdom and experience are meant to give us a platform to find higher cliffs to jump off, not slide into a world of safety nets.
Jesus risked everything right up until the last minute. The cross did not look like a very good career move. It turned out to be the best call he ever made.
He left behind no megachurch, no media empire, no stack of best-selling motivational books. What he did leave behind was something far more valuable -- disciples who would carry on his work. At the cross, he looked like a failure. But when the Holy Spirit fell just a few weeks later, the seeds he sowed in that small group of disciples sprang quickly up, and his kingdom has been advancing ever since.
At 63 years of age, let me give you a piece of advice. Give everything you’ve ever learned in God away to those half your age. Then find a cliff and start jumping again.