Passing the Torch: Four Ways to Prepare the Next Generation to Lead Well

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This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry + College/Career Ministry Kindle Retreat on Saturday, January 23, 2015.

Key Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

The call to leadership is a call to discipleship. Christian leaders are given the responsibility to not only lead well, but to invest in the next generation so that they can carry on the gospel task. John Maxwell sums it up well: “The best leaders lead today with tomorrow in mind by making sure they invest in leaders who will carry their legacy forward.” In fact, one of the goals of leadership is to make yourself replaceable. Ideally, a leader should put people and systems in place so that if they have to leave their leadership role for some reason, things will keep running smoothly. As we will see in 2 Timothy, Christian leaders are commanded to “guard the good deposit” of the gospel in themselves and in those who they will pass the torch to.

It is interesting that none of the leaders in the Bible were seeking a leadership position. They were all underdogs and ordinary men and women who God chose and empowered to lead well. There are several positive and negative examples in Scripture of leaders passing the torch to the next generation. In the Old Testament, there are two different “succession plans” that start out well, but end in disaster. The first one begins with Moses. God appoints Moses as the leader of His people, who will lead them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Along the way, Moses selected a young man named Joshua to be his special assistant and began to invest in him. Joshua was chosen to be one of the twelve spies to go scout out the Promised Land and he and Caleb were the only two that trusted that God would fulfill His promise to give them victory (Numbers 13). As Moses neared the end of his life, he asked God to appoint a leader to take his place and Joshua was chosen (Numbers 27).

Joshua then led the nation of Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land. In addition to his military prowess, he also kept the people on track spiritually by constantly reminding them of God’s law, covenants, and promises.  Joshua 24:31 tells us that “Israel served the Lord in all the days of Joshua.” However, Joshua didn’t appoint a leader behind him, which leads to the downward spiral of Israel in the book of Judges

A similar thing happens in the account of the first kings of Israel. After Saul is removed from leadership, David, who is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart”, become king. Like Moses, he faithfully leads Israel. He too chooses a successor, his son Solomon, and prepares him to take over as king and to carry out the building of God’s temple. David even goes so far as to begin gathering building materials for the temple and laying out a design for it (1 Chronicles 22, 28-29).

After David’s death, Solomon goes on to lead Israel into its most prosperous era, much of which was made possible by David’s investment in him as his successor. However, like Joshua, Solomon fails to train up a leader behind him. When his son Rehoboam takes over, the kingdom of Israel splits due to his poor leadership (1 Kings 12).

The New Testament also provides us with some examples of passing the torch of leadership. In the Gospels, we see Jesus choosing twelve ordinary men to be his disciples. They go through a one and a half year period of intensive discipleship as Jesus prepares them for the incredibly huge task of establishing the church by taking the gospel to the nations. The disciples are proof that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. The disciples were normal guys: they weren’t abnormally talented, they made mistakes, had misconceptions, and failed. Despite their faults and flaws, they continued Jesus’ ministry, leaving a huge impact on the world and even influencing us today.

The second New Testament example is that of Paul and Timothy. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, meets young Timothy while in a town called Lystra and takes him under his wing (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy and Paul traveled together all over Asia Minor preaching the gospel, encouraging believers, and planting churches. The two men became so close that Paul affectionately refers to Timothy as his “son” (1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:2, 1:18; 2 Timothy 1:2, 2:1). Ultimately Timothy stays in Ephesus to lead the church there, while Paul goes on and is eventually imprisoned and sentenced to death. The book of 2 Timothy is Paul’s final farewell letter to his close friend and ministry successor. It is a deeply personal call for Timothy to continue to lead with excellence and to pass the torch to the next generation of believers.

The theme verses for the Kindle Retreat are found in 2 Timothy 1:6-7: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” This is an important passage when it comes to leadership. Like Timothy, leaders need to have the Spirit-empowered courage to use and develop the gifts that God has given them in order to serve the Lord, the church, and their followers well. Like Paul, leaders must invest in others so that they are ready to lead when the torch of Christian leadership is passed to them.

The best measure of a leader is the leaders that he or she leaves behind. Author Max DePree put it well when he said that: “Succession is one of the key responsibilities of leadership.” Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul all did this well: they identified followers who would lead God’s people well after they left. This passage in 2 Timothy outlines four ways that leaders can prepare to pass the torch of Christian leadership to the next generation:

  1. Affirm their faith (v. 5)
    The first way leaders can prepare to pass the torch is to affirm the faith of those they lead. Look at what Paul says in verse 5: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” Christian leaders should be constantly reminding those that they disciple that they have a new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
    This is essential for leaders and future leaders to remember. When a leader realizes that his identity is in Christ, it humbles him when he experiences success and encourages him when he faces challenges. As leaders, we are merely instruments in God’s hands that He delights to use to bring Himself joy and give us pleasure and joy (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Our ultimate success depends on the Holy Spirit working in us to accomplish His sovereign will. God’s mission cannot be thwarted which is why He alone deserves the praise and glory for the work we accomplish (Zechariah 4:6).
  2. Acknowledge their gifting (v. 6-7)
    In addition to affirming the faith of his followers, a Christian leader needs to acknowledge their gifting. One of the reasons that Paul chose Timothy to be his personal assistant and successor is because of the potential he saw in Timothy. Like Paul, a leader should seek to identify future leaders, build them up, give them resources and opportunities, and turn them loose.
    That leadership potential cannot be realized, however, unless the gifts God has given are used. Like a flame that isn’t fanned, spiritual gifts tend to fade to fade in strength when they are not used and encouraged. In order for others to make use of their gifts, a leader usually has to be willing to empower them and give them a chance to take responsibility and even fail. This prepares them to assume full leadership in the future while still having the benefit of a mentor to guide, correct, and encourage them in the present.
  3. Act it out (v. 8-13)
    After affirming Timothy’s faith and acknowledging his spiritual gifts, Paul points to his own example in verses 8-13. He recognizes an important truth: leaders are role models for others. A leader’s affirmation and acknowledgement mean very little unless they are backed by personal action. This is the third way that a leader can prepare to pass the torch of leadership: by acting it out himself.
    So in verses 6 and 7, Paul is saying: “Timothy, keep growing, don’t shrink back, God has called you and God will keep you.” Then in 8-12, Paul reminds Timothy why the gospel is worth it and how God has empowered Paul even in the midst of imprisonment and suffering. Paul goes on to tell Timothy to imitate him in verse 13. Paul’s not saying that he’s something special, but is pointing to the fact that God has been the One who has saved him, equipped him, and allowed him to be the leader he is (see also Philippians 3:17, 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). Christian leaders should seek to imitate Christ in all things. As they do so, they lay out a pattern for their followers in order that they may become more like Christ also.
  4. Abide in truth (v. 14)
    Finally, leaders must encourage their followers to abide in God’s truth. In verse 14, Paul says: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Notice Paul’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit here. He doesn’t tell Timothy to “guard the good deposit” with his own hard work. He doesn’t tell Timothy to “guard the good deposit” by doing a bunch of activities. Paul is telling Timothy that the only way he’ll be able to “guard the good deposit” long enough to pass the torch on to someone else is “by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” According to verse 7, this isn’t a weak or fearful spirit that dwells in us, but the powerful, loving, and controlling Spirit of God. Leaders must realize that “there are no intrinsically qualified people. God Himself must save sinners, sanctify them, and then transform them from unqualified into instruments He can use” (John MacArthur in Twelve Ordinary Men). On their own without the Holy Spirit, leaders are unable to complete the task God has given them (Romans 8:1-11).
    So to guard the deposit that is the gospel, leaders must abide in the truth. Look what Jesus says in John 15:4-5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” In order to bear fruit as a leader and for leaders down the road to bear fruit, it is essential to abide in the truth found in the gospel. Only then can a leader “guard the good deposit” successfully.

The call to leadership is a call to discipleship. As a Christian leader, intentionally invest in those that look up to you: affirm their faith, acknowledge their gifting, act it out yourself, and abide in the truth together. In this way, ordinary people like you and me become the instruments by which the gospel is carried to the ends of the earth. As the torch of Christian leadership is passed from one generation to another, the world recognizes that it’s not the man; it’s the truth of God and the power of God in the man that preserves the gospel until Christ returns.

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

Read more of Lawson’s sermons by clicking here.


About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

2 Responses to Passing the Torch: Four Ways to Prepare the Next Generation to Lead Well

  1. Reblogged this on Youthpastor and commented:
    Raising young people, investing in them and realeasing them is part of the Calling God has given me!
    Am I doing it faithfully?

  2. Mark Jones says:

    Great article! Sadly it rarely happens in pastoral ministry. I know of only one pastor, Jerry Kroll, who trained his replacement. He took 5 years to prepare the man who followed him at Heritage Baptist. Most pastors hold on until the bitter end.

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