Missionaries are good at many things. We are adaptable, we are frugal, and we often carry a global perspective.
In my experience, one area we are weak in is in planning for the future. Our strength lies in our ability to respond and change, but at times this keeps our focus on the here and now, rather than outward to what is to come.
This is evident in our finances (but this is for another discussion), our relationships, and often in our ministries.
We are the ones who boldly proclaim retirement is not in the Bible.
We wrestle with whether it is appropriate for us to store up future funds when immediate needs are so great.
We often struggle to travel home to maintain valuable relationships due to the immensity of work which needs to be done on the field.
These are generalizations I realize. But, let’s pause for a moment to consider succession in our ministries.
I seem to meet many in ministry who have no plan for the work to go on when they are unable to continue.
Why is this?
When our family moved to South Africa eight years ago, we desired to build something which would outlast us. I think this is a common goal and dream among ministries and missionaries.
Why is it so difficult to accomplish?
Sometimes we wonder what we will do if we pass things on.
Fear sets in as we question whether our supporters might assume we no longer have a ministry.
Often we won’t hand our “baby” off to someone who is different than us.
We can’t imagine giving things to a younger leader (wanting to protect them from the same lessons we learned in becoming a “seasoned” leader.
It is even possible to assume the right person will only come at the end of our journey.
What if that “right” person shows up earlier than we expect?
Would we be able to accomplish more things if we actively thought of succession?
The objections to this issue are fair and need to be considered;
It’s too soon.
They are not ready.
The timing must be right.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Passing things off earlier rather than later enables us to:
Release local leaders who likely will be more culturally relevant than ourselves, perhaps taking the ministry even further.
Be present for the growing pains of transition in a coaching and mentoring way.
Allow younger leaders some of the same opportunities we were afforded at their stage.
Ensure that ministries or teams are not based on us.
Set a godly example of leadership which is not power based or title hungry.
And all of this does not reduce our personal fruitfulness, but increases it. We have the freedom to pursue new opportunities and see even greater impact in the nations we serve. We can join the “cloud of witnesses” cheering our successors on through support and encouragement.
Even if our work does not include a team or organization, we should be asking if we are reproducing ourselves and our hearts?
This discussion of handing over our teams or ministries does not have a one size fits all answer.
But, I cannot see any damage in thinking of succession more frequently than we do.
We’ve seen transition done poorly. Longevity of a team or a project is so key, it is worth our consideration.
What are your thoughts or experiences in the area of succession?