Last Sunday, I announced my retirement (from our church–I still have other fish to fry) at the end of 2017. I’ll be four years into a new church plant. We’re passing the baton of leadership. The congregation is in support, but there are some things we need to consider if we intend to continue making disciples and planting churches…
While in college, I ran track on a couple of relay teams. In one race the baton fell to the ground during the hand-off between one runner and another (not me, thankfully). No one is sure whether the first guy let go too soon, or the second guy never got a grip, either way, we lost the race.
We’re in a similar race today with me running one leg of it, then my successor “C” (can’t use his name on the internet because of certain countries where he currently ministers). We dare not drop the baton in the process.
But, this doesn’t only include C and myself. The rest of the church is involved. They must pull together, cheer results and ready themselves to go to the next level of disciplemaking and church multiplication. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER—the future of our church depends on us handling this well.
There are some lessons to be learned from Ezra and Nehemiah. But before we begin, let me remind you that no one is indispensable. We all get replaced at some time. Even Jesus needed to move aside for his disciples to go beyond the borders of Israel.
A Short History
The nation of Judah had turned away from God to the worship of idols, only to be carried into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Iraq) in 597 b.c.
Babylon fell to King Cyrus of Persia (Iran) around 539 BC.
The following year, Cyrus allowed 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of a Jewish prince named Shesbazzar. They repopulated the place but were vulnerable to their enemies and had no central place of worship (it was worship of God that had built and sustained the nation in the glory years).
The temple was completed in 515 BC, but worship was lax and corruption abounded. Ezra arrived, along with 3,000 others in 458 BC, about 57 years after the temple was rebuilt. He was a reformer set to restore honest worship. He even attempted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but met local opposition and was stopped by the Persian King .
In 445 BC, (13 years after Ezra arrived), Nehemiah sought God and found favor with the king. He came on the scene to replace Ezra and succeeded in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This was completed about 92 years after the first group returned from captivity
The First Leader’s Challenges
Ezra would have let go of his own plans to make room for Nehemiah to succeed. The Bible doesn’t say they ever met, but let’s assume they did. Their overlap would have been fairly short—as you pass the baton, you only run together for a short period. The race is the same, one person’s role ends shortly after the other begins. This allows fresh eyes on the problems and opportunities. Basic values remain the same, but working parts adapt to a new leader for a new time. Above all everyone needs to accept the fact that the kingdom belongs to the Lord, not themselves.
The Second Leader’s Challenges
The new leader needs to act counter-culturally. We’ve all been taught, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” Sometimes it is best to “Don’t just do something, but sit there (and wait to hear from God)”
Nehemiah humbled himself. His job was to build upon a previous foundation, not to tear it up and start over. I remember reading of Henrietta Mears, who discipled leaders such as Bill Bright. When she took over Christian Education at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, she announced that she would change nothing for at least six months. This did three things: A. It gave her time to understand what she was in for. B. It calmed people who might fear change. C. It caused people who already knew the necessary changes to come forward with offers to help. She built anew without tearing down and retained the confidence of those already serving.
Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” A similar prayer mignt include, “Put it into the people’s heart to be kind to me.” If we are called to love one another, the cementing of relationships must take precedent over any other agenda.
Nehemiah’s Team Defeats Their Enemies
Nehemiah faced enemies from the outside, much as we do in a culture which is turning against Christianity. However, he managed to pull his people together and they successfully completed the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. With God’s help and our dedication to love one another, we’ll pass the baton without dropping it. Our church planting model will need to change as Hawaii real estate makes church planting more difficult if we rely on large meeting places and lots of parking. There are other ways. The methods will change, the values won’t!