Leaving a legacy

by Shore Vineyards pastor Vic Francis

“We may not need any more cathedrals but we do need cathedral thinkers, people who can think beyond their own lifetimes” (philosopher Charles Handy).

I was with a New Zealand Christian leader one day and we got to talking about a key ministry in this country with which we had both been involved.We spoke warmly and respectfully about the ageing leader of the ministry and the challenges the organisation faced replacing him.

But we disagreed when we came to the subject of the legacy he would leave. My friend tended to think this man, for all his magnificent service, had stayed on too long and become a hindrance rather than a help to the ministry he had served for much of his life. I took the position that he was an amazing servant of God, a warrior who was an inspiration to all of us younger leaders as we considered our own older age.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since then and now believe I was wrong. He should have got out years ago.

My legacy at Shore Vineyards won’t be known until five years after I leave. If our church continues to thrive and grow and reach people for Christ under their new leaders, I will have succeeded. But if it flounders and loses momentum because I’m not there, or because it was too much built around me, or because I’ve somehow subtly set it up to fail without me, I will have failed.

I have concluded that the way you leave a ministry is as important as the way you arrive. Some people leave too early, just when the breakthrough they had prayed and sacrificed for is near; others leave too late, in the process helping to kill the very thing they have given their lives to create.How do we process this vital decision? Some thoughts:

  • Start with the end in mind – plan your succession early.
  • Think young – don’t build a team of your age or older.
  • Keep trusting God – in many ways, the older you are the harder this becomes.
  • Grow in your role – increasingly do what only you can do and hand over the rest.
  • Seek truth – find someone who will tell you when it’s over.

I’m unproven in this, being a long-term pastor of Shore Vineyards. But I trust that, having invested so much into this church, I will be obedient when God calls me to let go.