Sunday, January 31, 2010

Succession of Leaders

A couple of weeks ago, the bottom fell out from under the late night TV talk show world.  When local NBC affiliates threatened to preempt The Jay Leno Show due to the show’s low ratings damaging their late local newscasts, NBC decided to shift gears.  Although in 2004 they had contracted with Conan O’Brien, then host of Late Night, to take the helm of The Tonight Show in 2009, his Tonight ratings over the last seven months had not been so hot either.  So NBC’s solution was to move Leno’s existing show to a 30-minute format at 11:35 PM and also move O’Brien’s Tonight to 12:05 AM.  Needless to say, nobody was happy.  O’Brien ended up looking like the victim, and Leno appeared to have lost his creds due to greed.

But backtrack five years.  Then, O’Brien appeared greedy by essentially forcing NBC’s hand and getting the Tonight contract, albeit five years down the road, and Leno looked like the victim of an age-driven push-out (as he would turn 59 in 2009).  Despite appearances, in ‘04 or ‘09, make no mistake—both hosts stand to gain a lot of money and continued fame.

At the same time the nation (or those who couldn’t avoid the pop news) was watching NBC’s succession of show hosts, I had begun a series teaching through the New Testament letter known as 1 Timothy.  Which brings me to the contrast I want to paint here.

Paul and Timothy are no Jay and Conan.

Shocking news, I know.  But when we look into the Scriptures to see this example of a godly succession of leaders unfold—as Paul the apostle essentially hands the reins down to his younger protégé Timothy—we can’t help but notice just how different their transition is from that of modern day superstars.  With intentionality, Paul hopes to pass the truth to Timothy, so that Timothy can pour his life into others, so that they can pour theirs into still others.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  2 Timothy 2.2 (NASB)

For the moment, I don’t even mean to criticize the entertainment industry.  But church leadership is not the entertainment industry, although sometimes Christian superstars act like it.  However, when we observe the lives and service of Paul and Timothy, we see two servant-leaders who understand how to transition leadership with grace and honor, and that’s a model I can follow.  So how did they do it?

1. For a godly succession, there was an early emphasis on Scripture.

Paul clearly was raised on the Scriptures.  His eventual transformation found substance because he was already well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and he would be able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  Note how diligent he was in the sacred texts throughout his earlier days:

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…  Philippians 3.4-8 (NASB, emphasis added)

And also:

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.  Acts 22.3 (NASB, emphasis added)

Timothy was also given great opportunity at a young age to hear the Scriptures.  The letter of 2 Timothy points out that even from childhood his mother Eunice, and grandmother Lois, taught him the Scriptures that would lead to faith in God, ultimately through recognizing and trusting that Jesus is the Messiah.  Note the emphasis on the sacred texts:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3.14-15 (NASB, emphasis added)

2. For a godly succession, there was a genuine faith for salvation.

Paul’s transformation experience is well-documented in Acts, chapter 9.  He was changed, and saved, as he was on his way to arrest Christians.  However, notice that he understands his salvation and calling to have begun far earlier, even from all eternity:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.  2 Timothy 1.8-11 (NASB, emphasis added)

Although the details of Timothy’s conversion are not directly discussed in the Bible, it is clear enough that he trusted in Christ.  Most likely, Timothy had recognized Jesus as the Messiah when Paul first visited Lystra, Timothy’s hometown (Acts 14).  Having had the foundation of the Scriptures noted above, Timothy had the wisdom that led to his salvation through faith in Jesus.  Paul recognized it as sincere faith:

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.  2 Timothy 1.5 (NASB, emphasis added)

3. For a godly succession, there was proven character for leadership.

Paul’s character, and his leadership, are above reproach to any who have honestly studied the Scriptures produced through him.  The genuineness of his faith works itself out in the integrity of his ministry.  He modeled the way for Timothy, and in so doing modeled the role for all of us:

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!  2 Timothy 3.10-11 (NASB)

Timothy would eventually follow Paul’s lead and learn this way of life that points others to the glory of God as reflected in the face of Christ.  But before he had even joined Paul’s team, he was earning a reputation as a young man with integrity.  And look what happened as Paul visited Lystra a second time:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra.  And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.  Paul wanted this man to go with him….  Acts 16.1-3 (NASB, emphasis added)

And Paul would later say of Timothy:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.  For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.  Philippians 2.19-22 (NASB, emphasis added)

So what was the result of this kind of progression, with an early emphasis on Scripture, a genuine faith for salvation, and proven character for leadership?  It produced a godly succession of leadership that we’re still writing and reading about to this day.  Paul considered it a trust that is passed from one generation to the next—a treasure to be guarded and shared.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.  2 Timothy 1.13-14 (NASB)

So as you can see below, I’ve decided to start early with my little ‘Timothy’…

Bible time

Our nightly Bible time