LeaderSource - A Conversation with Three Generations on Succession

A Conversation with Three Generations on Succession

A wave of leadership succession in East Asia has much to teach us in every context.

One of the challenges that is affecting the church right now is the issue of the generational succession of leadership. Issues with succession are causing pain and trouble to churches and ministries in many nations.
At a recent international Leader Development Consultation, the LeaderSource team sat down with three generations of leaders from a network of churches in an East Asian nation who have been struggling with this issue and have experienced a breakthrough. They reflected with us on the journey they have been taking in leadership succession.
This church network is one of the largest church planting movements in their nation. With a 50-year history, they have churches in every part of the country. Recognizing the serious crisis they were facing in leader development and leadership succession, they invited us specifically to help them address these two critical issues. Our model for leadership succession was developed in the process of helping them.
Initially, all the top leaders both at the movement level and the individual local church level were over 60 years old. Across the whole movement, there are numerous seasoned and competent younger leaders, yet for many years these young leaders primarily functioned as followers and sometimes competitors to the older generation. This promoted much tension and conflict between the two generations.
Even though these precious friends suffered through many things in the process, they have seen God move supernaturally and with great fruitfulness. They have much wisdom to share from their experiences. This is their story.
A first-generation leader pointed out that when he was just getting started in ministry, the Church in their nation was in the middle of intense persecution. Therefore, generational succession was one of the last things on their mind. They were concerned more with survival.

“We did not have theological training, did not have enough Bibles. Everything was achieved through prayer. At that time, our ministry was mostly done at night. We didn’t understand what true leadership was; we just knew our spiritual fathers were our leaders, so we obeyed them. The relationships between the generations among all the believers were strong; our fathers and sons and daughters served together. There was unity and love in the midst of challenging, difficult storms and struggles, but there was no intentional succession going on.” 
When it came time for them to pass on the treasure they carried, however, this lack of intentional succession posed some problems. Perhaps due to the influence of their culture or assumptions made by both generations, leaders would reach their 70s or 80s and still maintain their power in the church. A key second-generation leader said:
“I know a pastor – his son is also a top leader of a church, and his grandson is also a leader in the church. The leader, who is 86 years old, often got very upset or very angry at his son and grandson because they didn’t respect his authority enough to consult him on everything in ministry. At 86 years old!
As leaders, whenever we got together, the only thing we talked about was ministry, about the church. We never talked about the issue of succession and the need to give power away. We never touched that topic – and that is the greatest crisis of our church.” 
Other second- and third-generation leaders identified trust issues.
“The father’s concern was, can I trust you to take the responsibility? After I give leadership responsibility to you, will you still listen to me? Our generation also had trust issues: After you die, will you give the leadership responsibility to me or to someone else?”
Besides trust, fear was another common issue – in every generation. Several older generation leaders weighed in on their original fears when it came to succession:
“The younger generations have many qualifications, but they lack experience. They have passion, but they do not have enough perseverance. We were afraid that they would just throw away the traditions we had developed over decades. The second fear is that once they take power into their hands, they have the authority and position to get rid of, or silence, the older generation.
With Malcolm’s help, we recognized that the good, biblical parts of our traditions should be passed down to the next generations. The bad parts of the traditions need to be renewed or thrown away. The truth never changes and the principal issues don’t change, but strategies and the ways of doing things, these absolutely need to be changed. Our primary fear was that nobody would accept the responsibility, that no one would be there to receive it.” 
The pressures and high expectations of the preceding generations didn’t help the amount of fear that the new generations felt. A third-generation leader had this to say:
“I would wonder, “Am I ready to take this responsibility?” Our younger generation does not have the favor, resources and relationships our fathers did. We’re also afraid that there are people who are better than us, that we will not be respected, that our leadership will not be accepted.
Every time they gave us responsibility they would say, “You will do better than us.” We felt tremendous pressure. We would think, “Am I really about to do greater work than he has done? If I do worse than he did, what will he do to me?” Our thinking is not the same as our fathers. What if there were disagreement or conflicts? Maybe they would take the responsibility back! When our fathers gave us responsibility, they just said, “You take it,” but they didn’t tell us how to take it. We took the responsibility in great darkness.” 
To address these fears and trust issues head-on, our LeaderSource staff made sure that all of the trainings for the church included all three generations of leaders, from top-level leaders to emerging leaders. This provided the best context for our 3G Model, LeaderStream, along with one of the primary tools of generational succession: consistent communication.
“Sufficient communication, not just talking about the ministry business… the succession of life can’t possibly happen without sufficient communication. I still remember Malcolm’s teaching to our younger generation. He said, “As a follower, you need to take initiative in your responsibility to reach out to your fathers and communicate with them. You will never communicate too much. It’s never too much.”
The 3G Model of Leadership Succession was then designed to help all levels of leaders know who they are (fathers, young men, or children), what characteristics and needs they have, and what responsibilities they have toward the other generations.
This was vital in helping every leader find his or her right place. It dramatically changed everyone’s view and attitude toward each other, so that instead of fighting against each other, they learned to appreciate the unique contributions each makes and their need of each other.
To our amazement, the treasure that the older generation wanted to pass on and that the younger generation wanted to receive was exactly the same thing!
This church had a huge amount of treasure to give and receive. One prominent second-generation leader testified that the history of the church is indeed a rich one.
“Our church was birthed and built through suffering. We went through many years of storms and difficulties and experienced a great revival. In the 1970s, our church was really like the church in the book of Acts. There were miracles and wonders every day. The numbers increased every day.
The history of the church clearly testifies of the quality of spiritual life our fathers have. They have proved themselves sacrificial. They have no concern for themselves, just for God and for the church, and for the believers in the church. Their love, their sacrifice, and their character is undeniable. They are founded in the Scripture, built through prayer, centered around the Cross, and directed at the vision of the Great Commission. They seek the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the heritage of our church. This is the quality of life of our fathers and mothers. Thanks very much to Malcolm for leading us to this deep recognition and appreciation! So as the younger generation, we want to make sure we inherit and pass on the same quality of spiritual life, the love, and the sacrifice that our fathers and mothers have displayed.” 
As leaders of every generation in the church discovered this common treasure, they shifted their priorities when it came to other less important traditions. The church was unified on maintaining things like dependence on Christ, faith, love, holiness, humility, servanthood, burden for the lost, the truth of God’s Word, etc. However, things like certain church traditions, organizational structures, and particular ministry strategies were simply not of great concern – yet these are usually the issues that cause conflict between generations!
This realization brought tremendous release and clarity to every generation. They knew, fundamentally, that they were unified in purpose. From this they also knew what they needed to guard and what they needed to let go of, and how to move forward.
“Today, we go to many different churches, even countries, to learn their experiences, their methods, and models. We copy those things into our church. We think these things can help our church to grow and develop, but we really want to receive the true treasures: willingness to suffer, willingness to pay the price, willingness to carry our cross every day, and to eagerly seek the power of the Holy Spirit to work with God.”
The three generations in the church now work together in great unity and are fully focused on serving God and loving each other. They no longer assume or fear, but have faith in God and trust in each other. And the church is applying their new thinking on succession by seeking out emerging leaders.
“About this issue, my thinking now is, “Has this person been properly prepared? Is this person able to take this major responsibility? Is this person well-established? How is his or her relationship with the church? Has this person won favor and respect in the church and among the fathers and co-workers? To what degree do people accept and trust him or her as a leader?” When we consider all these aspects, then we pass on the leadership responsibility.” 
Within several months, a wave of leadership succession swept the whole movement from top to bottom. Both at top leadership and local church levels, older leaders began to gladly empower younger leaders to be primary leaders, transitioning to support and service roles behind the scenes. This brought peace and health to the older leaders and created the highly needed opportunities and platform for the younger leaders. The whole church movement has taken on a new wave of life and growth.
Today, leadership succession has become a broad culture across this church movement. It didn’t happen as a single event, but as a way of thinking – as a culture. At every level of leadership, leaders are thinking about how to develop younger leaders and empower them. Every leader is given opportunity to grow and develop into their full potential. Everyone is much happier and hopeful for a great future.
“What I want to say is, first, I give great thanks to God and, second, I also give thanks to God and, third, I also give thanks to God because our greatest gifts are from God!
Dear Jesus, we give praise and thanks to You! In the Name of Jesus, we bless the generations of this church. May you raise up the younger generations to be a great blessing to the Church, to be a blessing to the nations. May you prosper them in spirit and body and mind. May they work in the house of the Lord all their life. May they affix their eyes on the beauty of the Cross! May they be planted by the River of Life! They will yield the fruit at the proper time. Their leaves will never wither. Amen.” 


Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag