A few years ago, I was introduced to a concept called legacy leadership. This model of leadership is one of many attempts to understand the Biblical perspective on leadership. What’s funny is there are many people who would try to appear spiritual and say something to the effect, “But the Bible says never uses the word leadership.” Which is true, but there are many other words that we use to explains concepts in the Bible that still have a strong and clear presence in Scripture (e.g., Trinity). There is no culture or individual who has not been touched by the principles contained in the theories of leadership. In this post, I want to introduce you to legacy leadership and then explore how to leave a legacy in your congregation.
Legacy leadership was introduced by researchers Whittington, Pitts, Kageler, and Goodwin (2005) as an exploration of Paul’s approach to leading. The theory is based on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-2:12.
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; 4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. 6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: 2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. 3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. 5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: 6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: 8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. 10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: 11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, 12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
The idea of legacy leadership is that we are perpetuating ourselves through others, but rather the content of our message. In Paul’s case, this was the method he used to spread the Gospel. First Thessalonians 1:4b-8 is key to understanding his approach. He would go into a place where the Gospel was not found and begin to build. After the Chuch was established in an area, he would ordain elders to lead. He would leave but would periodically check on the congregations. As in the case of the Thessalonians, he would find the church not only grew in itself but would spread the Gospel to other areas. Paul did not have to go to those areas to plant churches because the Gospel was already present. This was Paul’s legacy. He was to be a leader worthy of imitation, who would lead others, and in turn, they would lead others. Paul put it like this in 2 Timothy, 2:2
“And the things that thou has heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
The researchers then put together the qualities of legacy leadership.
- Worthy of imitation.
- Boldness amid opposition.
- Pure motive.
- Influence without asserting authority.
- Affectionate and emotional.
- Vulnerable and transparent.
- Authentic and sincere.
- Active, not passive.
- Follower-centered, not self-centered.
- Changed lives: The real measure of leader effectiveness (Whittington, 2005, p. 754).
Legacy in the Church
So, how can we promote a legacy culture in congregations? Especially one that is not centered on an individual person but on the Gospel? I want to offer three examples from a pastor’s perspective.
A life worth living shared through testimonies.
First, as a pastor, I know and understand the importance of living a life worthy of imitation. Again, some people trying to act spiritual say that we don’t follow others. However, Paul, as we read, shared many times to follow Him. Why? Because he was following Christ and wanted us all to go to the same place He was going. We ought to act in a way at all times as an example to believers and unbelievers (1 Tim. 4:12-16).
Still, one of the best ways I see this achieved by everyone in the church is through testimonies. The testimony of believers shared through living life faithfully and through vocal testimony of God’s grace and goodness. I can remember many dear saints testimonies, and they make an impact on me daily. The same is true for others as what we celebrate proliferates.
Intentional discipleship of the next generation and new converts.
We really need to emphasize the importance of discipleship in our congregations. However, we shouldn’t put all our energy into one method. Most churches have a Sunday School program, and that’s great. Yet, more can be added. Connecting the church to formal Bible and ministry classes are essential as well.
Yet, that will all fail if there is no intentional thought given to modeling and being a daily example in front of the next generation of believers and new converts. It is important that we invite them into our daily lives, homes, and activities. So many people have a misconception about what a Christian does every day. The disciples basically lived with Jesus for three and a half years. They ate what He ate and did so much together. And, we can say that Jesus never did anything with wasted breath. Every moment with Jesus was an intentional building block of their discipleship.
Investment in the lives of those in our seats.
This final area is significant to me. Many times we bring others into our congregations to fill needs. This often happens in smaller churches because they may not have the talent. However, I’m not for stealing sheep. Instead, I think it is more important to invest in the people in your current congregation and equip them to serve.
I want to give an example of how this has happened in our congregation. When I first started pastoring, we wanted more musicians. We had a piano player, and I could play guitar, bass, and drums (but not at the same time, ha!). So, we could have asked for others to come and help, but we didn’t. Instead, I offered to give free lessons to anyone who wanted to learn the guitar. Three people in the congregation took up the offer. Within just a few months, they were learning and taking part during worship service. Eventually, this ability developed in the church spread to them learning the other instruments as well.
What can you take from this example? Let us say you will need a new piano player in a few years or as soon as possible. You could bring someone else in from another congregation. But, entertain two other possibilities that I think is better. One, if you have a piano player and want to ensure a legacy, have them teach another person in the congregation. Or, take someone that is willing to learn and pay for their lessons. I believe these last two approaches will create a longer lasting legacy and a true spirit of discipleship in your congregation.
What are some other ways you have seen a legacy worthy of imitation passed on to others?
Whittington, J. L., Pitts. T. M., Kageler, W. V., & Goodwin, V. L. (2005) Legacy leadership: the leadership wisdom of the Apostle Paul. The Leadership Quarterly. 16. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.07.006