Biblical Succession

Chuck Colson’s Legacy for Us(4)CWC_Teaching_arms_outstretched_facing_forward_1

Into the future
Chuck Colson was one of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world, with a multifaceted ministry involving prison work, criminal justice reform, and worldview teaching, among other things. Frequently, when founders of ministries die, the ministry collapses within a few years. To prevent this, Chuck worked for years to prepare the ministry and the people he worked with to continue his work when he no longer could.

Chuck’s plan was to follow the model for succession found in Scripture. In particular, for the worldview portion of his ministry, he drew his inspiration from the “school for prophets” established by Samuel.

Samuel was one of the most remarkable but underrated leaders of the Old Testament. He was the last of the judges, a prophet, and a de facto priest who performed sacrifices even though he was not a descendant of Aaron or even a Levite. Few others were simultaneously prophet, priest, and political and military leader. And it was Samuel who prepared the way for the transformation of Israel politically and religiously under David.

Samuel’s leadership is especially important for laying the groundwork for the institution of prophets in Israel. Prior to Samuel, very few people are described as prophets: Moses was a prophet; an unnamed prophet appears at the beginning of the book of Judges; and Deborah was described as a prophet. Along with them, the elders of Israel at one point prophesied. We are also told that prior to Samuel, prophets were known as “seers,” but none are mentioned in the book of Judges. Prophets do not seem to be common prior to Samuel.

Yet in Samuel’s day, we find groups of prophets active in Israel. When Samuel met Saul, Samuel told him that he would meet a group of prophets coming down the hill prophesying to the accompaniment of harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre (1 Sam. 10:5-13). Later, we find Samuel at the head of a group of prophets at his home at Naioth in Ramah (1 Sam. 19:18-24).

Because of this sudden appearance of groups of prophets, tradition says that Samuel started a school for prophets. This seems an odd idea today. We usually think of prophets as people chosen and gifted by God to speak his message to His people, and that is certainly an important qualification for a prophet. We will return to the centrality of the Spirit later, but for now, we need to take a closer look at the role of prophets to understand what a school for prophets would do.

Who is a prophet?
In technical terms, a prophet is a “Covenant enforcement mediator.” To put this into normal English, the prophet’s role was to examine the culture in light of God’s Covenant and to pronounce God’s will accordingly. God had promised Israel that if they obeyed His Law, He would bless them, but if they didn’t they would be cursed. The prophet’s calling was to proclaim the Covenant blessings or, more frequently, the Covenant curses based on the people’s faithfulness in fulfilling the terms of the Covenant.

Along with this, the prophet would also call people to repentance and to greater faithfulness to God, higher standards of justice for the poor, etc.

It appears, then, that Samuel trained the prophets in God’s Law (the Torah, which is Hebrew for “instruction”) and cultural analysis, and set them up in groups to engage the culture under the direction of the Spirit. In today’s parlance, they were involved in a Biblical worldview ministry.

Leaving successors
It has been said that there is no success without a successor. Samuel’s sons were not up to the task of following him in the role of judge—Samuel didn’t provide a very good role model for fathering. As a result, he was succeeded by Saul and David, with the result that kings replaced judges as Israel’s political and military leaders.

Samuel also left a revitalized priesthood to replace the house of Eli. And Samuel’s school for prophets established an institution later known as “the sons of the prophets” that would remain in Israel until the destruction of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Samuel thus provided for a stable succession in all areas of his ministry.

The Bible provides other examples of leaders training their successors. One obvious example is Elijah and Elisha. After Elijah’s triumph over the priests of Baal, when Jezebel threatened his life, Elijah fled to Mt. Sinai. God came to him, and after Elijah had gotten his complaints out of his system, God told him to take Elisha on as his successor. Elijah called Elisha, and Elisha joined him (1 Kings 19:9-21).

We do not hear from Elisha again for four chapters, during which time Elijah continued to play an important role in the kingdom. During this time, Elisha went with him as his apprentice. When Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha received a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit—in other words, he became Elijah’s heir and the head of the “sons of the prophets” (2 Kings 2).

In the same way, Moses took on Joshua as his assistant. For example, Joshua accompanied Moses onto Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:13). Moses sent Joshua on the mission to spy out the land, and over the next forty years Joshua was by his side watching and learning from him.

Joshua saw how difficult it was for even Moses to lead the people, and on his death Joshua had real doubts about his ability to bring the people into the Promised Land. For their part, no one among the people of Israel except Joshua and Caleb could remember a time when Moses was not their leader. But Moses had been careful to associate Joshua with himself, and so the people readily accepted Joshua as their leader. Both they and God encouraged him, affirming his call and exhorting him to “be strong and courageous” and to be careful to obey God’s commandments (Josh. 1:1-9, 16-18).

Jesus followed the same pattern in training up the leaders who were to follow Him. As Robert Coleman points out in his marvelous book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Jesus called the Apostles first and foremost to be with Him (Mark 13:13-14). When they were ready, He gave them jobs and supervised their work (Jn. 4:1-2); later, He sent them out on preaching missions and then debriefed them (e.g. Luke 9:1-6, 10). It was, once again, an apprenticeship with increasing responsibilities over time.

Of course, after He had trained them, He still told them to wait in Jerusalem after His Ascension until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), which was given to them at Pentecost. True leadership in the Church is always spiritual leadership, in other words, leadership that is led by the Holy Spirit. But preparation, training and experience are important as well.

The Apostles also prepared their successors. Paul discipled a number of important leaders for the early church, but his relationship with Timothy is a particularly clear example of Biblical leadership principles. He identified Timothy as a potential leader, an identification confirmed by the Spirit (1 Tim. 1:18); he traveled with Timothy, taught him, and modeled good leadership; he sent Timothy out on a variety of assignments, and eventually entrusted the very important church in Ephesus to his leadership. This is the city where Jesus’s mother lived and where the Apostle John ministered before his exile to Patmos.

Like Joshua, Timothy seems to have been apprehensive about his job (e.g. 2 Tim. 1:7). But Paul encouraged him in his work, and laid out the pattern for developing future leaders: You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. 2:1-2). In other words, Paul tells Timothy that he had equipped him, now Timothy had to equip others.

The lesson from Scripture
What can we learn from these examples of Biblical succession?

First, effective leaders plan ahead for the time when they can no longer lead. This includes preparing their successors. They spend time with them, teach them, model leadership, give them responsibility and supervise their work, and mentor them. Leaders understand that there is no success without a successor.

Chuck did this. He worked with people directly, encouraged and stretched them, pushed them out of their comfort zones, and prepared them to take their place in advancing the Kingdom. He also provided teaching through books, audio presentations, and DVDs to prepare those he could not reach directly. And in programs like the Centurions, he established a school for prophets that will continue as part of his legacy into the future.

From the other side of the equation, when a great leader dies, uncertainty, insecurity, and fear are natural results. But as both God and the people of Israel told Joshua, the new leaders need to “be strong and courageous.” For, as Paul told Timothy, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. And as the new leaders are guided and empowered by the Spirit, they can carry on and advance the work.

Lastly, it is the responsibility of those of us who have learned from Chuck and others like him to pay it forward. We need to train others, who can then pass on what they learn from us. This was Jesus’ approach to creating disciples and Chuck’s motivation for creating the Centurions program. It is also the responsibility of all spiritual leaders, whether they are in a formal leadership position or not.

And that includes you.

Next steps

What opportunities are you pursuing to help prepare the next generation of Christian leaders? Talk with your pastor or a trusted church leader. Find out what you can do to become better prepared for training others. Then get busy and start your own “school of prophets” for building the church and advancing the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Want more help in this? Order a copy of Robert E. Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, from our online store. Here’s all the instruction you’ll need for beginning to disciple others. You might also read the article “Beyond Jesus and Me: Making Disciples,” by Chuck Colson.



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