Whether we like it or not, virtually everything we do in life will be replaced at some point in time. When we retire from our jobs, someone will come along to replace our business or position in the company. When we decide to drop out of a local sports rec league, our team captain will draft someone else to take our place when we are gone. Our culture is built with the understanding that people are temporary. We realize that any organization that relies on one sole individual is headed down a road of eventual doom.
I remember the first year I helped to co-lead a Cinema Church outreach in Hardy, Virginia. We had some great team members, and among them were a couple named Bob and Nancy Stouffer. They were any church leader’s dream because their whole philosophy in ministering to others was to empower the people they raised up to replace them. Coming from a sales background where they worked as mentors to numerous business leaders, they took those same skills and implemented them to help people in the church develop and lead others. They always did their part to make people feel right at home, and I will never forget what they told me one Sunday when they said, “Ezra, our number one goal in this ministry is to replace ourselves. We want to bring people along behind us who can steal our spot on the team and do the job that we are doing right now.”
A thought I have always tried to keep at the forefront of my mind is this simple question: “If I died today, what kind of legacy and replacements would I leave behind to take my place?” Leaving a legacy is important, but it does little good if there is no one who comes after us to carry on the legacy that was placed in our hearts.
A great example can be found by looking at the lives of two dynamic preachers in the 1800s – John Wesley and George Whitefield. Wesley was someone who preached powerfully, but he also took great care to ensure that those who heard his message would continue on in the gospel long after his departure. He organized countless small groups and did all in his power to bring people around him who would replace him after he was gone. In contrast, George Whitefield was also an incredible communicator whose voice, it was said, could be heard over a mile away. Benjamin Franklin stated of Whitefield,
“Every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice was so perfectly well-tuned and well-placed, that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse; a pleasure of much the same kind with that received from an excellent piece of music.”
But while John Wesley focused his attention on raising up people to come after him, George Whitefield simply moved on to the next speaking engagement and did little to follow through with the people to whom he ministered.
In reflecting upon their lives, Whitefield stated,
“My brother Wesley acted wisely—the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”
Sometimes I fear that many Christians and churches live their lives as George Whitefield did in his years of ministry. We have seasons of exponential growth, can proclaim the gospel message with the best of them, and may even lead a great many people to Jesus. However, we fail to follow up with those who have made their commitments to Christ and, thus, leave on our traveled pathway a rope of sand.
Part of the reason we struggle to replace ourselves has to do with our own personal striving for significance. We feel important when our role in life is valued, and so the urge to replace ourselves wanes because we fear to lose that feeling of significance. Just think about it for a minute. Imagine your boss suddenly walking up to you one day and saying, “Hey I appreciate all you have done to train all of your workers in your department. In fact, because of this training, we feel that your job in our company is no longer necessary.” How would you respond? I think for most of us, thoughts of anger and frustration would be pouring through our head. How dare you replace me after all I have done!
One of the best illustrations of this is in the game of hockey and the battle that takes place between a starting goaltender and a backup. The starting goaltender knows his job could be taken at any moment during a game and given to the backup rising star. As a result, many starting goaltenders have a big difficulty in working with their backups to develop and strengthen them because they fear their successor will exceed them and steal their spot on the team (A point goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury realized all too well).
If we are not careful, we take this same philosophy and implement it in our spiritual walk with God and in our church. We fear to give a younger person the chance to teach Sunday school for fear the class will enjoy them more and lose their value for us. We worry about petty things like letting another person lead singing because of the fear that they might mess up the service and cause us to lose our “professionalism.”
I firmly believe that if we are not replacing yourself, we are violating the single biggest principle of Jesus’ call to make disciples. The very essence of discipleship is built on the concept of replacement and multiplication. George Barna states,
“Discipleship is not a program. It is not a ministry. It is a lifelong commitment to a lifestyle.”
This lifestyle is wrapped around the concept of replacement.
Why should we care if someone else on our team is a better song leader, discipleship trainer, or teacher? Let’s get them plugged in and get us out of the way as soon as possible!
So let me pose the question to you: if you died today, who would step up to replace you and all that God currently has you doing in his kingdom? Have you developed yourself enough that people should replace you? The fact of the matter is everyone will be replaced. Who will replace you?