Reaching Into the Future
Leadership that blesses the next generation
The pathway to success for leaders in the kingdom of God diverges from the road of modern societal wisdom. Pursuing personal success for the benefit of our own dreams and aspirations alone is contrary to the model of Jesus. Scripture highlights a different way of thinking about success — one that sees beyond the horizon of our moment in time. Whatever ministry season you are in, God wants you to think about the next generation of church leaders coming behind you.
Hebrews 11:20 says, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” The Message puts it this way: “By an act of faith Isaac reached into the future as he blessed Jacob and Esau.” Isaac, son of Abraham, was the child of promise, but he was able to look beyond the present tense with his sons. God had said of Isaac, “I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19, emphasis added).
Recognizing that God’s promise of blessing was not just about him, Isaac reached into the future and blessed the next generation. This seems to be the most noteworthy aspect of Isaac’s life for the writer of Hebrews.
We need ministry leaders today who are more interested in blessing the next generation than achieving personal success. Following are three characteristics of leaders who are poised to bless the next generation.
Gordon Anderson, my mentor and the former president of North Central University in Minneapolis, once shared the story of a friend who went through medical school on a military scholarship, becoming an officer upon graduation. When the new doctor walked onto the military base for the first time as a uniformed officer, service members stopped to salute him.
Anderson observed they were saluting the uniform, not the individual. There is a danger, he said, in allowing a ministry position or title — a uniform, if you will — to become your identity.
You can work so hard to achieve your ministry rank that you miss the larger picture. God did not call you to a job or career path. He called you to hear His voice and follow Him.
God spoke to Abraham, saying, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). In faith and obedience, Abraham left the life he knew and followed God into unknown territory.
The church you serve is your assignment. Following where God leads is your calling. Your congregation doesn’t own you. The moment God tells you to do something different, do it.
This journey of following Jesus is
about who you are becoming, not what
Likewise, I often remind my staff, “I don’t own your calling.”
When they join my team, I tell new staff members I am grateful for their help, but they are God’s, not mine. My dream is for each one to go beyond his or her current assignment. I want to cheer them on as they hear and respond to God’s voice, wherever that takes them. The same goes for my parishioners.
John the Baptist had a successful ministry with a huge following. Then Jesus showed up. Suddenly, the crowds started to leave and follow Jesus, whose ministry was just beginning to take off.
What did John say? “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). John understood it was not about him.
John later found himself in prison, facing the prospect of execution. While incarcerated, he must have wrestled with all kinds of thoughts. Where did I go wrong? Did I miss it? What if I had kept my crowds?
Finally, John sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20).
John already knew the answer to this question (John 1:32–34). Perhaps John was really asking, “Was it all worthwhile?”
Jesus responded, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (verses 22–23).
In other words, it’s not about your role or your uniform. It’s not about whether you preach on a big stage. It’s not about whether anyone knows you.
It is about answering the call and following the voice of God. When you go where God leads, and release others to do the same, the sacrifices are always worthwhile. The blind will see, and people will hear the good news.
Your mission must be larger than your role.
Focus on progress, not perfection. As ministry leaders, we often measure ourselves against an impossible standard. Sometimes we also push that standard on those around us.
Perfection is not a healthy expectation. After all, none of us can achieve it. We all need the grace of God to fill in the gaps of our inadequacies.
Instead of insisting on perfection, learn to appreciate progress. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).
As Christ followers, we’re not who we used to be. Jesus is making each of us into something different. Hopefully, we are growing and making progress. And that is worth celebrating.
I couldn’t do the things the Lord purposed for me until I learned to empower leaders around me, instead of bearing all the weight alone.
This journey of following Jesus is about who you are becoming, not what you accomplish. If your ministry dreams come true 10 years from now, who will you be? Will you be the kind of person who drives others so hard they leave — wounded, frustrated, and questioning their calling? Or will you be the kind of person who appreciates progress, celebrates it in the lives of those around you, and nurtures their continued growth?
To lead people well, you need to love them well. First Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (verses 4–7).
Think about this text with your leader hat on, especially Paul’s statement that love always protects. The Greek word translated “protects” suggests a covering, like a roof on a house. Do those you lead feel protected, or are they fearful of crossing you? Is your church a safe place where people can be themselves, make mistakes, and grow under a covering of love, respect and grace?
Integrity is about the long game in ministry. Two kinds of integrity are vital: moral uprightness and structural soundness.
Strength of character is essential for shepherding God’s people effectively and reaching into the future on their behalf. All the little things you do in private reflect your level of moral integrity. Are you consistent in character, even when people are not looking?
Integrity is also vital to the way you structure your life and ministry. Think of a suspension bridge. Engineers build bridges to handle the traffic that goes across them. If the integrity of a bridge is sound, it will withstand the pressure.
Think of structural integrity as the capacity to hold the traffic of your dreams without collapsing. How is your structure holding up? Whenever your ministry experiences 40% growth, you will need a structure change.
If you suddenly added 40% of your current weight to one spot on your body, your skeleton would bow beneath the strain. You would need to redistribute the weight or lose it. I call this the law of the skeleton.
When your church or organization grows, you can’t keep doing things the way you used to do them. Otherwise, something will collapse.
As the leader, you need to determine the structures for your ministries. You also need to delegate responsibilities and let others help carry the weight.
Almost 20 years ago, I was a full-time graduate student with a full-time teaching load. I was also doing speaking engagements and coaching our four sons’ football and basketball teams. Consequently, I was sleeping only about three to four hours per night.
I prided myself on my ability to keep going with little sleep. But one day, I had a grand mal seizure in the middle of a department store. When I regained consciousness in the emergency room, my first thought was, Your schedule is killing you.
At that moment, God spoke to my heart and said, “No one is responsible for your schedule but you. You will stand alone before Me someday.”
I realized the need to change how I structured my personal life to handle the vision of my ministry life.
The baton is in your hands, and you have
an opportunity to impact not only their lives but also those
who come after.
Over the next two weeks, I went through a battery of tests to determine the cause of the seizure. The conclusion was that a prolonged period of sleep deprivation and stress were the main contributing factors.
The neurologist compared the sequence of events to lowering the banks of a river over time until the flood spills over. She said I would need to rebuild the banks of my river. Among other things, this meant getting a minimum of seven hours sleep each night.
God had allowed my body to break down so I could recognize my need for structural integrity. To become the person God had designed me to be, I had to start saying, “No.” I had to be willing to disappoint people. I couldn’t do the things the Lord purposed for me until I learned to empower leaders around me, instead of bearing all the weight alone. I have to keep learning those things over time.
We need moral and structural integrity if we hope to have a ministry that spans generations and reaches into the future.
My Grandpa Ruch was an Assemblies of God pastor in small towns throughout Illinois and Iowa. He had a difficult childhood and grew up with a lot of anger before coming to Christ as a teenager.
A World War II Navy veteran, Grandpa was bivocational, using the skills he learned in the military to work as a mechanic while serving in ministry. Together, my grandparents raised four children, including my dad.
Although Grandpa made a lot of parenting mistakes because of the dysfunction in his past, he raised the ceiling for the next generation. Eventually, I benefited from the growth of both Grandpa and Dad. In a real sense, Grandpa reached into the future for my dad, and my dad did the same for me.
Toward the end of his life, Grandpa accompanied me on a youth missions trip to Chile, where we worked with AG missionaries Mike and Mona Shields. Mike had grown up in a church Grandpa pastored in Comanche, Iowa.
During the trip, Mike shared all kinds of “Brother Ruch” stories, and my grandpa had the time of his life. Grandpa preached in a prison and saw several hundred men give their lives to the Lord.
Each evening, Grandpa took out his hearing aids and just laid on the floor praying for an hour or more. He interceded for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as all the young people who were on that trip, reaching into the future for each one.
Several months after we returned from Chile, Grandpa was placed on hospice because of prostate cancer. I called him one day and asked, “Grandpa, how are you?”
“It’s my time to go,” Grandpa replied. “The baton is in your hands now.”
Picture all the people in your life: your family members, church staff members and volunteers, and congregants. The baton is in your hands, and you have an opportunity to impact not only their lives but also those who come after.
Ask God to give you the perspective, grace, and integrity to reach into the future — and touch eternity.
This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Influence magazine.
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