Planning for Succession
©1983 by Arlo E. Moehlenpah


“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever,” Ecclesiastes 1:4.

 “Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity,” Ecclesiastes 2:18, 19.

Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 mentions a number of cycles. Solomon mentions that the sun rises and the sun sets. This has happened since creation and will continue to happen. Also, the waters run into the sea, evaporate, form clouds, and rain. These cycles continue to happen. Just as sure as these cycles happen one generation passes away and another generation comes. Later, that generation too will pass and another will come. It has happened over and over again and will continue to happen. Unless the rapture takes place, this generation is either passing or coming. If this generation is coming, it will someday be the generation passing.

It is unavoidable that everything one has worked for will be turned over to someone else. This applies to almost every station of life, whether it be pastoring a church, owning a business or passing on possessions when one passes away. Have you decided who will manage your affairs when you pass from this life? Will you leave it to chance or to the state? Have you trained your successor by giving that person increased responsibility and authority, or have you kept it mostly to yourself?

Statistics show that few businesses survive the second generation because the founder of the business fails to designate the successor, to train him, or to let go of the reins. The business fails because either the founder has passed his peak and won’t relinquish his authority or he passes on and no one is adequately prepared to take over.

Similar situations occur in churches. Without some clear-cut decisions and training, whether it be business, church, or individual estates, there will be confusion and conflict over who should be in control. Internal politics, church factions, and family feuds can arise to destroy everything that you worked a lifetime to build.

There are a number of biblical examples of succession from one generation to another. Some points to follow and some pitfalls to avoid both for the generation passing away and the generation coming are given. Listed below are ten points of advice for the generation passing and ten points for the generation coming.

The Passing Generation

1.   Prepare ahead for your successor. David prepared gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stones for the building of the temple which would be known as Solomon’s temple. He also challenged the people to support the project (I Chronicles 29:2,5.) John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He told his followers, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” (John 1:36.) John said that Jesus must increase but he must decrease and encouraged his followers to leave him and to follow Jesus (John 3:30.)

2.   Give successors increasing responsibilities. Moses asked Joshua to fight Amalek and then went to the top of the hill and held up his hands (Exodus 17:9-14.) Moses also asked Joshua to be one of the spies to investigate the Promised Land (Numbers 13.) Timothy was assigned churches to pastor that Paul had started. Allow your successor to work on his own even if he makes mistakes.

3.   Teach and train successors. Proverbs 22:6 declares, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Moses instructed Israel to teach their children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9.) Paul instructed Timothy to commit his teachings to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2.)

4.   Correct successors in private. Eli’s sons made themselves vile, but he restrained them not (I Samuel 3:13.) The behavior patterns of Hophni and Phinehas had to be corrected. Unfortunately, Eli honored his sons above God. It was said of Adonijah that his father, David, “had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?” (I Kings 1:6.)

5.   Give your successor public recognition and credit. God told Moses to charge Joshua in the sight of the congregation and to put some of his honor upon him.

6.   If possible, name your successor and make it public knowledge. Great confusion resulted when David grew old and it was not clear who would succeed him. Adonijah “exalted himself, saying, I will be king,” (I Kings 1:5.)

7.   Write out instructions for your successors. In two of the smoothest transitions in the Bible, the predecessor wrote instructions for the successor. Moses wrote the books of the law for the benefit of Joshua and others and Paul wrote the epistles especially I and II Timothy for Timothy. In estate planning this is called a last will and testament. Designate in writing a person with your values to be guardian of your children and specify who will receive your goods.

8.   Work yourself out of a job. Usually a person cannot be promoted unless he has adequately trained his successor. Training involves actual experience in addition to just vocal advice.

9.   Encourage your successor. Moses said to Joshua and David said to Solomon, “Be strong and of a good courage,” (Deuteronomy 31:7 and I Chronicles 28:20.) A few words of praise like “You can do it,” can help encourage your successor.

10. Don’t be jealous of your successor’s accomplishments. Saul became insanely jealous of David after the women sang of David’s victory over the Philistines, (I Samuel 18:6-9.) Instead of being grateful for someone who helped him, Saul attempted to take David’s life on numerous occasions.

The Coming Generation

1.   Stay close to the older generation. Joshua stayed close to Moses for nearly 40 years. He went up with Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of stone, (Exodus 24:12,13.) Elisha determined that he would not leave Elijah even though others tried to discourage him. He kept his eyes on Elijah and received a double portion of his spirit, (II Kings 2.)

2.   Spend much time in prayer. It was said of Joshua that he “departed not out of the tabernacle,” (Exodus 33:11.)

3.   Don’t copy the misbehavior patterns of others. It is significant that Samuel ministered unto the Lord with the ungodly example of Eli’s boys around him, (I Samuel 3:1.)

4.   Wait until God opens the door. Joshua waited nearly forty years before taking over. David was chosen to be king many years before he became king. Absalom tried to take the kingdom before David or God was ready to give it to him. As a result, he lost his life in rebellion.

5.   Recognize that God is arranging your training. David probably learned a lot about being king while being Saul’s armourbearer and harp player, (I Samuel 16:19-23.)

6.   Behave yourself wisely. David behaved himself wisely. Paul wrote Timothy to be “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,” (I Timothy 4:12.)

7.   Help your predecessor in every way possible. Joshua was called Moses’minister, (Exodus 24:13.) Elisha ministered unto Elijah, (I Kings 19:21.) Also, Elisha was referred to as the one who poured water on the hands of Elijah, (II Kings 3:11.)

8.   Always respect your predecessor. In spite of the fact that Saul was trying to kill him, David would not retaliate or let his men hurt Saul. Instead David said, ‘Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” (I Chronicles 16:22.) David even showed kindness to Saul’s descendants after Saul’s death, (II Samuel 9.)

9.   Listen to and respect the advisors and friends of your predecessors. Solomon was able to utilize the help of David’s friend Hiram when he built the temple, (I Kings 5.) Rehoboam, however, was foolish and forsook the counsel of the old men that stood before Solomon.

10. Attempt to understand your predecessor. He may sincerely fear that things will fail after he is no longer at the helm. He may be struggling with the fact that he is losing power and may be “put on the shelf.” He is human with pride, ego, and a sense of accomplishment. It will benefit both of you to acknowledge his work.

It is a beautiful thing to see a smooth transition and the work of God continue. Joshua was able to cross Jordan River in a manner similar to Moses crossing the Red Sea and Elisha crossed Jordan as did Elijah. God was with Joshua as he was with Moses. David’s desire to build the temple was accomplished by Solomon. Paul felt good about the ministry of his son in the gospel, Timothy. These smooth transitions were a result of careful planning and training.

One the other hand it is a sad thing to see a poor transition and the work of God suffer. How miserable it was for Saul to start so well and then be so jealous of his successor. Solomon’s kingdom was splendid only to be split by the foolishness of his successor.

It is in the heart of every man that his work carry on, especially in the work of God. We can learn from the successes and failures of the past. Generations come and pass, but we can plan for succession.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Forward Magazine, A Magazine for United Pentecostal Ministers, United Pentecostal Church International, 8855 Dunn Road, Hazelwood, Missouri, 63042 January - March, 1983 Vol. 15, No. 1) pdf version page 1         page 2       page 3


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