History is the story of leaders of the past.
Legacy is what they leave behind, for those who are still alive.
While we are leading a team, it's tempting to think we'll always be leading it, but the truth is someday the Lord will move us on to the next assignment. On that day, we leave something behind: Either a story of "how we used to do it" or a legacy that can be built upon.
"Before people believe in Jesus, they have to believe in you."
Leadership has a difficult line to walk. We need to inspire our teams and build actual relationships with the people who follow us. Generally, this means they have to like us at least a little bit.
We ask a lot of our volunteers, especially in the tech departments. What we ask sometimes requires that they work long hours, come in early before most of the church is out of bed, or tolerate the occasional disgruntled musician.
Before they can connect to a vision of our ministry, most people will connect to us personally. They are willing to put in those long hours, because we are shoulder-to-shoulder with them every step of the way. We're willing to face the wrath of that upset musician to protect them. We're like their big brother or sister, providing a role model for them to look up to.
Trouble comes when that personal relationship is all that is sustaining the volunteer in your ministry. To a certain extent, I think it's important to be a friend to every team member under you.
As a leader, though, we need to guide them beyond friendship for the good of the team.
If you've been in ministry for a while, it's probably not too hard to think of a team that was built around one strong, charismatic leader. He or she was the sort of person people loved spending time with; funny, compassionate, wise. The people they led became very excited about the team under their command. They called their friends to get involved, and numbers grew.
But then one day, the leader left.
Without that charismatic smile at the front of the crowd, something felt a little off.
Some people maybe suddenly found that the work wasn't as fulfilling or not as much fun. They aren't quite sure what changed, but they know it was better before Brother or Sister So-and-So left.
After which the excitement faded.
The recruitment stopped.
The team shrunk.
Suddenly, it's back to where it was before the leader came.
There's an old cliché in ministry: "Before people believe in Jesus, they have to believe in you." It's intended as a variation on John 13:35 "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." It's a call to act like Jesus and model what it means to be a Christian.
But the cliché has another, slightly more hidden direction. Inverting the message, it could be said, "Once people believe in you, they have to believe in Jesus." We cannot construct a ministry that outlasts us, based on our popularity, compassion or skill. True, being good at our jobs is enough for today, but what happens tomorrow if the Lord calls you to a new position? A cult of personality will fail, but the church of Christ will succeed forever.
If you do have a charismatic smile, good for you! Use what God gave you!
The challenge remains, though: We need to fight against our own importance to the team. When people look up to us, we must constantly redirect their gaze past ourselves and on to Jesus and the task at hand.
An Inheritance of Vision and Purpose
The easiest way to build a legacy is to impart to your team what your Pastor already imparted to you: vision and purpose. Why do you do this job? What inspires you to keep working? What do you love about it? Share these personal motivators with your volunteers.
For me, I do this job because it gives me a chance to participate in each salvation at our altar by making sure the preaching is easy to hear. I'm passionate about reaching new people, though I'm a little awkward when meeting strangers. So by helping my church find a voice online, I can use my gifts to contribute to evangelism.
I'm also a believer that art can be used to glorify the God, so this media ministry provides me a chance to do that. In every volunteer on my team, I want to impart this passion and purpose.
What this ministry does is life changing, so I want them to understand why it must be built well. Beyond simply finding a club to belong to at church, I want to unlock the ministry already in their hearts.
Success Through Succession
Another important part of building a ministry program that lasts, is raising up new leaders. Depending on the size of your team and range of responsibilities, this might mean different things. When my team was small, about five people, I was looking for leaders who were standout performers. For example, a superstar projectionist could be a trememendous leader based on skill and passion. They did not need finely tuned management skills. However, my current crew has grown to about 45 people, and contains five different ministries: Service Production, Photography, Social Media, Equipment Maintenance, and Marketing. This larger organization absolutely needs leaders with management and communication abilities.
Now I'm raising up both superstar leaders and administrative leaders.
What ensures the ministry's legacy after I'm gone, is not one leader who can replace me in every job, but rather several people who can manage each ministry according to their gifts.
If I find someone that is both a good fit for leadership in terms of skill and character, the first step is to let them know what I see. If I think there is leadership potential, I let them know it and find out if they are interested in taking the next step for the team. If they do, then we start training for leadership.
When that potential future leader is ready, I empower them to start making choices and leading now, while I'm still here and not going anywhere (I think).
If the Lord moves me to a new assignment, I'm not worried. I have a great team of leaders who aren't working for me, but are working to fulfill their purpose unto the Lord. They understand why they are working so hard; they want to reach new souls for Jesus. They understand what I would expect and in turn what my Pastor expects. We've been planning for a legacy.
So long after I'm history, their purpose will remain.
What better legacy can we hope for?