There have been great leadership books on living a significant life and finishing well (Halftime by Bob Buford comes to mind). In this article, I want to focus especially on how senior pastors and apostolic leaders can finish well.
One of the saddest conversations I ever had was with several older apostolic leaders who confided in me that most leaders they knew never finished well. After that experience, I started looking around and having as many conversations I could with older leaders regarding this subject.
By “finishing well” I am referring to fulfilling the work that God gave us (John 17:4) so that we pass into the next world satisfied (Psalm 91:16). Paul said regarding his final days in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
May all those who read this be able to say these same things!
The following are some principles enabling a leader to finish well:
1. You are leaving a legacy of faith, courage, and integrity
In order to finish well we need to live lives of faith and courage with no major regrets that we missed the purpose of God in our lives because we were afraid to take risks and believe God. Furthermore, we need to have cultivated lives of integrity without engaging in scandalous behavior that will come back to bite us later in life, thus clouding our legacies (for example, Joe Paterno’s passivity regarding Jerry Sandusky).
2. Adequately equipping the next generation of leaders God sent to you
There is perhaps nothing more important for finishing well than to take aside key people with leadership potential and pouring into them so that you are always reproducing yourself in those with capacity to influence many others. The main agenda of Jesus was to pour into the Twelve Apostles; it wasn’t the large crowds that gathered to hear Him preach.
Senior leaders who focus on preaching to and gathering crowds instead of choosing a remnant of people to equip will not finish well because at the end of the day you want your disciples to be doing greater works than you before you pass on to the next life. A person will die unsatisfied if they don’t see their spiritual children excelling in life and ministry.
3. You successfully transitioned through the four leadership stages in life
There are at least four leadership stages in life. Most leaders never get past the second stage.
The first stage is to be a leader other people can follow. This involves using your gifts to draw a crowd and preach the gospel and create a community of people who follow Jesus.
The second stage is to develop leaders who can produce other leaders. Unfortunately, most leaders only barely scratch the surface regarding this stage because they want to be the ones doing all the preaching, praying, weddings, funerals, and hospital visitations; they need to feel needed. But, those who don’t enter this second stage have violated 2 Timothy 2:2 which teaches that we need to focus on developing those few people who are able to teach others.
The third stage is to allow those leaders you have developed to lead so they can develop their own leaders while you focus on coaching the leaders of leaders. This usually happens after a leader is in their forties or fifties after becoming a seasoned leader with more than two decades of leadership experience. (Each stage can take almost a decade to move into!)
The fourth and final stage, during the final two to three decades of life, is to only concentrate on being a mentor to leaders who oversee networks and movements, and leaders who oversee leaders of leaders. Very few reach this last stage; it may also be true that only a few leaders are even called to reach this fourth stage of leadership. Those called to transition into this stage will not be satisfied in their final days on the earth if they have not walked in this level. (What may be considered successful to some leaders may not be for others called to higher levels of leadership.)
4. You are surrounded by spiritual sons and daughters who carry your DNA
At the end of the day, the crowds come and go but those you have nurtured as spiritual sons and daughters will always be devoted to you. Perhaps the greatest regret of some senior leaders is that they did not adequately parent the children God gave them, resulting in them having no spiritual children in their later years.
Some older ministers have even said their greatest regret was not spending more time with younger ministers because, when they hit their eighties, most if not all of their peers were dead and they were left alone with no true friends. In order to finish well we need to develop and mentor younger leaders who will carry our DNA into the next generation as well as other leaders their age who have already accomplished great works.
5. You adequately journal or write the main life lessons you have learned, to pass them on to others
Perhaps one of the things leaders can do to maximize the impact they will have for the future is to journal their life experiences so that future leaders can glean from them. For example, the autobiography of Charles Finney, the journals of John Wesley and David Brainerd, the writings of Jonathan Edwards and others have greatly aided in my personal development! I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t have their writings that document their lives. Perhaps they have had more influence through what they documented for future generations than when they were alive!
I believe in order to finish well we need to at least document the major lessons we have learned, and many may also be called to write at least one book that teaches their life message.
Taking 5-10 minutes a day to journal lessons learned or things God spoke to your soul before you go to sleep can be a powerful force for good for your biological and spiritual children who will be clamoring for your writings after you pass on to the next world!
6. You have loved your spouse and biological children
One of the greatest regrets of older leaders is having lost their families to the world because they neglected them due to the enormity of the work they had. It will be easier to finish well knowing that we loved our spouses and children to the end, lived sacrificially for them, and did our best to lead them into the way of the Kingdom of God.
What good is it if we win the whole world but lose our children to the world? I don’t want my children cursing me on my grave-site or refusing to come to my funeral because I left them a bitter taste for God, the church, and myself, and because I lived hypocritically by feigning love for God and people in public while neglecting them in private.
7. You don’t carry any grudges
In order to finish well we need to have a clean slate in our hearts towards those we have worked with. We need to have short accounts with others and walk in the principles of Matthew 18:15-17 so that if we have something against our brother or sister we will immediately speak to them and attempt to resolve it instead of talking about them and having unforgiveness in our hearts. Leaders who don’t walk in the light with other leaders or those they work with will carry unresolved issues that can result in bitterness. In order to finish well we can’t walk around in bitterness and resentment, blaming other people for our lack of success or fulfillment in life.
We also need to make sure we don’t allow other people to control our emotions by their actions but, in spite of what others may say and do to us, we need to forgive them and have clean and pure hearts before God so we can pass into glory in peace. Bitter leaders usually never finish well but finish angry and unsatisfied!
8. You have pointed everyone to Jesus and not to yourself
Finally, finishing well ultimately depends upon whether we lived lives to glorify and bring attention to ourselves or to Jesus. The greatest thing someone can say about us at our funeral will be that we loved God and caused others to love God. More important than us being known for our preaching, large organizations, books, or accomplishments is that we inspired our biological families, our church, and our generation to love and know God passionately!
In conclusion, there are many more things that can be written about finishing well. These are just a handful of ideas I have presented based on my limited experience and narrow perspective. May God help us all finish well!
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