Recently I talked with a young friend in another state who serves as a campus pastor for a large multisite church.
“Have you had many opportunities to preach lately, Chris?” I asked at one point.
“No,” Chris replied sadly. “You know what Pastor Tom is like. He’s in the pulpit nearly every week.”
“But he’s already over 70,” I pointed out. “Don’t you think he will want to wind down or retire someday?”
“Retirement isn’t in Tom’s vocabulary,” Chris responded with a chuckle. “It’s likely he will be preaching until the day he dies.”
I was troubled by what Chris told me that day. Yes, it’s admirable that Pastor Tom loves to preach. It’s a large church, and he’s clearly good at what he does.
However, there’s an important Biblical principle at stake: Every leader is called to equip the next generation and actively train their replacement. By holding onto the pulpit so tightly, Pastor Tom was missing out on a great opportunity to mentor Chris and other young leaders.
Untying the Next Generation
A few days after my conversation with Chris, I happened to read an intriguing account of Jesus’ preparation for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before His crucifixion.
Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it…’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway (Mark 11:1-4 NIV).
This short passage is packed full of important insights for Christian leaders today:
- The disciples were sent to a village “ahead of” them. Leaders who are not training the next generation are being shortsighted. Although things may be going great at the moment, they are failing to prepare their church for the days ahead.
- The colt was inexperienced and untested. Doesn’t this seem a bit odd? Palm Sunday was an epic event in the life of Jesus, and we might have expected Him to find a donkey with a proven track record. Yet He instructed the disciples to select a colt that had never been ridden before.
This seems to me like a risky choice. What if this untested colt screwed up? What if it went off course or refused to move at all?
Jesus seemed to thrive on taking chances. In Luke 9, He sent out His inexperienced disciples into ministry, and they made many embarrassing mistakes. However, He sent them out again in the next chapter.
What a great lesson for us! The only way untested leaders will gain experience is if we give them a chance to fail.
- The disciples were instructed to “untie” the colt – even before anyone gave them permission. This is such a beautiful word picture! It’s time to “untie” the next generation of leaders. We don’t have to wait until they have all the right ministerial credentials, because Jesus has already ordained them (John 15:16 KJV). Whether or not our denomination or church governing body has consented yet, we have permission from the Master Himself.
- Jesus said He had a “need” for this colt. Wow. This is exactly what the Lord is saying today about His need for the next generation of leaders. Unless they are untied and equipped, His mission will never be completed. Tragically, though, many leaders are like Pastor Tom, feeling no need to let go of their pulpit and position.
- The colt was tied to a “doorway” or “gate.” Don’t miss this point. The church today is at a critical juncture, a doorway into our future. How we handle this moment will determine whether or not we will thrive, or even survive, in the decades ahead.
Some Will Protest
The story had a happy ending. Jesus triumphantly rode into Jerusalem on this young colt. But notice that people questioned what the disciples were doing: “Some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go” (Mark 11:5-6).
In the same way, you can be sure of this: Not everyone will be thrilled when you endeavor to untie the young colts in your church. There’s always an old guard who wants to protect the status quo and prevent untested leaders from emerging.
Nevertheless, I encourage you to go and find some young believers to unleash and equip. Once again, Jesus is getting ready for a triumphal entry, and the young colts will be a vital part of the story.