January 30, 2023
“The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘In regard to the Levites: From 25 years old or more, a man enters the service in the work at the tent of meeting. But at 50 years old he is to retire...”
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“The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘In regard to the Levites: From 25 years old or more, a man enters the service in the work at the tent of meeting. But at 50 years old he is to retire from his service in the work and no longer serve. He may assist his brothers to fulfill responsibilities at the tent of meeting, but he must not do the work. This is how you are to deal with the Levites regarding their duties.’” Num 8: 23-26
I have friends who are real estate investors. Presently, they are building retirement communities for young (young-at-heart) retirees. Part of the secular “American Dream” is to work hard, be diligent with your money, and spend your retirement years playing, more or less. I don’t see such a lifestyle even suggested in the Bible.
Two of my favorite friends working on church staff are over 8o years old. One is a WWII veteran, and the other is a former industrial engineer. If you ask them about retirement, they’ll tell you that followers of Jesus never retire from serving the Lord. Put simply: When it came time to retire from their occupations, they began working full-time on their preoccupations, namely, sharing the gospel.
Track with me for a moment: almost every church I have attended has been (or soon became) a megachurch. I’ve visited smaller congregations, but I seldom find much gospel synergy in small churches. I tend to be attracted to the excitement & opportunity present in thriving congregations. And growing churches have dynamic leaders.
That being the case, every organization must face the eventual exit of its founder or leader. Our culture loves to follow personas. We are naturally drawn to celebrities. So, whenever a charismatic persona leaves a congregation, it can lead to its collapse. Why? Because charisma kills vision. What I mean is when a church relies too much on its leader to save the day (instead of relying on the Lord), they generally spend inadequate amounts of time building-up young leaders to take their place in the pulpit. Then, when the leader is gone, there is nobody in reserve. Israel needed a Joshua to follow Moses. Every Elijah needs to have an Elisha in the wings…and your church (or ministry) needs a successor too.
God saw this potential for leadership implosion in Israel, and He set up guidelines to perpetuate leaders and managers throughout the generations. Leadership magnate John Maxwell says, “Success is defined by the successor.” He means that it’s not enough to build a big organization. More important is building an organization that would thrive in your absence. That means your organization must be founded-on and supported by values and principles rather than the charisma of a leader.
Jesus said, “Go make disciples.” Perhaps, that element of discipleship is the heart of the Levitical “mandatory retirement” policy. Every Levite got his day in the sun, and then he was commanded to spend the rest of his life preparing and enabling the next generation.