By Very Rev Dr Martin Fair

I was thirteen years of age and a new minister came to lead our church. To us youngsters, he was a breath of fresh air. He was half the age of the former minister and had all kinds of new ideas. There was a sense among us that ‘there might be something in this church stuff!’

And sure enough, over the next five years the church went into overdrive. There was considerable growth, numerically-speaking and in terms of the life of the congregation and its impact on the wider community. And for us teenagers, we all came to a living faith in these years – with a significant number of us going on, in the fulness of time, to ordained ministry.

And then he left.

Almost exactly five years from the day of his induction, he left. In time, another minister was called but the months that followed his departure were traumatic for us all. We hadn’t seen it coming. But worse than that, the following months saw various aspects of church life begin to unravel.

To cut a long story short, it became clear that our now departed ministry had been doing everything himself. There was no plan let alone a succession plan about what the congregation was now to do.

Those with sporting interest will know that Sir Alex Ferguson is widely regarded as one of the greatest football managers of all time. After a bumpy start, he took Manchester United to a new level and the twenty-seven years that that he managed the team saw the trophy cabinet laden with domestic and European silverware the likes of which had never been seen.

But his departure led to a decade of internal strife, disquiet among fans and, crucially, very little by way of success. Many commentators have said that Manchester United were culpable in as much as they had not properly planned for the post-Ferguson era.

There’s no success without succession. Whether you’re a football club manager or a minister or in leadership of any kind.

Christians should hardly be surprised by this. Haven’t we got the perfect example in how Jesus was with his disciples? What a motley crew Jesus called to be his inner circle of followers and yet to them, he gave himself unstintingly for the duration of his earthly ministry. And why? Because he knew that the day would come when he would be handed over and would ‘endure great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed…’ (Matthew 16:21)

In other words, it would be for others to continue – among them Peter. It would be on the rock of Peter’s faith (‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’) that Jesus would build. And later, it was to Peter that he said ‘Feed my sheep.’

All of the while of his own ministry, Jesus was teaching and modelling a way that others might be raised up. Ultimately he was equipping his followers to be those who would follow him, after his ascension. And so, as we read in the Book of Acts, it came to be.

Of course there was, and is, only one Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus was raising up successors and, unbelievably, from that motley crew came success. Those he had raised up became his hands and feet.*

As we lead in our various settings, how might we be raising up new leaders? Might the success of our ministries be measured in those who succeed us?


* Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands.

Yours are the feet.

Yours are the eyes.

You are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.


Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila