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Generation Next: How the new future makes room for the old

I often say, “What got us to where we are can’t get us to where we’re going!”

As leaders, this is something important to understand. Why? Well, every generation is supposed to contribute to the process God has in mind to further His kingdom across the earth. His Kingdom is ever-increasing. Therefore, tomorrow will look different than today. As leaders, we should be aware of this process so we can lead with progress and the future in mind.

When we understand that tomorrow will look different than today, we will lead with a less rigid mindset, allowing us to be flexible and agile enough to embrace the change the future demands.

This is especially important when we think about our succession strategy. Who is going to carry the baton after we are long gone, and how can we hand it to them effectively? As leaders, it’s important to resist pre-defining the future based on what we’ve learned in our lifetime, but rather keep an open mind as it relates to how the next generation will lead.  

Our goal can’t simply be to perpetuate what we’ve spent our lives building by demanding the same exact thing from those we raised.

As we’re thinking through our “succession plan,” we must keep in mind that what the future needs is not what we were able to provide the present with. Even though we can provide the next generation with the wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years, we have to stay away from telling them how to do it.

Consider the following account in 2 Kings 6:1-6:

One day the group of prophets came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, this place where we meet with you is too small. Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to meet.”

“All right,” he told them, “go ahead.”

“Please come with us,” someone suggested.

“I will,” he said. So he went with them.

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees. But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed ax!”

“Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface.

This passage demonstrates the purest form of what I believe succession should look like. A new generation of leaders raised by Elisha the prophet had come to the conclusion their current location was too small. Isn’t that exactly what we’re talking about? The present is too small to accommodate the future!

The sons of the prophets explained to Elisha that they felt constricted by the status quo. The new generation was asking permission to leave their hometown and go to a new place that they envisioned for themselves to create the future.

I’m not sure what I would have done in Elisha’s situation.

There he was, having spent his life raising a generation of leaders. He trained them. He equipped them. He taught them everything they knew. And now they were complaining about how constricted and limited they felt in their current situation. They just wanted to leave the place where they had grown up. They just needed to get out. It was no longer satisfactory to them to stay where they had been their whole lives.

Surprisingly, Elisha didn’t get offended. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t misunderstand. In fact, he discerned what was really going on and gave them permission to go! He realized that if the next generation was truly going to be and do all that God had for them, he just had to let them move away from what they had known for all those years. He knew that what had always been could not be part of the future. He had to let them go.

As a result, he simply responded with a two-letter word: “Go” (v. 2).

And as Elisha gave permission to the next generation to go, something remarkable happened. The sons of the prophet turned around and invited Elisha to be part of the new: “Please come with us (v. 3).

The sons didn’t try to fit into the existing world, but they invited the existing world with them into the new dwelling place that they were about to create. Like the sons of the prophets, the place where we currently dwell has become too small for what we should be.

Instead of trying to fit in, we should invite the past to become part of the new future that we’re supposed to create. Not to perpetuate the past in the future, but to recontextualize some of what the past has offered us as part of the future we’re supposed to create.

Elisha agreed and also decided to leave the dwelling that he had been in for all of his life. He decided to move into the future by following a new generation of leaders. Yes, things were going to be different, but Elisha recognizing the season of God, which allowed him to be a blessing to that new generation.

Elisha could have been stubborn and stayed with what had worked for him all these years. But instead, he disciplined himself to be flexible enough to allow the next generation to lead him into uncharted territory. As a result, in due course, Elisha was able to share wisdom and counsel that would allow him to help the young leaders solve a challenge they were encountering as they were building their new dwelling.

He provided valuable insight that helped them recover the ax head that had gotten lost along the way. Without the ax, the sons were at a real disadvantage as they were trying to build something new. Elisha provided wisdom to recover what they needed most in order to create the future.

We have to learn from this. Yes, we have no option but to pack our bags and leave our current dwellings. But in going, we should invite those who raised us to be part of the new future we’re creating.

Whether you’re part of the older generation or the younger generation one thing is for sure. The place where we dwell has become too small! As older leaders, let’s allow the next generation to take us to new places. Let’s allow them to take undeveloped land and turn it into a place we could have never imagined. As younger leaders, let’s see beyond the present into a future that has yet to be created and invite those who raised us to be part of creating it.

The future is ours. The future is bright. Let’s create it together!

 

 

This article was extracted from Issue 7 (Fall 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

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