Generational Transference in the Bible: The Gospels

Generational Transference Passing

John Wilkes suggests, “Responsibility without authority disables rather than empowers followers.”[1]  So it is that Jesus gave his authority and blessing to his disciples.  Jesus gave them opportunities to practice the challenges to leadership through an environment in which they were formed spiritually and empowered.  It’s interesting to note that Jesus sent the twelve disciples on a responsibility-based action-learning experience early on in his ministry.[2]  He then did the same with seventy-two followers.[3]             

But with authority came also the necessity of humility to pass on ministry to the next generation.  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” Jesus said.  And, perhaps by no coincidence, Jesus calls his followers his children, and then passes on responsibility to them.[4]  He then intimates that his disciples will carry on his mission after him through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.[5]

These emerging leaders were entrusted not just with the responsibility of continuing the mission of Jesus, but also enabled with the permission, opportunity and capability to do so.  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,”[6] Jesus said.  And the authoritative responsibility transferred to this group of next generation leaders was specifically in the interest of developing further successive generations of leaders.  In fact, because all of Jesus’ authority had been transferred to the disciples, their appropriate action was to “therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.”[7]  Jesus demonstrated the fruitfulness of generational transference by sharing the responsibility of God’s mission with others.  To give authority and responsibility to the disciples demonstrated how much Jesus valued these people as leaders.  Wilkes comments,  “when Jesus called the disciples to himself on the side of a hill and commissioned them to continue that mission, he was not abdicating his own responsibility for it – he was sharing that responsibility.”[8]

The Gospel of John illustrates the transfer of leadership in terms of mission and character.  For instance, John the Baptist, resolute in purpose, promoted Jesus through personal humility.  John the Baptist described Jesus saying, “the one who comes after me has surpassed me.”[9]  There is not a hint of possessive leadership with John the Baptist.  When Jesus came onto the scene, John the Baptist encouraged his own disciples, in whom he had been investing himself, to follow Jesus.  While this example is not generational according to age, it is generational according to transference of ministry leadership.  John the Baptist, in many ways, ordains Jesus publicly and releases others to follow him.

 The Gospel of John then portrays Jesus as a leader who raises other leaders up through personal humility.  “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus told his disciples.[10]  Before the Last Supper, John reveals the posture of leadership that effectively transfers ministry.  John wrote:

 “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power… so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples‘ feet.”[11]

Bruce Milne noted the self-sacrifice for others and the humility of Jesus as the true model for leadership.  There can be no possessive tendency for the leader of biblical patterning.  As Jesus led his disciples through humble service and releasing strategies, so he instructs them to do the same.  Jesus says, “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”[12]  Milne argued:

“The aim of many leaders today,” Milne argues, “is their own glory.  Not truly loving those they lead, they use them as a means to their own personal satisfaction.  It is the leadership of the hireling, not of the shepherd.  This principle is certainly not confined to the church.  Leadership, whether in political life, industry, business, or community, follows one of these two routes.  Either it is directed to the self-life of the leader, or it is directed selflessly for the good of those who are led.  The former is the way of the world, which leads to death; the latter is the way of Jesus, which leads to life.”[13]

[1] Wilkes, C. Gene.  Jesus on Leadership: Discovering the Secrets of Servant Leadership from the Life of Christ.  (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), 181-182

[2] Matthew 10:5

[3] Luke 10:1

[4] John 13:33

[5] John 15:26-27

[6] Matthew 28:18

[7] Matthew 28:19

[8] Wilkes, p.181

[9] John 1:15

[10] John 10:11-15

[11] John 13:2-5

[12] John 13:14

[13] Milne, John.  The Message of John (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 149

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