As we grow older, consider this - it's OK to leave footprints that people may choose to follow, but it's not OK to leave holes that people will feel obliged to fill. That's the difference between management and leadership. It's the difference between commanding and inspiring. It's the difference between taking and giving.
Life moves in one direction, from birth to death. There's no going back. One day someone else will live in the house where we live. Year by year our children have birthdays that we once celebrated. Jobs that we've been promoted to will be taken over by others (that is, if we're still in work now). How often do we consider those who follow after us? One well-known Bible character stands out as a example of what NOT to do as we grow older, that was King Solomon . Solomon is celebrated for his response when God asked him what gift he wanted, and he chose wisdom. As a young man he sought to be wise but, in later life, he became a silly old man. He revelled in luxury, building grand palaces, surrounding himself in riches, and taking 300 wives and 1000 concubines. His luxury was maintained by heavily taxing his people. As much as any man, Solomon created a space that his successors were expected to fill - and it ruined them.
Moses left footprints. When the time came for him to die, he walked up a mountain alone - and his grave, if he had one, was never found. But he had spent years preparing Joshua to be his successor, not as a spiritual clone, but as a distinct personality who would lead in his own way. The Scriptures never compare Joshua with Moses. He followed in Moses' footsteps, but he stood on his own authority. However, he didn't take Moses' example when it came to preparing successors. Read the book of Judges to see the outcome of Joshua's failure. Are we responsible for those who follow after us? Yes and no. Each person is responsible for their own actions, but things that we do may well limit the options available to those who succeed us - forcing them in particular directions. It's not our job to compel people to behave as we think right, but it becomes us to model right behaviour. That's leadership.
Elijah left footprints. Because of the miracles he performed we tend to think of him as a strong man, but he had doubts, he sometimes feared for his life, and he even contemplated giving up altogether . But he thought about the future and trained his successor. The prophet Elisha was Elijah's servant and apprentice, following him around, watching what he did, and eventually taking his place. In fact, Elisha did twice as many miracles as Elijah had done before him. Unfortunately, Elisha's servant Gehazi, did not follow in his master's footprints. Elisha led, but he wasn't responsible for the greed and selfishness of his apprentice.
At one period of my life two successive experiences taught me important lessons about leadership. I took a temporary job, working night shifts in a pie factory, while I was searching for a new management job. It was a humbling experience, but the management of that factory taught me how not to do it! Then I got the job I was looking for and took over a struggling department in an otherwise successful company. I never met a more demotivated team than I found in that office. But I honestly believed in the project we were doing and set about tackling the task with enthusiasm. Their previous managers had told them what to do, and it didn't work. But they caught my enthusiasm and belief - and worked their socks off! Example is the strongest teacher.
Do you care about the future of our faith? We can't force the next generation to keep the Church going. They won't follow faithfully just because we say they should. But, if we model the holy life, following the Lord in sincerity and humility, there's a good chance that they will observe our footprints and follow our example. Jesus asked, "…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8 NIV). Our actions will affect the answer to that question.