I never knew Chuck Colson personally, but I’ll miss him. I found his voice to be one of deep insight and integrity in the evangelical community. His books and daily commentaries helped me navigate my way through our society’s moral morass. The news of his death this past weekend has evoked in me a strange sort of grief. Who will the American church turn to now?
That got me to thinking of times throughout Christian history when a great leader died. Did people wonder what the Church would do now without Augustine? How the Protestant Reformation would continue without Martin Luther? If the Methodist church could possibly thrive without the leadership of John Wesley?
In smaller ways, we are prone to ask the same sorts of questions in our local assemblies. What will we do without Pastor _____? How can we ever go on without this music leader or that Sunday School teacher? Will our church ever be the same now that saintly sister so-and-so has gone to be with the Lord? When I left two previous pastorates to accept a new assignment, there were a few people in those churches predicting their quick demise (while others no doubt were quietly celebrating!).
What do we do when another voice is silenced? The Lord answered my question this morning in my daily psalm-reading: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4). The Psalmist makes no distinction between good leaders and bad leaders in this passage. One day they will be gone, and along with them, all of their carefully-conceived plans.
So how do we deal with this reality? In the very next breath, the writer says, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” His is the only voice that will never be silenced. His are the only plans that will never crumble to dust. If we put our trust in any leader but Him, we will ultimately be disappointed.
It’s a helpful reminder that no human leader is indispensable. That includes me as a twelve-year pastor of my current church. The Lord is capable of raising up a Joshua to succeed a Moses, a Billy Graham to succeed a Dwight L. Moody, or a _________ to succeed Chuck Colson. Someday someone will take my place — and quite capably.
Let me speak for all of us Christian leaders: please don’t cling too tightly.