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Contemporary Issues: Passing on Responsibility - Getting Ready to Hand Over

D E West, Leicester

Serving one’s own generation

Each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has received a spiritual gift. Says Peter, "As every man hath received the gift" (1 Pet 4.10), and it is his responsibility to exercise that gift and to fulfil the ministry committed to him. Paul writes, "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it" (Col 4.17). However, we need to appreciate that we can only serve our own generation; Paul, preaching in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia said, "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep" (Acts 13.36).

Have we forgotten the words of Moses in the earliest of Psalms: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow" (Ps 90.10)? It is true that Moses himself lived to 120 (Deut 34.7), and Aaron was 123 when he died (Num 33.39). However, there is an allotted span, even though in the western world life expectancy for a man is almost eighty years and for a woman a few years longer. Many men and women over eighty years of age experience increasing physical weakness and often waning mental powers.

We must therefore understand that, for the maintenance of assembly testimony, we have to be prepared to pass on responsibility to those of the next generation, whatever those responsibilities might be.


The time had come for Moses to depart. God had announced his death, (Num 27.13) and had given the reason why he could not enter into the land: "For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin" (Num 27.14). The gracious response of Moses to this great disappointment was to pray to God to raise up a new leader: "Let the Lord…set a man over the congregation, Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in" (Num 27.16-17). Moses evidently had the spiritual welfare and prosperity of the nation at heart. In answer the Lord pointed to Joshua, "a man in whom is the spirit" (Num 27.18). In many ways Joshua had been prepared for this great work of leading the people into the Promised Land. As a young man he had proved himself as the servant of Moses: "Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men" (Num 11.28). It is evident that he had been influenced by the leadership of Moses, "the man of God" (Deut 33.1).

The Apostle Paul had expressed to the elders of the church in Ephesus, as he met them at Miletus, his desire, "that I might finish my course with joy" (Acts 20.24). However, when writing his closing epistle to Timothy, he says, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4.6-7). However, Paul did not regard himself as indispensable; he did not think that his departure would mean that the work of God would cease. Each of us forms only a small part of the great work that God is carrying out in this present church age.

Paul evidently was looking for men who would be able to carry the burden of responsibility after he had finished his course. Leaders must look to the future; leaders who do not think in terms of successors are not true spiritual leaders. Paul’s two epistles to Timothy and also that to Titus show clearly that he recognised the need for these men to develop the ability to deal with the problems they would face in their respective spheres.

Among other matters, Timothy was to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine"; he was told "that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith" (1 Tim 1.3; 4.1). Timothy was to speak authoritatively: "These things command and teach" (1 Tim 4.11). No man was to despise his youth, but he was to be an example to the believers (1 Tim 4.12). He was given instructions as to his attitude towards older men, younger men, elder women, and younger women (1 Tim 5.1-2). He was to guard the sacred deposit of divine truth, "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us", and he was to ensure that the things he had learned of Paul were passed on to succeeding generations: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 1.14; 2.2).

In like manner, Titus was to "speak...the things which become sound doctrine"; he would have to learn to "speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority" (Tit 2.1,15). Wisdom in dealing with difficult problems and differing age groups were also areas of instruction which Paul committed to him (Tit 1.10-13; 2.1-10).

Presently recognised overseers need to be looking out constantly for younger men in the assembly who are manifesting the qualities required in elders and who evidently have a genuine care and concern for the flock. Elders do not have to be "aged men". We sometimes overlook the fact that John the Baptist was only six months older than "the man Christ Jesus" who Himself began His public ministry when He "began to be about thirty years of age" (Lk 3.23). It is reasonable to assume that the disciples of the Lord Jesus were of a similar age to Himself, and what responsibilities Peter and John, for example, had in those early days of the church age. Saul of Tarsus is spoken of as a young man on the occasion of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7.58). Then Timothy himself was evidently a young man for Paul says to him, "Let no man despise thy youth" (1 Tim 4.12).

There have been cases where two or three older brethren have "clung on" (for want of a better expression) to responsibility without preparing younger men; then suddenly, within a short period of time, each of them has been called home leaving the assembly to flounder without any recognised leadership. Younger men could have "filled the ranks" if confidence had been expressed in them at an earlier stage. Leaders should have the discernment to recognise the strengths of those whom they are encouraging and bringing forward, to build upon those strengths, and to appreciate those whom God is providing for the future.

Other Responsibilities

There are several other areas of assembly life in which responsibilities can gradually be passed on to the next generation. Such may conveniently be listed.

The Teaching of the Word

As younger men have the opportunity to express themselves publicly, e.g., in a Bible Reading, it will soon become apparent if they have a gift for teaching. Openings must be given to such in order that the gift may be developed. We should not overlook the fact that "The aged women...teach the young women" (Tit 2.3-4) in matters relating to family and home life; the young women now will have that responsibility when they are older.

Gospel preaching

Younger men who have a heart for the lost and who are zealous as far as the gospel is concerned should be given the opportunity of sharing in the preaching of the glad tidings with more experienced and gifted brethren.

Sunday School and children’s work

This is a sphere of service in which younger brethren should be encouraged to take responsibility, indeed here a young man may be able to demonstrate his suitability for taking on wider responsibilities in the assembly; it is also an area of work in which younger sisters can become involved.

Work in senior citizens’ homes

Many assemblies have opportunities for outreach in such homes; younger members of the fellowship should be encouraged to participate in such work. Older folk very much enjoy younger people communicating with them.


Overseers in the assembly could invite a younger man to join with them in their visitation of the saints; this would be valuable experience for undertaking future responsibility.

Tract distribution

Young men could be given responsibility for arranging such work and keeping records of which areas of the locality have been visited.


The entertaining of, e.g., visiting preachers should not be always left to overseers and their wives; younger married couples should be given the opportunity of becoming involved in this area of work.


The list above is not intended to be exhaustive. There are undoubtedly other areas of assembly work where younger members of the assembly can be given a measure of responsibility to prepare them for greater responsibilities in the days that may lie ahead.

Happy and fruitful is the assembly where there is the wisdom and experience of the older believers blending harmoniously with the zeal and energy that should mark the younger members of the company.



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