Leader often pursue the wrong path when it comes to leaving a legacy. Often for Christian leaders it is building some ministry or enterprise and all of our energy, time and focus goes into that pursuit. As one who leads I know that temptation to do this. Certainly we want what we lead to be healthy, transformational and missional, making a difference in our world. However, I am convinced that even these great efforts are not the path to legacy, to making a multi-generational difference into the future.
That path, the legacy path is far more about lives we have deeply impacted who in turn deeply impact other lives in an ever widening disciplemaking group. Think about this: Jesus could have started an institution, but He did not. He changed the world by discipling twelve guys who in turn discipled others and they others and the world was changed. Paul did the same. Sure he started churches, the Bride of Jesus because these should be the training ground of disciples but he personally invested in men like Timothy and Titus and others (2 Timothy 2:2) who did the same.
It is time to reclaim the Great Commission which says, "Go and make disciples of all nations." That is, multiply men and women who are deeply committed, all-in followers of Jesus who rather than focusing primarily on institutions, focus on life on life transformation of others who will in turn do the same. This is the great need in the church today and it is the great need if the Gospel is actually going to penetrate our communities.
I have led a church, a mission agency, and various other ministries but I firmly believe these are not my legacy. My legacy will be my two kids and grand kids following Jesus with all their hearts and the individuals whom I have poured my life into over the years, those upon whom I have had deep influence. They in turn have and will have deep influence on others and the circle of fully devoted, all in disciples, will continue to grow - long after my name is forgotten by everyone except maybe for a few dusty books sitting on shelves.
I spend a lot of time mentoring and coaching people who will in turn do the same with others. Some are in my tribe (denomination), many are not. For Jesus there is only His tribe. Don't be fooled about what you leave behind. The path to legacy is often counter intuitive. It is not institutions but people both within those institutions and outside. If you want a legacy, be sure you are investing in the right place.
One last thing. One does not have to be a leader to have this kind of legacy. In fact, there are far more non-leaders who understand this principle than leaders who are too busy building something. Every Christ follower is called to make disciples and in doing so those who do have far more influence than many leaders do.
When I ask people who was the most influential man in the New Testament other than Jesus the answer is often Paul. Actually I disagree. I believe it was Barnabas who discipled Paul intensely for a period of years. Barnabas understood the model of Jesus and because he invested in Paul, the greatest theologian of the Scriptures was developed. Something to think about!
(Written from Berlin, Germany)