The Christian call to work seems to include the idea that you should work yourself out of your current job, or ministry work. Maybe that sound odd. But even secular business leaders have recognized the importance of this truth.
A good number of business leadership books (rightly) stress the importance of people in business not being indispensable. That is, the books stress that it is a bad thing if business leaders are indispensable. The reason? Well, what happens when that indispensable business leader leaves? The answer is obvious: the organization takes a major step backwards.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins cites the example of Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler. He was a magnetic personality, front and center of many key company decisions, as well as pitch-man for Chrysler TV commercials. As a whole, Chrysler did quite well under Iacocca’s leadership.
The problems occurred when Iacocca retired. Chrysler struggled in the aftermath. The company had become too reliant on Iacocca’s particular personality and skill set. No one had been adequately groomed to succeed him. Perhaps it was impossible for any one person to fill the void in all those areas Iacocca had been so heavily involved.
Collins points out in his book that the very best business leaders aren’t the ones who become the indispensable underpinning of a company’s structure and day-to-day operations. The truly great leaders—the ones who build companies with lasting excellence over the long run—are the ones who build companies up to the point where the great leaders are no longer actually needed.
Collins is hardly the first person to notice this trait of a truly great leader. Those familiar with the New Testament can quickly recognize that Jesus’s model of leadership was to disciple the people around him, so that they could carry on his work after he was gone. He taught them, gave them over-the-shoulder knowledge as they watched him interact with others, commissioned them to engage in similar work, and processed with them their early efforts in this work.
Thus, put in purely secular terms, there’s a sense in which Jesus ‘worked himself out of a job’. That is to say, as Jesus was working, he was intentionally preparing others to take over this work. Jesus didn’t have to continue his own bodily work of engaging with lost people and bringing life to them. He had trained people to be his ‘body’ and continue this work, eventually reaching lost and broken people throughout the ends of the earth.
So if Jesus is our model of how we should go about our work, then here’s one big test for how we’re doing in our work: Are we working ourselves out of a job? Whatever ministry work we’re doing to advance the kingdom, does this work include discipling others to continue the ministry work which we ourselves have found to be important in advancing the kingdom?
Again, Jesus is supposed to be our example as to what kingdom work looks like. I for one am having to think long and hard these days about what it means for me to be faithful in the jobs set before me, while at the same time intentionally taking steps to ensure that, eventually, I become redundant.