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Succession: a neglected theme today

Throughout his life, David perceived more of what mattered and focused less on the obvious. Despite some poor choices, deadly distractions and many failures, he oversaw a royal hand-over and was alive when Solomon took power. 

We too have an investment option that will stand the test of time. Terry Young concludes his series on leadership



What will happen when you go? Football clubs find it notoriously hard to replace successful managers. What about your ministry – who will do it once you leave? When I read Jack Welch’s biography, I discovered that he spent seven years at the helm of General Electric looking for the person to hand the baton on to – not just looking, but systematically seeking and paring down the options.

Ian Bradley’s Enlightened Entrepreneurs: Business Ethics in Victorian Britain and Peter Lupson’s In God's Company relate how many of our big brand companies were set up by Christians. A surprising number are still household names and their qualities as businesses burn brightly, but none really retain the distinctively Christian ethos of their founder.

Against all expectation, both David and Saul were similar in this area because each was followed by a leader who developed the country. Both saw their plans trashed, too. Saul’s hopes that Jonathan would succeed him die on the battlefield, while David’s older batch of princes destroy and are destroyed. Even Solomon’s accession (2 Kings 1 & 2) hangs by a thread while David lies dying.

If that were all there were to it, we would have a depressing story and could only conclude that plans were a waste of time. However, we have noted that David was chosen because of hidden, rather than headline, characteristics and that a key to his success was to get to the invisible reality beneath the obvious surface.

This pattern recurs at the end of his life. It is clearest if we read the different take provided by 1 Chronicles, where early on in his reign David conceives of building a temple for God’s Name. Through Nathan (smart device…), God tells him that his son will build it.

It's hard to piece the picture together, but it looks like David got distracted by life in the palace – maybe for a decade or more – and it is probably not until Absalom’s revolt that his mind clears, and he focuses on the future once more.

The Chronicler narrates this as a coherent story that lights up David’s reign, so that even his mistake in counting his subjects is redeemed by the purchase of land on which to build a temple. Lists of everything from wealth accumulated for the project to rotas of those who will make it work fill out the latter chapters of 1 Chronicles.

Like the monarchy, the Temple was a stopgap. Human rulers and a physical location were far too fragile to bear the weight of glory God has planned, but they kept the show on the road for long enough for both to be fulfilled in Jesus.

Isn’t this a wonderfully encouraging way to look at someone’s life? Against a realistic assessment of poor choices, haphazard success, deadly distractions and many failures, is a consistent appraisal of all the good things he invested in. That account does not fluctuate but rises steady throughout his life.

When we look back on our realistic story, we tend to underestimate the stupidity and venality that infested all we did. We usually underplay what others contributed to what we did well and overestimate the benefits and impact of our serendipitous heroism. And if that were the whole story, this final blog in the series would be a depressing read.

However, for everyone of faith, there is a Chronicler pulling together a very different narrative. It’s never too late to start investing in that other story or to rediscover the zeal or generosity that once drove all we did. Jesus’ idea of treasure in heaven was not simply a powerful metaphor. When all else is crumbling because of our own inadequacies or because of the activity of others, we have an investment option that will stand the test of time.

It may seem a cop out to close our reflections on some of the Bible’s most practical material with this rather ethereal message: what matters is what you don’t really recognise from here. But that is what happened. The Temple David never saw lived on to be rebuilt more than once, long after David’s successors had lost their hold on power.

Even secular life has this pattern. Florence Nightingale and Isambard Brunel had little in common. However, in an extended skirmish, one of the century’s greatest statisticians and one of its greatest engineers produced Renkioi Hospital, a prefabricated field unit where the death rate plummeted to around a tenth that at Scutari, the military hospital. Nor did this outcome of their collaboration last long: it was sold to the Ottomans when the Crimean War ended less than nine months later. What endures is its stunning example as a safer and more efficient way to build and run hospitals.

However, the best examples of this pattern – outward failure, hidden impact – will come from your own reflections. There will be people who did something quite minor and unremarkable that has really lasted for you. I remember a family friend, Mr Robinson, who, when I was learning to drive, made himself available to be driven around while I gained some road sense. He got himself a highway code and was amusingly unalarmed as we toddled about the place. 

But it wasn’t just me – he insured his car for that most dangerous of species – the grandchild – and sat with them, and with my brothers and sisters and with some of their friends. By the time he traded in his Allegro, there was a cohort of confident young drivers on the back of those empty hours. And across the generations, we all made a real friend.

Against the odds, David oversaw a royal hand-over and was alive when Solomon took power (1 Kings 1 & 2). Throughout his life, he perceived more of what mattered and focused less on the obvious; Saul, the other way around. In the end it worked out, even when events seemed beyond his control. The same could be true for you.

Image | Tom van Merrienboer | Unsplash 


Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia.

This is part of a series on leadership through aspects of David's life:


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Baptist Times, 11/05/2022
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