Sacrificial Succession Leadership: Simon Rattray

This post is by Simon Rattray. Simon G. Rattray is a musician and Bible teacher who interprets culture from a Christian world-view. Simon has served as a pastor and a church planter. Simon currently works as a missions consultant, disability advocate and social researcher. During presentations, Simon shares his rare faith story that begins in the jungles of Borneo amongst head hunters.

What we have to look at here is a carefully thought out plan for succession… and it’s not easy and it needs to be examined more carefully. 

Does your church have a “sacrificial succession” plan?

Introduction and defining of terms

One of the greatest challenges for leadership today is the mushrooming Generation Y population. Of special concern to researchers is the weakness in certain contemporary leadership approaches, in particular, the capacity to hand over leadership to the younger generation.  George Barna argues that Baby Boomers find succession extremely difficult and he concludes that far too few young pastors are entering the ranks of church leadership. Reasons include (a more Builder pastors are often staying on to pastor well into their eighties (b an unusually high share of Boomer pastors are not retiring or planning to retire in their mid-sixties. More importantly, Barna’s findings suggest that succession planning is a glaring weakness in most Protestant denominations.

For the purposes of this review, the process of ‘handing over leadership’ or succession planning is defined as follows: a structured process involving the identification and preparation of a potential successor to assume a new role. By the term “structured,” succession is referred to as a process having some reliable structure and/or custom, thereby excluding from the definition the more ad hoc or “just-in-time” identification of successors.

The term “Sacrificial Succession,” can be defined as the direct consequence of the faithful application of Christ centred servant leadership. A ministry of servanthood and sacrificial succession are unnatural. They stand in sharp contrast to the dynastic and corporate successions commonly observed as succession norms today in many churches and ministries. Sacrificial Succession is the genuine outworking of servant leadership through the sacrificial handover of leadership by incumbent for successor success.

The research affirms that succession planning is not uncommon. What is uncommon are incumbents (a handing over leadership in a timely manner (b personally preparing successors (c sacrificing leadership for successors (d advocating for successors post succession.

The Sacrificial Succession of Jesus

Within the leadership of Jesus we see all four of the principles mentioned above occurring intentionally. The example of succession that Christ teaches is clearly brought to bear in Matthew 20:1-28 and the other gospel parallels; Mark 10:17-45, Luke 22:24-28, John 13:1-15, 14:26, 15:9-17 and 26-27.

In the Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20:1-16) the first principle of Christ’s succession plan emerges. In verse 16, Jesus teaches that the choice of successors should not be based on performance and tenure. On the contrary; ‘the last will be first and first will be last’. Jesus’ qualification for leadership counters many corporate methods which are often appropriated for the benefit of an ‘aristocratic class’ who inherit leadership based on family ties or loyalty.The recognition of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, despite his ‘unnatural birth’ (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), is evidence of this truth in practice.” Three key phases of sacrificial succession are clearly identifiable in the ministry of Jesus.                  

Ministry of preparation

As the time for the Lord’s departure draws closer, Jesus reminds his disciples of his impending death for a third time.  Here we see Jesus clearly preparing his successors for their succession prior to it occurring.  It is crucially important to recognize the fact that Jesus makes the timing of the leadership transition clear.  A glaring weakness within corporate successions is that the transition phase is often very unclear.  In John 15:15, Jesus explains this successional truth by considering his successors as friends rather than servants.  Jesus makes everything he has learned from his Father known to them.  Peter’s acceptance as leader by the early church and Jesus’ apparent reference to him as successor (Matthew 16:18-19, John 21:16), reinforces this important pre-succession truth.

Following the example of Jesus, sacrificial pre-succession ministry involves preparing successors, appointing a successor and predicting the timing of a succession well in advance of it occurring. Many potential successors, serve sacrificially yet with selfish ambitions. This often occurs because systematic successions are corporately inclined and modelled on Papal “conclaves.”

In (Matthew 20:20-23 and also Mark 10:35-40) the mother of James and John asks Jesus if her sons may receive favoured treatment in his succession.  Jesus rejects the request and in verses 25-28 he warns against the worldly standards seen in the corporate and dynastic successions of the day. Also see (Mark 10:42 and Luke 22:25).

Ministry of Sacrifice

An incumbent’s ministry cannot stop with servant leadership alone.  The incumbent must establish their true understanding of leadership and example through mediatory sacrifice for their successors.  It was the altruistic laying down of Jesus’ life for his friends (John 15:13) that most fully demonstrated this example. Thus, for a sacrificial succession to occur, a leader must lay down their leadership ambitions for the success of their successors. This is the principle missed by much of the leadership literature.  In so doing, the spiritual and practical truth underpinning Jesus’ sacrifice for us is maintained through sacrificial succession.  We are saved by grace not works (Ephesians 2:8-9), meaning that sacrificial successors are more than mere servant leaders who ‘give up to go up;’ a phrase coined by John Maxwell. Incumbents willingly and expressly sacrifice their leadership for the success of their successors.  A genuinely sacrificial succession cannot occur unless the sacrifice by incumbent for successor outweighs the sacrifice of successor for their succession.

Ministry of advocacy

The final aspect of sacrificial succession modelled by Jesus is his advocacy on our behalf through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The example here is that Christ voluntarily limits himself so that he can work through us. Jesus promises his disciples that he will not leave them to face things alone (John 14:18), and through the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, he will continue to remind them of his instructions (v14:26). The success of Jesus’ successors so to speak, was very much tied to their “abiding” in him (maintaining relationship) and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. This important spiritual truth applied practically in a post-succession context involves replaced leader staying on as advocate for successor. In staying on post-succession, the replaced leader maximises successor success, by teaching and reminding their successors about the importance of sacrificial succession and by helping them to prepare the next generation of successors. Succession literature has often argued that it is unhealthy for replaced leader to remain present in any capacity once the transition process is complete. However this is because they do not understand the sacrificial nature of succession modelled by Jesus.

Applying Sacrificial Succession

For a number of our projects I have prepared what we call “The Seven Steps of Sacrificial Succession.” For churches and other Christian organisations who are interested in applying Sacrificial Succession to their leadership transition, the seven main steps are laid out here.  These sacrificial succession steps are grouped into three transitional phases.  Phase one is the pre-succession ministry of preparation of successors for succession.  Next is the mediatory sacrifice by incumbent for successor, which defines the succession event.   The final post-succession phase is a mastery of advocacy by replaced leader for successor.

 Ministry of preparation (3½ years)


  • Choose and prepare sacrificial servants and ministers as potential successors.
  • Minister sacrificially by clearly predicting the timing and terms of a succession.
  • Appoint a successor with a proven track record of ministering sacrificially

Mediatory sacrifice (six months)

  • Ensure incumbent’s sacrifice outweighs that of successor by handing over leadership sacrificially.
  • Mediate a sacrificial handover of leadership midway through a transition.

 Mastery of advocacy (three years)

  • Stay on to teach and remind successors of sacrificial succession.
  • Master by advocating with leadership for successor success.


The Old Testament makes it very clear that when leadership development and succession planning were performed poorly or neglected the Israelites suffered through a succession of leaders who lost sight of the mission, oppressed God’s people and reverted to idol-worship.  The worse curse, which occasionally came to pass, is uttered in Isaiah 3:4, “I will make boys their officials, mere children will govern them.” It would be tragic if this prophecy came true for the church in the next generation.

Many leaders serve sacrificially yet they are failing to hand over leadership. The first clause of Matt 20:28 is often applied whilst the second is often neglected. Leadership cannot be properly understood outside of the context of sacrificial succession, which is the faithful application of Christ centred servant leadership. The mediatory sacrifice of Jesus and his ongoing advocacy for his successors following a ministry of successor preparation is the perfect illustration of succession and the answer to the contemporary leadership transition crisis.

Simon G. Rattray is a musician and Bible teacher who interprets culture from a Christian world-view. Simon has served as a pastor and a church planter. Simon currently works as a missions consultant, disability advocate and social researcher.

 During presentations, Simon shares his rare faith story that begins in the jungles of Borneo amongst head hunters








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  • Hi Simon, I really appreciated your call to servant leadership, and just wanted to add a different perspective that my husband and I have been learning about over the past few years. We’re in the process of writing a book about it, and blogging over at

    After many years pastoring in an established church, my husband now runs a very different style of church that could be a model for all churches in the near future – and it has leadership succession built into the very fabric of it.

    Instead of leading from the front, and teaching through didactic-monologue sermons, the leader becomes a facilitator, and uses action-reflection activities and hands-on, inductive Bible studies to get everyone in the room talking and teaching each other.

    I’ve spent 40 years in church, and never seen people so connected, so engaged and so empowered. The shift in format allows for deeper fellowship, and people go away with so much more than they ever could from a conventional sermon, because they were actively involved in “discovering” knowledge, rather than being spoon-fed by someone else.

    When the leader moves from being a “performer” to being a “facilitator”, he (or she) takes on a servant posture and lifts others up. He steps off the stage and into the community. He takes the focus off the front and puts it back on the centre – on Jesus and on one another. He empowers others to minister to each other. He frees God’s people up to discover and use their spiritual gifts. And he liberates others to discover their leadership gifts and spontaneously use them.

    Your emphasis on a servant heart and a plan for succession is so important – ugly things can happen to churches when they are performed poorly.

    – Kathleen

  • Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and to share your story with me. I would also like to thank my brother Paul Rattray with whom I developed Sacrificial Succession.

    It sounds like a marvellous opportunity you guys are getting to implement a sacrificial leadership impulse in that community. Even more promising is the future outcome and the potential servant legacy you are passing on to the younger generation who so desperately seek incarnational examples.

    I more thorough version of the article is available at my website under the ‘resources’ section. I will definitely be connecting with you through your website.