Written by Joseph Kellogg
There are many definitions for the phrase “Play the Long Game”. Mostly, they describe this idea of making small, calculated decisions that will help you stay in the game longer and ultimately win the game. As a leader and a follower of Jesus, our finish line or winner circle moment is when we hear those words, well done. Playing the long game is about committing to long obedience in the same direction. The best way to play the long game isn’t just about being a leader that lasts but becoming what I would like to call a legacy leader. After 23-plus years in Youth and NextGen ministry, others would say that I have lasted, but have I embodied this principle of legacy leadership?
What is legacy leadership? Leadership has been defined as influence, but what is legacy? Legacy is defined as anything handed down from the past, from an ancestor or a predecessor. Another definition is something that someone has achieved but continues to exist after they stop working or die. Legacy isn’t defined by what you possess but by what you pass to the next generation. This goes against most cultural norms because we tend to align significance with what we get more than what we give. In Scott Wilson’s book Parenting with Purpose: 7 Keys to Raising World-Changers, he writes, “The world seeks prestige on the stage, but the people of God give others their shoulders so they can stand tall and accomplish far more for God.” It was John C. Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential, who said, “Great leaders share themselves and what they have learned.”
How are you sharing yourself with the next generation? Yes, we want you to last, but it’s bigger than that; it’s about legacy. Another way to say it would be that it’s not about longevity; it’s about legacy. Jesus was in public ministry for only three years, but because of His intentional legacy leadership, He equipped other leaders to turn the world upside down. How do we apply legacy leadership practically in the context of the local church? When I think of some legacy leaders of today and the Biblical examples of legacy leadership, I have found some common threads that we can learn from and apply today.
First, legacy leaders are consistent. Great leaders do consistently what others do occasionally. Inconsistent behavior creates a lack of trust. Jesus was a great example of consistency, and he challenged the disciples in the book of Luke to be consistent, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9.23, NIV). Legacy leadership is about taking up your cross daily, not occasionally. Faithful would be another word for consistency that we see throughout scripture. In the book of Hebrews, the author speaks of the faithfulness of Moses. Consistency takes intentionality, and when you are intentional long enough, you move from having intentional leadership to intuitive leadership. Joshua, Elisha, Peter, and Timothy all followed leaders who modeled consistency.
Consistency takes hard work, and legacy leaders are willing to put in the work to have a lasting impact. My friend and native Oklahoman Brad Lomenick said this in his book H3 Leadership, “Becoming a better leader personally doesn’t happen on a whim. Or by accident. You have to work at it. You don’t develop leadership by accident. You have to be intentional. Remember, leadership is hard work, and thus must be habitual work.” Put in the hard work to be consistent in your life and leadership, and you’ll leave a legacy.
Second, legacy leaders clearly communicate. We see the language of legacy leadership throughout scripture. Moses spoke publicly of the succession plan with Joshua. Elijah communicates clearly to Elisha when asking the question of what he wants from him. Jesus is the greatest communicator, and we see Him communicate timeless truth throughout the Gospels it is clear when He is speaking of leaving, and He continues to give the disciples clear next steps. Paul is a master communicator and gives Timothy clear instructions in his letter. Legacy leaders clearly articulate and communicate what’s now and what’s next. Lack of clarity is a common frustration in the local church and can create sideways energy. Patrick Lencioni says this about clarity in his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, “Alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together. It requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach.”
Legacy leaders clearly communicate the why and the how. Clarity is kindness. Legacy leaders create a culture of communication, and that culture must be clarified, consistent, and celebrated.
Third, legacy leaders are great coaches. When you look at some of the leading Pastors and legacy leaders in culture today, they are all great coaches. I had the privilege of working with a great coach, Pastor Scott Wilson, at Oaks Church for nine years. Great coaches lift the lids of their players and coach them to play at their full potential. A great coach will not just see greatness in others but also call out greatness in others. A great coach trusts his players and gives them opportunities to learn and lead. We see Moses give Joshua opportunities to lead in battle, and he was trusted as a spy to go into the Promised Land. Jesus has so many great coaching moments with his disciples. Like a great coach, we see Jesus speaking life into Peter in one moment and then coaching him up and correcting him in the next. We have too many CEO leaders and not enough coaches in the local church today.
Legacy leaders understand that legacy is what you leave behind, so they will be intentional to inspire and coach their teams. In sports, great coaches have what they call coaching trees. These coaching trees describe how many other coaches are now head coaches after working under a certain head coach. Great examples of this are Nick Saban from the University of Alabama, who now has multiple coaches who are head coaches in college football, and Bill Belichick from the New England Patriots has had 13 coaches go on to coach in the NFL. We have seen this in the church as well with legacy leaders like Larry Stockstill, Chis Hodges, and Scott Wilson. Instead of the word coach, we might use the word spiritual fathers, but the same principle applies. Jesus and Paul both have noteworthy coaching trees. Legacy leaders understand that success is temporary, but significance is eternal, so they prioritize their lives around coaching. We need fewer critics and more coaches.
Lastly, legacy leaders catapult those around them. The catapult was invented in the early 4th century BC as a weapon used to launch a projectile a great distance with the sudden release of stored energy. A slingshot or a bow would potentially have the same purpose that the tension creates the trajectory of an object. Ultimately, a catapult is used to release and send, and that is true of a legacy leader.
John C. Maxwell said this in his book Developing the Leaders Around You, “A leader who produces other leaders will multiply his influence.” Legacy is when every generation continues to develop the next generation. A legacy leader is focused on being the shoulders for the next generation to stand on so they can go further and faster than the previous generation. It’s not about keeping influence for yourself but sharing your influence with others. Moses was a catapult for Joshua, Elijah was a catapult for Elisha, Jesus was a catapult for the disciples, and Paul was a catapult for Timothy.
Legacy Leaders play the long game. When pastors and leaders embody legacy leadership, succession will come naturally because they will lead with consistency, communicate clearly, be great coaches, and catapult the leaders around them into a greater level of influence.
As a NextGen leader, I want to challenge you to play the long game and to be a leader worth multiplying. Let this final quote from Pastor and author Mark Batterson be our target, “Legacy is not what you accomplish; legacy is what others accomplish because of you.” Be a legacy leader today!
 Wilson, Scott.2019. Parenting with Purpose: 7 Keys to Raising World-Changers. United States: Oaks Publishing
 Maxwell, John C. 1995. Developing the Leaders Around You. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson.
 Lomenick, Brad and Mark Burnett. 2014. H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle. Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.
 Lencioni, Patrick. 2012. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 Maxwell, John C. 1995. Developing the Leaders Around You. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson