Early in my years as CEO I attended a seminar on leadership succession. The vital necessity of planning for a smooth transition of executive leadership was encapsulated in the phrase, “No success without a successor.” I committed that, when my tenure was ending, to the best of my ability I would ensure a handover of a healthy organization to a godly and gifted successor who could take the ministry far beyond what my limited abilities could achieve.
In January 1990 I began my service as General Director of American Messianic Fellowship. I had celebrated my 36th birthday three weeks prior and felt woefully unprepared for the yet-unknown challenges I would face.
My term began on New Years Day. It was a holiday, so I made it through Day One with no significant leadership blunders. But I would have plenty of opportunities to “mess up” in the years that followed.
Thankfully, the Lord had in place a Board of Directors who gave godly counsel and strong encouragement to a rookie leader. AMF had celebrated its 100th anniversary four years earlier, so there was a long-standing foundation on which to build. I had served with the ministry in various capacities for fifteen years and had the benefit of strong relationships with ministry colleagues.
Very little in my training and experience prepared me for the obstacles we faced on many fronts: financial (economic downturns, donors affected by the biggest fraud in Illinois history), technological (damaging loss of key data), legal (merging four ministries into one), bureaucratic (building department regulations and tax exemptions in IL and NY; securing international visas), and environmental (removal of a long-buried 1000 gallon diesel tank that threatened to leak).
With all those “mundane challenges” came serious, and sometimes sustained, spiritual warfare. The Enemy’s strongest attacks are not against institutions but individuals. Our families encountered “the usual” bouts of illness, relational conflicts, financial reversals, and discouragements in ministry. But severe trials also occurred within the ministry team family, from sexual predators targeting our kids to the untimely deaths of cherished offspring.
Over the years we saw God’s gracious hand at work many times over. In His perfect timing the Lord sent a series of capable coworkers to serve in the home office and on our fields.
And we had a great team of prayer warriors and donors who hung in there with us – some for many decades. Significant bequests intermixed with “widows’ mites” to fund projects great and small.
Our ministry reach expanded internationally, beyond Israel and Mexico to France and the Netherlands. We incorporated in Canada and opened fields in Argentina and Hong Kong.
At home, the merger with Immanuel Ministries brought us our training center in Brooklyn. Short-term teams multiplied in scope and the roster of active ministry partners and volunteers ballooned.
The ministry’s name changed over thirteen decades to reflect geographic expansion. What began in 1887 as a committee to reach Jewish immigrants to Chicago with Jesus’ love was incorporated as Chicago Hebrew Mission. The ministry I joined in 1975 had been known as American Messianic Fellowship since 1953; we rebranded as AMF International in 1991. We love the name we adopted in 2008: Life in Messiah International (LIFE for short).
I don’t have space here to personally express Lori’s and my gratitude to every individual who has contributed to the growth of this ministry as well as built into our lives. Over these three decades it has been my privilege to serve as General/Executive Director [and Lori in several roles, including her current Administrative Director position] we have benefited greatly from the encouragement, counsel, prayers and sacrificial gifts of God’s people. To each one, a heartfelt “THANK YOU!”
NOTE: Part 2 of “No Success Without a Successor” will be posted next week.