Lessons on Leadership from My Father: Leaving a Legacy

I returned recently from Japan for a memorial for my father who passed away seven years ago.  We also celebrated the release of his

At my ordination ceremony

biography in English.   In reflecting on his life, I realize one lesson:  Leadership is not only about influence; leadership is about leaving a legacy.

Leadership is not only about influence.  Recently I heard a story about a major pastor with great influence in America.  He had pastored a very large church and started a movement of hundreds of churches and helped to reshape the way the church worshipped in our generation.  He had great influence.  But at the end of his life, he was sick with cancer and was completely alone.  He had been such a driven and hard man during his life that he had isolated many people. Nobody stayed with him at his bedside, prayed with him, read Scripture.  Hundreds of thousands of people were influenced by his ministry, but he had no spiritual sons.  After his death, the movement that he founded fractured and began to struggle to find its own identity.

When I think about my father, I realize that leadership is not only about influence.  Leadership is about leaving a legacy. When my dad was in the hospital for three months in Washington, D.C., I spent more time talking with him than my whole life combined before that.  As we were growing up, he was always very busy with ministry, so we did not have much time to talk.  When we would have family vacation, I would be very excited to see him.  But the first two days he would come, he would eat…and he would sleep.  Then as vacation wore on, he began to talk and dream about the next project that the Lord laid on his heart.

However when he was in the hospital, the Lord gave us a lot of time together.  One time when we were together in the hospital he suddenly asked me, “Why don’t you ever see butterflies in the Bible?”  I thought that perhaps the medicine was doing something to his brain.  Yet he repeated the question again, “Why aren’t there any butterflies in the Bible?”

“I don’t know Appa,” I answered.

“I’m sure there were butterflies in those days, but Jesus never mentioned it.  We never hear about the different kinds of flowers or trees during those times.  When we read the Bible, we usually focus on the miracles, the big things that Jesus did.  All my life I have been so busy doing things for God, yet I am so thankful that I can now enjoy my time in the hospital.  I love to sit and watch the people outside my window hustling back and forth to the bus stop.  I feel as if I was on a bus headed to a big city, but then suddenly the bus turned off into a small country lane, and dropped Umma and me off with our bags and drove off.  Now, we are in a small country town.  If God heals me, I want to begin by asking the question, ‘Why aren’t there any butterflies in the Bible?”

Then he began to talk about his time at Shibuya, the church he planted in Tokyo.  “When I look back on my life, I realize that I have been too busy.  Especially back in the days of planting Shibuya church.  Tell Elder Majima that I’m sorry.  I was so driven to be recognized and loved, that I was seeking to build the church in order to prove myself.  I became so concerned with building a church that I became a taskmaster to the people.  However, after coming to Onnuri, I have learned so much from Pastor Hah about really being a pastor and not a taskmaster.  I wish I would have loved the people in Shibuya so much more.  Especially the kenshinsha, those who had dedicated their lives to ministry, I was wrong to keep enforcing more discipline.  No, I was wrong to be a taskmaster.”

Pastors who were trained through my father's ministry at Shibuya Church in Tokyo

He continued, ““Now, I will be their eternal prayer partner.  Terada sensei, Kim Moon Il sensei, Aomatsu sensei, Okiebisu sensei, Kim in Kotesashi, Hashimoto-san – I will pray for all of them.  They will be my prayer burden.  Sometime, I want to share my open heart with them, have an open talk with them and be forgiven by them.  I would like to be their encourager, comforter, brother and closest friend.  If God grants me extra life, I don’t want to start any new things.  I just want to  encourage all the children and coworkers.  I want to use that time to encourage and love others.  I want to be the Lord’s butterfly.”

While influence is accomplished through position, a legacy is the deep impression and picture of Jesus’ love laid upon another life.  When I think about these words, I see that Appa really wanted to leave a legacy.  A legacy of love.  My prayer is that we would also leave a legacy, a legacy of love.

Ephesians  5:1–2 says, ” Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

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2 Responses to Lessons on Leadership from My Father: Leaving a Legacy

  1. Seulgi says:

    Mitch, thanks for your honest and thoughtful reflections. These words really ministered to me! From what I have heard, you are one of the Lord’s “butterflies”. Blessings in your ministry to your congregation and family.

    • Mitch Kim says:

      Hey Seulgi,

      Great to hear from you. Encouraged to hear also about your position at Oak Hill. What a strategic place for raising up ministers of the gospel! May God give you wisdom and strength as you serve there. Blessings.

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