"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.' " (1 Clement 42)Authority in God's church has been appointed in order; first God, then Christ, then the Apostles, then those they appointed as Bishops to watch over the church. It should be noted that, during the first century, when speaking of Bishops, Presbyters, and Elders that these terms were often used interchangeably for the same people and the same ministry. For example, most of our modern translations of the scriptures do not use the term Bishop, but we see the appointment of others to the same ministry of oversight, but only with different names.
"When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23)
"For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." (Titus 1:5)In these scriptures, Paul uses the Greek word "presbuteros" which is often translated as elder and from which we get our word "presbyter". Here we see the appointment of "elders" being identical to the appointment of "bishops" as mentioned in Clements letter. In my opinion, these two functions are, or at least were, identical.
Thus began the practice of "Apostolic Succession," yet Clement tells us that we need no be surprised at that.
"And what wonder is it if those in Christ who were entrusted with such a duty by God, appointed those [ministers] before mentioned, when the blessed Moses also, 'a faithful servant in all his house,' noted down in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and when the other prophets also followed him, bearing witness with one consent to the ordinances which he had appointed?" (1 Clement 43)Here Clement likens the appointment of elders to the prophets that followed Moses. Moses received the Law from God and delivered it to the people. Similarly, the Apostles received the Gospel from Jesus and preached it to the world. Afterwords, the prophets gave continual testimony and witness to the Law Moses delivered just as the elders represented the Apostles, giving testimony and confirmation to their teaching and traditions.
These elders were not Apostles, in the since that they did not received the Gospel by a direct revelation from Jesus, rather they simply taught and defended those teachings and traditions that had been handed down to them from the Apostles. Their apostolic succession was based less on their being able to trace their appointment through an unbroken line of appointments back to an Apostle and more on their holding to, teaching, and defending those teachings and traditions that had successively been handed down to them from the Apostles. As such they were the teachers of the truth and protectors of the church.
Today, most of those who oversee our churches lack the authority that comes from Apostolic Succession, either because the church has rejected succession altogether or because succession has made impersonal. In many churches leaders and/or pastors are hired and, when they are hired they can be fired. Their authority lasts only as long as those who hired them are willing to give it to them or until the church can find someone who will do a better job then them. In churches where succession still exists, this succession is often performed by those they do not know and the one chosen is often unknown to the church as well. Far different from the current overseers of a church appointing the new overseers of a church. When succession happens outside of the local church the people are stripped of their ability to confirm the appointment and their willingness to submit to the appointed overseer's authority.
I don't know if we will ever be able to return to a time of Apostolic Succession in our modern churches but, it seem to me, its loss in many of our churches has been to our determent and not our advancement.