Yesterday I heard another story of failed leadership in a mega church. It’s heartbreaking because I love the church of Jesus. I take no pleasure in the failure of any high-profile leader.
The story goes something like this:
A strong Lead Pastor decides he wants to travel more and devote himself to national ministry. The student ministry is booming and the young leader has wide impact among the students and young families. So the Lead Pastor installs the student minister as campus pastor and the Lead Pastor moves to more of an overseer role. What happens next is crazy. The newly-minted Pastor overhauls the staff. He moves most of what he would call the “old guard” out and replaces them with his young homies that he has done life with in student ministry. He goes on a “change everything” binge. He closes his ears to wise elders, seeing himself as young, innovative and moving the church forward toward much needed change. Of course, you know how the story ends. The church goes into a tailspin. Long-standing members fearful of the fast changes flee the church like a party that’s just heard the word “Fire!” The young pastor thinking the problem is the sheep, exerts himself even stronger. What follows is a few angry outbursts against the remaining team until the overseer steps back in and recommends that he get a therapist. The overseer begins the arduous task of cleanup. After several years, the church has rebounded and the next transition is on the horizon.
So what do we learn from this? Young Leaders must seek to serve, first, and seek to be an innovator, second.
Reading today in 1 Kings 12, I found case and point. Rehoboam is Solomon’s son who steps in as king. A prophet has already prophesied that the kingdom will be divided because of Solomon’s divided heart. But how will this awful tragedy happen? Through Rehoboam’s folly. Rehoboam is approached by the leaders,
“Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” 1 Kings 12:4.
Rehoboam says, ‘Let me think on it for three days.’ He seeks counsel from the “old guard” that was with his father Solomon and asks them what they think.
And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” (1 Ki. 12.7) Good counsel!
But what does the young leader do? He goes to his young homies and asks them what they think,
And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. (1 Ki. 12:10)
In other words, tell them, “You think you had it rough before? I’m going to show you what strong leadership looks like! There’s going to be some changes ’round here!”
Rehoboam likes the sound of this. This is more his style. He listens and heeds the advice of these upstarts. And just as the prophet had foretold, the kingdom is thrown into full-scale civil war. A kingdom is divided, families are broken, and carnage ensues. How the story would have been different had he listened to the sage advice of the old guys! How much heartbreak could have been avoided had he gone with the wisdom of experience!
Young leader, seek to be a servant, first. A wise old man once told me, “When you become a pastor, don’t make any changes for the first six months. Listen to the sheep. Serve them. Love them. Then, in time, they will trust your voice and you can begin the process of change. But do it slowly and they will follow you.” Wise stuff.
The same applies to any of you who are entering a new position. Are you stepping into higher leadership? Replacing a previous executive? New owner of an older establishment? Seek to serve. Listen to what the long-standing problems are. Are the employees frustrated over a copier that doesn’t work? Are they nickel-and-dime’d with receipts for pens and donuts? Fix those issues. It will go a long way toward letting them know that you listen and you care.
How about you? Have you seen similar horror stories? Or better yet, have you watched a new leader come in with a servant’s heart and listen well? Sound off.