Better Than You Found It?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, May 3, 2014 0 comments

by Nathan Buck

I remember sitting in Larry’s office as he shared with me his plans for retirement. I was just starting my “career” in leadership and ministry, and he was retiring. That summer, I was the intern, and I got to witness an exceptional leader’s example. I had just asked him what the plan was for the church as they looked for a new pastor.

In his chipper and winsome voice, that always had a mischievous gurgle, he said, ”Well of course, the whole staff will hand in their resignations!” He smiled wryly, and continued, “That really is the only way forward.”

I sat stunned for a moment, my mind spinning with the gravity of a rather large church staff all resigning at the same time. I knew he was serious, but his mischievous way of stating it with such resolve, meant he wanted me to ask, “why?”

Then he said one of the most profoundly simple and important statements, “No leader should punish the next leader with his unrealized expectations.” He continued to explain, “It is not right to leave an agenda for a new leader, or with the congregation. It’s not MY church. They all need to chart the next part of the journey in freedom and how God is calling them to move forward. The congregation needs a clear signal that everything is on the table, and the new leader has complete freedom and authority to lead. That is why the staff will submit their resignations. That new leader can then choose who he wants to keep, or let go. It’s not a power trip for him or a power play for the staff, it’s simply submission to where God is leading. I am submitting by making sure I leave no burden or program on his shoulders, and they are submitting by letting him build the best team for the next part of the journey.”

It took me years to realize how much wisdom there was in this Larry’s actions/decisions – and unfortunately he died before I had a chance to thank him properly, or show him how this simple exchange galvanized itself into my leadership style. The reason it so easily found a home in me, was because of the example my dad had set, in his own leadership. He tried to never use his position as a leader for his own advantage, and he always insisted we leave things better than the way we found them.

A lot happens in Matthew 16:13-28. I am only going to cover one statement. As Jesus discusses his identity with His disciples (committed followers) He indicates that Hell/Hades/residences of evil will not be able to withstand the advancement of the church into and against the Pagan cultures (for more insight, research Caesarea Philippi, the pagan god Pan, “pandemonium”, etc. – there is a reason he took them here for this conversation). After He says that, He then tells this group of (probably early teen to early 20’s) boys, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” (v. 19)

In Jewish rabbinical teaching, to “bind up” a teaching or interpretation is to “declare it no longer valid,” and to “loose” a teaching or interpretation is to “declare it the acceptable course of action.” To be clear, it was not nullifying the command of God, or the intention of God’s command. It was empowering a new understanding or new application of an unchanging principle. When Rabbis did this, they would say, “You have heard it said… but I tell you…” Only Rabbis with special authority had the ability to “bind” and “loose.” Jesus had this authority, and He demonstrated how it worked (e.g. Matthew 5:38).

So what is He doing here with His disciples? He is giving them HIS authority and HIS power to advance God’s Kingdom, and to apply God’s unchanging commands/principles to the ever-changing circumstances of life. Every analogy eventually breaks down, but as a leader, Jesus left the disciples better than He found them. He specifically empowered them to be able to lead the way they were intended to. And when He ascended into Heaven, He removed his physical presence from them so they would not look at the face of a “man” for guidance. They had to rely on the Spirit of God, to live out and lead others in living the commands/principles of God. Eventually, they had to empower others and let them lead and “bind” and “loose.”

Over my last 14 years of leadership, I have sat with other leaders who were possessive of their authority, and stayed in a role/position as long as they could. I have watched senior leaders overshadow and squelch the next generation of leaders, and then leave piles of expectations for those leaders to carry. I have watched leaders spend every ounce of their last days of leadership trying to convince their “followers” (and I believe sometimes themselves) that they have accomplished great things, in order to justify expecting THEIR leadership agenda to continue on. And sadly, I have seen businesses, organizations, and ministries sidetracked in chasing leftover expectations, or dry-docked for a season to purge all the confusion and figure out their next steps. And after all that, I am grateful for the leaders (starting with my dad) who opened my eyes to the true nature of leadership, and left me way better than they found me.

I know this may seem like it is written more to “leaders,” but Jesus’ disciples were not leaders when they met him. Perhaps not every one of them fulfilled their mission with God in a way that we would call a “leader.” However, they were all empowered, they were all mentored, invested in, and when the time came they were unleashed with a cleared “runway” to fly the way God designed them to. As parents, this is our responsibility to our children. As siblings, this is our responsibility to our brothers and sisters. As those who are knowledgeable about our work or hobbies, it is our responsibility to others who share in that work or hobby. And of course as leaders, it is our responsibility to those we have been given the opportunity to serve.

Ask yourself the following:

- Have you accepted that God has and wants to empower you with HIS power, authority, insight, and giftedness?
- Who are you investing in/mentoring and empowering? How is what God has gifted you with, being passed on to others?
- Are you intentionally “passing the torch” – long before you ever “have to”?
- Are your kids being prepared for THEIR journey, or the one you want them to walk?
- Do your co-workers or fellow students succeed with you, because of you, or in spite of you?
- Are there other questions this blog has stirred?