In the past couple of months, I have witnessed two separate ministry organizations come to an end. Both of them enjoyed a long run of significant ministry influence. And it could be said in both cases that part of what led to their end was a leadership failure.
In both cases, the individual(s) at the top had created an atmosphere of insulation.
Different organizations. Similar issues. The leaders allowed an environment to exist where they could not be checked. Where they could not be corrected. Where the influence of their peers either fell on deaf ears, or never fell at all.
This is tragic to me.
It’s tragic because it’s arrogant. When we don’t have an atmosphere where others can check our direction, we’re saying that we’re good enough to handle it on our own.
It’s tragic because it’s fearful. When we won’t hear the differing opinion of others, too often it’s because we’re scared we’re wrong.
It’s tragic because it’s rebellion. God created us to exist in community. One aspect of this is accepting the input of others. God has graciously given us accounts in Scripture where people intent on one direction accept the influence of contrary voices, resulting in changes of direction that have positive outcomes. There are many. Two rise to the top:
- The first is David listening to Nathan tell him not to build the Temple. And again, David allowing Nathan to call him out on his sinful relationship with Bathsheba.
- The second is the confrontation between Paul and Peter about Peter’s refusal to commune with Gentile believers, that resulted in a positive change in Peter.
Proverbs backs this behavior up in pretty specific terms:
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”—Proverbs 12:15
“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”— Proverbs 19:20
There are also cases of people failing to follow the council of others.
- In 1 Kings 12 Rehoboam fails to listen to the wise council and instead seeks council he wants to hear. His decision results in the tearing apart of Israel.
- In 1 Samuel 2, Eli came to his sons and addressed their behavior, calling them out and showing them the right way. They failed to listen and incurred God’s judgment.
- In John 7, Nicodemus tries to get the Pharisees to show restraint in their aggressive behavior toward Jesus. He was chastised and dismissed.
There are more examples, but the results are the same.
So what does this mean for us? A few things . . .
People Are Essential . . .
We absolutely must have people in our lives who are personally seeking God. They must be discerning. And we have to trust them. If they aren’t seeking God, their input can’t wholly be relied upon. If they aren’t discerning, who knows if they’re rightly acting on what God is showing them. And if we don’t trust them, the previous two considerations don’t matter because we won’t heed their input anyway.
But Listening Is Key.
Oh, man this is a biggie! In one of the ministries I referred to in the beginning of this post, there were capable people surrounding the leader. Godly, discerning people who were trustworthy. But this leader rarely ever allowed himself to be checked or called out. If we don’t listen to those people who are best suited to redirect our misguided (if well-meaning) efforts, we might as well be going it alone. In essence, we will be.
If you’re a leader of any type whatsoever, on any level, I would strongly advise you to create an atmosphere where people you know and respect can voice their concerns and objections.
And I would encourage you to develop the habit of listening and, where appropriate, allowing your direction or behavior to be checked.