And In The End

 In Conference, Duty, Fred's Blog, Leadership, Transitions, Uncategorized

Listen to “And In The End” by Fred Smith

 

My opening talk at the annual conference in September 2001 was the first for me. That night was only two weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The chairman of The Gathering pulled me aside in the hallway and said someone needed to address the elephant in the room and his not leaving me any margin or time to maneuver meant I had to scramble for something to say. My words from the podium were about our center of gravity. The center of gravity, the center of a people’s will to resist, the core of their values and their identity is what an enemy has to successfully destroy. What then was our center of gravity? Years later I still think about our center of gravity as a nation but also as The Gathering. 

Normally, today I would be considering my opening talk at the first session of the conference this evening. But not this year. Instead, I am reading about last words as the opening talk belongs to Josh Kwan, the President of The Gathering. Still, last words matter. Some come as a surprise with no time to prepare. Others have been polished. Some, like the words of Nostradamus, are obvious, “Tomorrow I shall no longer be here,” and then there are those like the Beatles final recording together on the Abbey Road album, “And in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.”  

Every founder experiences anxieties. What will happen when I am no longer in charge? Why do we need change? Some, so locked up by the question, are incapable of turning loose. They clench their fists and cling to what used to be. The American auto industry is a good example. RIM/Blackberry is another. They thought they had the corporate market sewed up and discounted the personal smartphone market. They lost 70% of their value. What they were doing was based on the way things used to be and they averted their eyes from obvious change.

However, Max DePree had it right. Begin with reality. Most unreality begins with leaders not embracing change. I love how God begins with a stark command in the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. “Moses is dead. Get moving.” This is not sudden. Joshua has been prepared for it and anointed. Still, leading people who are wandering and disagreeable is different from leading those same people in a task that requires them to be focused and obedient. It takes a distinct leadership style to bring people out of the old from leading them into the new. 

A Stake In The Heart

Even though Moses warns Joshua that the people will be stiff-necked and rebellious, none of that happens in Joshua’s lifetime. Remember what Moses said to the people in the Wilderness? “For I know that after my death, you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn away from the way I have commanded. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.”

They remind me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus as he is leaving them for the last time. “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

However, the Israelites never rebel as they did with Moses. There was nothing but success.  As far as we know, Timothy was more than capable of keeping the wolves away. Both of them were ideal leaders for a new time even though both began in the shadows of founders.

I had a chance to read the job description of Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton when they were looking for a successor to Chuck Swindoll. “Someone who can honor the legacy of Chuck Swindoll but drive a stake in the heart of his ghost.” That is what both Joshua and Timothy needed to do. Honor the legacy of the founder but get moving!

Instead of Abbey Road I am thinking of a better Road today. Let me offer J.R.R. Tolkien’s words as a guide for all of us:

“The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”

I have no doubts about the future of The Gathering because the center of gravity is solid and the leadership is ready to get moving into that larger way.

 

My book “Where The Light Divides” is available on Amazon

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Showing 14 comments
  • Avatar
    Fonda Latham
    Reply

    Blessings on your journey on your new road! May you breathe it in and saunter with delight!

  • Avatar
    Joel Carpenter
    Reply

    Many thanks, Fred. I am letting go of the Institute I founded 13 years ago. Not an easy or simple matter, but I submitted to the wisdom you cited and my colleagues at Calvin found a surprising and refreshing successor. I am so grateful for God’s leading.
    Joel

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Joel. I read something last year that describes the various styles of leaving. The king waits to die or be deposed. The general retires but sits and waits to be recalled when his successor fails. The ambassador remains loosely attached and enjoys representing the organization while not the leader. Finally, the governor sees himself as having served his term and looks for other roles to fill. I think that’s pretty accurate.

  • Avatar
    tony Morgan
    Reply

    Fred, good thoughts and words! As you and I have discussed before, ” If a Leader builds a great organization, and if on the day he walks out the door, the organization begins on a road to demise, then the Leader has failed.” The organization, if it is worthy, must survive the Leader’s exit. Looks like you have done that. Congrats! Time to go catch more fish.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Fortunately, I did not put my name on the organization! No pressure.

  • Avatar
    Joseph Carlson
    Reply

    Fred, I’m grateful for both these words and your example. They give me hope, encouragement, and guidance. I look forward to reading your book.

  • Avatar
    Joe McIlhaney
    Reply

    And sometimes you gracefully leave and THEN get called back😏

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes! Joe, I pray for you twice a day.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    I prefer Flatlander Joe Ely’s quote….The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      That’s even better. When did the party start?

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