I Stand Relieved
Listen to “I Stand Relieved” By Fred Smith
Almost ten years ago, the Board of The Gathering and I started thinking about succession. Clearly, we did not consider it an emergency or urgent matter but did want to be prepared and not surprised by the inevitable transition of leadership to the one who would assume the helm. It is especially important and often difficult to make that move from a founder to the next generation. However, I was determined not to be that founder we all read about who could not turn loose and in one way or another made it impossible for the next leader to succeed or, worse, crippled the organization.
To do that, I wrote what I called my “Last Will and Testament” and while the title was less than comforting for the board, I think it expressed what I believed (then and now) was important. Not controlling the selection of the next President but it was a reminder of the core values and principles of The Gathering. There were not many, but they have been fundamental.
First, too many organizations label people as “high capacity” or describe them by their wealth. If someone thinks persistently about providing special attention to great wealth within The Gathering, that is a red flag. We were not formed around wealth but giving. One of our stated core values is relationships built on trust and trust cannot be built if we are measuring the value of people by their wealth.
Second, the leader should strive to be a Jochabed. What do I mean by that? Moses’ mother, Jochabed, hid the baby from Pharoah but she knew if he were to live, she would have to let him go. She did not abandon Moses but released him. Jochabed overcame her natural desire to be the mother and became instead the nursemaid. Whoever leads needs to understand the importance of being the nursemaid…and it is not easy! It is a constant challenge to the ego.
Third, our success is to be found in the people we serve. Increasingly, our measure of achievement will be found in the multiple generations of our friends. Years ago, I was asked how much money the people in the room at the conference represent. Clearly, there was a fascination with money on the part of the one asking. Others have asked how much total giving those in The Gathering represent. That is yet another distraction. Our focus is on the people and their families. One of our core values is the growth of people and not the growth of The Gathering’s influence or prestige. We are here to help them grow as God works in their lives.
Fourth, we are eclectic and take risks. We try new things. From the beginning, there has been pressure to stick with the same issues repeatedly and invite the same speakers representing the most familiar ways of seeing those issues. Our mission includes stretching vision and we need to keep doing that without alienating people or values. We cannot be foolish and irresponsible or push the envelope out of pride or simply chase after fads, but we need to keep stretching ourselves intentionally.
Finally, while it is tempting sometimes to be part of a larger movement or to align with other organizations doing similar work, I think Peter Drucker was right in his counsel: “Stay away from alliances. You have a clear focus of purpose and those you serve. Do not get entangled with those whose focus is not as sharp. Do not ally just because the mission is similar. There must be a compelling reason. Otherwise, you dilute and squander your success.” It is not a spirit of competition, exclusivity, or rivalry that has kept us what Scripture would call “peculiar people.” We simply have a different mission.
That said, I have been looking forward to letting you know that after more than a year of searching the Board has chosen the next leader of The Gathering. It is Josh Kwan, the co-founder of Praxis and a close friend to The Gathering. I have included a link to the official announcement and there you can read more about Josh and his family. Nothing could please me more than Josh becoming the President and on January 1, 2019 he will begin his work.
No doubt, people will ask about my plans. Am I retired and disappearing? No. The Board and Josh have asked me to stay on for a couple of years as a coach and mentor. In my time in the Navy, there was a tradition for turning over the steering of the ship. The officer assuming the helm says, “I am ready to relieve you, sir.” The officer on duty responds, “I am ready to be relieved.” For a brief time both hands are on the wheel and then the officer on duty says, “I stand relieved. Attention in the pilot house, I no longer have the deck.” The relieving officer then says, “I have the deck.” That describes exactly what we are doing.
This is the time for which we prepared long ago, and I want to say with the deepest appreciation, “Godspeed” to everyone.