Nothing Left Undone

 In Culture, Family, Fred's Blog, Philanthropy

I am at the age (and in a line of work) where people come to talk about what legacy they want to leave behind – in their families and in their businesses. In almost every case we eventually get around to talking about core values. And I’m one of these boomers thinking about succession, but I also think as leaders we need to talk as much about our core idols.

Most of the books, articles and sermons about idols and idolatry are directed toward us as solitary individuals, and that makes sense because we are an individualistic culture.  We see our idols as personal. The top three you hear about are money, sex and power.

But the collective culture of Israel’s devotion to idols was a widespread, shared experience that captured the imagination and allegiance of virtually all of the Israelites. Worshipping idols was more than a private act of one person’s apostasy but an accepted practice across families, tribes and generations. Much of the writings from the Prophets rebuke the kings and all of Israel for going after idols – not just a few individuals.

In Chronicles we read the epitaphs of the kings and discover that God’s final say on their leadership is based on one thing: what they did about idols. “He lived well before God…but left the idols standing” is a recurring theme. Even kings of great personal integrity, like Amaziah, were judged by whether or not they left idols standing among the people.

The highest responsibility of the king was not to pass prosperity, peace or justice to the next generation but to eliminate the idols.

I think this is the right standard by which every leader should be judged. Have we allowed our people to go after worthless things?  Have we left idols standing?

It’s been on my mind to identify the organizational idols of The Gathering. This is not pleasant, and it’s tempting to rationalize it away by saying, “Well, it’s not money, sex and power so we’re doing fine.”

But as leaders, we have a responsibility – more than our own search for personal significance– to be tireless in identifying what potential idols and pretensions are lurking that could plague the next generation. With The Gathering, I think there are three:

Knowledge. We have spent 30 years accumulating and codifying information, perspective and resources. We are the repository of decades of contributions from countless books, articles, experiences, conferences and wisdom. It’s gratifying to be collectively smart – even a little intoxicating.

Peers. The Gathering only works if people believe they are with their peers and engaged in a common purpose. That is healthy but what happens when that becomes what C.S. Lewis labels the “Inner Ring” and people begin to define the value as being exclusive?

Access. If you are in the group, then you have a marked advantage because you are with others with influence, connection, wealth and the means to get things done. This relatively small group knows how to make good things happen for good causes.  But this can also lead to arrogance and pride.

Idols typically begin as good – even practical – things we permit to become destructive. We turn to them for help building an organization but they are corruptible. What begins as an absolutely necessary “means to an end” can become absolutely dangerous.

As Paul said in Corinthians, we are to be constantly demolishing pretensions and taking everything captive, “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

Paul was right and instead of allowing the good and necessary to become idols that lead The Gathering to worthless pursuits, I want to fit these into the structure of a life – both personal and organizational – shaped by Christ.

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  • Avatar
    Paul Olson
    Reply

    Powerful and provocative. Thanks, Fred, for placing the spot light on the constant challenge to ask Him to ‘search me and know my heart.’ Your challenge made me pause to think hard about the pitfalls of turning success(es) into an idol.

  • Avatar
    Jack Modesett
    Reply

    Fred, this reminds me of Haddon Robinson’s Sermon, “Good Snakes, Bad Snakes”, in which he says that Nehushtan, the bronze serpent, began as a life saving symbol and morphed into a life killing idol, and had to be destroyed. Scarey.
    Jack

  • Avatar
    Thom Schultz
    Reply

    Well said, Fred. And this applies not only to The Gathering context, but well beyond.

  • Avatar
    Michael Murray
    Reply

    Well said, Fred; and an appropriate warning. There is a reason why the First Commandment is the FIRST Commandment. Indeed, I have wondered if it is built into the process of the created world by its Creator that nothing lasts forever. It is to make sure that we are continually forced to return to a worship of the Creator, rather than succumbing to the temptation to worship the creatED.
    I am also reminded in what you wrote that a “Daimon” (the Greek word from which we get the word “Demon”) occurs, as I understand it, when one aspect of the human personality takes over and rules all of the rest of the dimensions of our selves; i. e. we “idolize” it (be it money, sex, power, or whatever).
    Again, thanks for prompting some thoughts and providing a forum for conversation.

  • Fred Smith
    Fred Smith
    Reply

    What I am wanting to do is move the conversation away from our personal idols as I think that has been so overemphasized by our emphasis on the individual – at the expense of the corporate. That is why I am looking at the corporate idols of The Gathering and not my personal idols which may be completely different and probably are. Amaziah was not plagued with personal idols and was a good man – but he did not deal with and destroy the corporate idols. Does this make sense? We have so many resources on dealing with ourselves and our own idols (money, sex, power, etc.) but in a sense all that does is reinforce our fascination with ourselves.

  • Avatar
    Ryan Skoog
    Reply

    I’ve never thought of identifying organizational idols. You’ve just inspired what will no doubt be a series of conversations for us. Even though we’re younger, it doesn’t take a group long to start pounding jewelry into golden calfs. Thank you, Fred.

  • Avatar
    Marshall Shelley
    Reply

    A haunting post, Fred. I’m impressed how most temptations involve something good that’s taken to a level that becomes idolatrous. Knowledge, peers, access are all good! But at a certain point, they can displace God in our (organizational) lives and become idolatrous. Thanks for this post, Fred. You’ve put your finger on a really sensitive spot. The question becomes “how to destroy the idolatrous relationship with these things without destroying the good aspect of these things?”

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Marshall. You’ll be pleased to know I took notes during mt time on the board at CTI and my next blog is on the idols of CT. After that, I’m going to filet IVP and skewer Cru – who tried to hide those idols under a saddle by changing names. Seriously, I appreciate your reading the blog and taking the time to comment.

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