Nothing Left Undone
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.