Living, Leaving, a Legacy

by Ken Idleman
My father lived a very full life of 94 years.  He started out as the youngest of four boys – not an enviable place in the “pecking order.”  He grew up in a two bedroom, one bathroom, nine hundred square foot house just 30 yards from five sets of railroad tracks in the little village of Tolono, IL.  His father, my paternal grandfather Lee Idleman, was a section boss for the Illinois Central Railroad where my dad swung a pick alongside his older brothers – 8-10 hours a day for a dollar a day during the Great Depression … which wasn’t really “great.”  He learned Morse Code and applied for an operator’s license.  He succeeded and was later promoted to Train Dispatcher (air traffic control for trains).  He married my mother and they raised a daughter and three sons.  I’m the middle son.  His family and work were my dad’s world until he was introduced to Jesus as a 38-year-old.  The Lordship of Jesus changed my father from the inside out – and a good man became a great man, as God measures greatness.  Ken Idleman, Sr. became a Christ-follower, a local church elder, and as a result, an even better husband, father, grandfather and provider.

I spent the last 48 hours of his life beside his hospital bed.  Dad’s lungs and heart were worn out.  But he was lucid into his last moments of this life as he fell asleep – and awoke in the presence of our Lord.  He taught me three vital church leadership lessons in his last days and hours.

  1. Legacy matters.  It is the one thing you leave behind that will survive.  You will quickly be forgotten after you die.  Just as you cannot remember the names of your great-great grandparents, your posterity will not remember you.  But your influence will survive you – if it is a legacy of real and deep devotion to what is right and true in God’s sight. 
  2. Love until the very end.  I remember how my dad looked at my mother as she left the hospital room on the last night of his life.  My own eyes took a picture of the expression on his face. He knew it would be goodbye for a while.  He would have to go on alone, without her, after 77 years of being with her, nearly every day.  And I remember the look on his face as he turned up on his side, managed a weak smile and said, “Good night K.D.” (his nickname for me).   It was the unmistakable look of pure love.  
  3. Leave well.  I remember some of his last words to me: “I would like to live longer. … But if it is my time to cross over, I’m ready.  I am not afraid.  It is well with my soul.”  That testimony was absolutely the best gift my dad ever gave me. In his hospital room he wanted it quiet.  No TV, no cell phones, no laptops.  I tried to get some work done as he quietly rested.  But he said, “K.D. I am going to need you to turn that off.”  It was uncharacteristic for Dad to be so assertive.  He wanted the curtains open, the light on in the bathroom, the door open to the hallway.  When I asked him that last night , “Dad, don’t you want to take your [false] teeth out?” he replied, “Not tonight Son.”  He knew.  I pulled the sheet up and read part of Romans 8.  He labored for breath as he softly sang a verse and chorus of Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  I laid my hand on his and prayed.  He said good night and fell asleep.  As I reflect on it today I am thinking “what a way to go!” 
None of us can script our passing from this life into the greater life.  But as Christian leaders we can live a legacy, and leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness that will live long after us in our nuclear family and in our church family.  

Do the Right Thing

by Dick Alexander 

Elder work can be hard work, involving gut-wrenching decisions.  On the one hand there is great joy in seeing lives changed and God honored.  It’s an undeserved privilege to be used by the Lord to facilitate His kingdom work.  On the other hand, there can be late-night meetings and lost sleep.  But in times of crisis in a church, it is essential that the overseers of a church do the right thing – not the expedient thing.

The world has been shocked over the last couple of decades by the still-unfolding stories of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.  It was one thing to hear the cascading stories of priests abusing children and youth.  But it is an order of magnitude worse to learn how repeated abuses were covered up by church authorities.  It was not only an issue of individual sin, but of systemic corruption.

That happens other places as well.  This year an influential evangelical church was found to have covered up reported inappropriate sexual conduct by its lead minister.  Numerous reports had been given by responsible people.  Staff members who were aware of the allegations were reportedly required to sign non-disclosure agreements at penalty of their jobs, while the leader continued in his role.

In counseling, secrecy in a family is a sign of major dysfunction.  Appropriate confidentiality is a mark of good character; enforced secrecy is a sign of sickness.

It’s a normal reflex for leaders to not want bad news about their organizations to hit the streets.  But what is the impact on victims to not only be abused, but then have the abuser protected by fellow leaders?  And what is the impact on the reputation of God when the story later becomes pubic (increasingly common in a social media world), and it’s not only the sin of an individual, but a cover-up by a whole organization?

Churches are afraid to lose people.  Most are stretched thin financially, regardless of size.  It becomes a matter of institutional survival.  In a small church, losing a few “key families” (read “meaningful givers”) can push it over the brink.  In a large church this issue is the same – there are simply more zeros in the budget.  A badly managed crisis or unpopular leadership decision can cost a few hundred or few thousand members, resulting in staff layoffs, missed building payments, etc.

But at what price do we maintain our institutions?  Is it more important to God that we keep the seats filled than that we live in truth, justice, and integrity?  Can we not admit when there is sin, and as the body of Christ model repentance, restoration and reconciliation to the world?  Isn’t this our birthright – a distinctive and biblical community?

Most long-time church members are weary of spin.  They read between the lines of our carefully-crafted letters on leadership decisions.  The church isn’t a reality TV show or a long-running soap opera.  There is a place for diplomacy.  But can there also be a greater place for clear, honest communication from leaders?  We will take hits no matter what, so should we take hits for being transparent, repentant, and restorative?  Or should we take those hits for being spin doctors? 

We counsel our teenagers about healthy sexual conduct well before they begin dating.  We want them to decide on a right path before they’re in the thick of temptation.  Hopefully your church is not in a crisis now.  That makes this an excellent time as a group of elders to decide to always do the right thing – even when it’s costly.