Leading with Style

by Rick Chromey 

Every elder leads with style. 

Some elders are active leaders.  They like to be in command and want to get work done.  Some elders are passive leaders.  They prefer working from the shadows, watching and waiting until the time is right.  

Some elders lead emotively.  They work from their hearts, leading “randomly” with a focus on people.  Some elders lead cognitively.  They manage from their heads, operating more sequentially and focus upon tasks.  

Consequently, four different leadership personalities emerge (and you are one of them).

 Active / Emotive:  The Game Show Host

Game Show Host elders are inspirational leaders.  They are delightful, gregarious, daring and charismatic.  Their active nature creates energy and their emotive connections spark attention and affection.  They make decisions through hunches and measure success by applause.

But Game Show Hosts also carry liabilities.  By default, they are not planners and are often undisciplined.  They dislike details, schedules, lists, and deadlines.  Their randomness frustrates sequential leaders (Chefs and Stage Managers) and this disconnect creates conflict related to their spontaneity, riskiness, tardiness and messiness.

Active / Cognitive:  The Chef  

Chef elders are confident leaders.  They enjoy taking the lead and cooking up flavor.  They are decisive, reliable, organized and practical.  Their active nature puts legs underneath dreams and their cognitive nature creates recipes for success.  Many chefs are master communicators and visionary leaders.  They make decisions through highly-developed intuition and measure success by completing the mission.

But Chefs aren’t perfect.  They can easily become rogue or lone ranger leaders.  They can thrive in conflict and heat, which irritates the other styles.  They don’t always care about hurt feelings or disgruntled people.  Their high expectations – for others and themselves can create an environment of perfectionism and workaholism. 

Passive / Cognitive:  The Stage Manager

Integrity is the heart of a Stage Manager elders.  They don’t need the stage or spotlight to influence change.  Rather, these elders operate to the side with well-designed scripts to ensure the work is a success.  They are thoughtful, disciplined, cautious and efficient, economical leaders.  Their passive nature naturally brakes for change, especially with abruptly-conceived visions (frustrating Game Show Hosts) and disagreeable ideas (angering Chefs).  Stage Managers want every decision to be measured and reasonable.  Consequently, they make decisions on the facts and gauge success by security and rationality. 

Stage Managers are not without flaws, however.  They can stall good plans, resist positive change and by stymied by “analysis paralysis.”

Passive / Emotive:  The Counselor

The Counselor personality is an elder who leads with compassion.  These sensitive, people-focused, tender leaders are always seeking compromise, resolution and interaction.  Their passive nature makes them bristle at conflict and their emotive sensibility drives them to nurture relationships.  They are dependable, diplomatic, relaxed and patient to a fault.  They make decisions based upon consensus and measure success by general feelings of goodness, forgiveness and positivity. 

This idealism, however, can create issues for Counselors.  They can crack under pressure, avoid risks, disengage, disappear without notice, and grow frustrated with conflict.  Counselors don’t want to leave anyone out, behind, or down.

Every great and working eldership will include each of these personalities. 

We need Game Show Hosts to lighten the mood, inspire change and motivate people.  We need Chefs to craft vision, challenge assumptions and move the church forward.  We need Stage Managers to monitor change, calculate risks and create concrete plans. We need Counselors to resolve conflicts, show compassion and generate interaction. 

No one style is better than another and like the parts of the human body, every personality contributes something to the cause.  One final thought: an eldership that’s top-heavy in one style will prove dysfunctional. 

Too many Chefs spoil the broth (as every chef prefers their own agenda).  With too many Game Show Hosts, nothing will get done (since detailed plans and deadlines are necessary for success).  Too many Stage Managers will stall the organization (because every stage manager wants everything “perfectly perfect”).  Too many Counselors and there will be chaos (as consensus rule is naturally messy). 

The best eldership will feature all four styles. 

And that’s a winning combination.

10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

by Daniel Overdorf 

Elders fulfill one of their most impactful roles when they hire ministry staff.  The wrong hire can lead to years of heartache, the right hire can result in years of fruitful and joyful ministry.  The following commandments (okay…they’re really just suggestions) can help.

1. Begin – and stay – on Your Knees.  Prayer is not just the first step in the process, it must weave itself through the entire process.  Engage the entire congregation in prayer.

2. Establish an Efficient Search Process.  Define the stages through which the search will progress.  As an example:

  • The elders appoint a search team.
  • The search team gathers résumés.
  • The search team checks references, performs phone/video interviews, then recommends the top two or three candidates to the elders.
  • The elders conduct phone/video interviews with the top candidates.
  • The elders choose a candidate to host for a face-to-face interview and visit.

3. Develop a Profile of the Ideal Candidate.  No individual will perfectly match the ideal, but developing a profile will give direction to the search.  Consider such matters as education, doctrine/beliefs, and the particular needs and personality of the church and community.

4. Assemble a Search Team.  Often, elders appoint a search team that includes a cross section of church members.  In other circumstances, elders prefer to serve as the search team themselves, or to commission existing church staff to conduct the search.  Each option is fine, but it should be defined and communicated. 

5. Get the Word Out.  Solicit recommendations from people who know ministers, such as professors, well-connected leaders, and workers from parachurch organizations.  If such networking fails to uncover appealing candidates, widen the search by posting the opportunity on ministry placement lists.  Most Christian colleges keep such lists, and consider online postings such as SlingshotGroup.org and ChristianStandard.com/help-wanted.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Consider at least a weekly email to all candidates still in the mix, even if just to say “We’ll be meeting next week…”  Appoint someone who is friendly and well-organized to handle this communication.  Also, provide as much information as possible to candidates about the church and community, perhaps an information packet filled with newsletters, pictures, bios of leaders, church history, budget, demographic information, and anything else that will be helpful.
 
7. Keep it Personal.  In this regard, churches should operate more like families than like businesses.  Families do not send form letters.  They do not draw conclusions based solely on résumés.  Instead, families talk, relate, interact, and ask questions.  Likewise, a personal search process gets voice-to-voice, then face-to-face, as soon as possible.
           
8. Host a Productive Visit.  When a candidate visits, plan the itinerary carefully to make it productive and enjoyable.  For example: pay all expenses, reserve a nice hotel room, stock the hotel room with a personal note and a basket of goodies, provide a car and a map with some free time to explore, plan some time for formal meetings but also informal gatherings.  Engage the help of someone who has the gift of hospitality. 

9. Reject as You Would Have Them Reject You.  At whatever point in the process you decide a candidate is not the right fit, remain personal and respectful.  Cold search teams hide behind form letters.  Caring search teams ask themselves, “How can we minister to this person?”  Through personal letters or phone calls, they’ll comment on the person’s strengths and promise to pray that God will guide them to the right opportunity.

10. Enjoy a Productive First Year.  When a candidate is hired, celebrate.  Allow time and resources for the new minister to transition smoothly.  And, don’t expect the new minister to “hit the ground running” too quickly or intensely.  That time will come, but first encourage the minister to settle his family into the community, to begin developing relationships, and to get his footing as a leader in your church.

Soon, we’ll no longer count the weeks or months but we’ll count the years our “new” ministers have served our churches.  May we begin a pattern in those early months that will stretch into those later years, a pattern of healthy partnership.

How to Persevere Under Criticism

by Mike Shannon 

I once saw a sign posted in a business that said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  That is good advice for anyone, but especially good advice for those who work in the church.  Many factors can potentially discourage us in church work.  There are many times we are prone to give up, but God’s work requires staying power.  Nehemiah knew that.  Nehemiah had staying power.

Sometimes we are filled with good intentions.  We begin a job, but when the boring and tedious parts come we walk away.  This is, I suppose, a common human failing.  However, our character is developed not in the exciting times but in the routine times.  The job itself can become discouraging, but if it needs to be done, and it is a job God has commanded, then we must persist. 

Sometimes it is not the boring part of the job, but the challenging parts that engender discouragement.  Critics often threaten us.  Nehemiah had such a critic in a man known as Sanballat, along with his co-critics Tobiah and Geshem.  It was not long after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls that Sanballat and company resisted him fiercely; they even laughed in his face.  He ridiculed those who worked with Nehemiah.  Not only did Sandballat conclude the job was impossible, he mocked those who tried to accomplish it, calling them “feeble.”  Their critics suggested that a fox could knock the wall down.  They tried to distract Nehemiah with requests for meetings.  They spread slander about Nehemiah and suggested nefarious motives, once even claiming he was trying to set himself up as king.  I suppose every church has a Sanballat.  When nothing else worked he resorted to threats, suggesting something bad just might happen, but Nehemiah simply would not relent.  When Sanballat asked Nehemiah to come and consult with him, Nehemiah calmly, but firmly, replied, “I can’t come down from this great work” (Neh. 6:3).

Critics are too often allowed to control the agenda.  The harshest critic, of course, is usually the one who has never accomplished anything.  The critic is free to find fault with everything because he/she has never personally taken the risk of trying and failing.  Generally, you will find that critics are rarely doers and doers are rarely critics.  We should be humble enough listen to genuine feedback, particularly if it comes from those who are wise, but we should never let the pathological critic force us to come down from a great work.

We can change direction, change strategies, change tactics, but we must persist in our mission.  Remember when Paul came to Corinth, he had many reasons to quit.  He was discouraged, lonely, in poor health, and faced sharp criticism.  In the midst of that discouragement God promised Paul that he was with him.  God sent him people to help him deal with his great task, and a great church was built in Corinth.  Since God does not quit on us, we don’t have to quit in His work. 

We must expect the discouragers to come, but we must be strong enough to resist their influence.  In spite of the chronic critics, we can succeed if we are determined God’s work should, can, and will be done.  No doubt, most of the jobs we will take on are not nearly as challenging as building the city wall in Jerusalem.  Think of what we could do if we just had a little staying power. 

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt. 2)

by Billy Strother

I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

Just as there is no one way to take communion (glass or plastic communion cups are both good options; before or after the sermon are equally optional; there is no company biblically-mandated from which to order communion bread or juice), there is no one biblical way to offer a communion devotion.

But, since it is the weekly practice for most of us, I offer a few suggestions which may help someone asking you that question.

  1. Open with the mechanics of taking communion in your service. 
    Many will end their devotion talking about how to take communion, or never mention the mechanics at all.  Even mature church visitors may come from a church which does it differently.  Opening with “here is how we take communion” puts visitors at ease.  It also implicitly communicates “we want and expect visitors to be here” to the congregation.  Sharing the mechanics after the devotion breaks the dynamic spiritual flow of the devotion into prayer.  Share the mechanics first – holding elements or taking them when passed, walking forward to tables, etc.
  1. Prepare hearts, not heads, for communion. 
    The purpose of the devotion is to orient the hearts of those in attendance to a focus on partaking of communion.  The devotion should simply arrest the attention of those in corporate worship and then point their hearts to the elements on the Lord’s table, symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, the sweet and terrible sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.  One cannot worthily examine themselves unless they take a fresh look at the cross.
  1. Retell a brief story or anecdote that’s personal or biblical. 
    People love stories.  I have noticed through the years that anytime I say, “that reminds me of a story,” that no matter how boring my sermon has been, people will give it another chance.  Two minutes is enough time to tell a brief personal story well.  It is enough time to retell a biblical story.  It is enough time to tell someone else’s story.  Anyone can ramble on forever.  It takes real work to hone a story down to the memorable.  Let’s face it, there is only so much shared time for a worship service in our culture.  Like it or not, that is the reality.  The two-fold purpose of the communion devotion is:  1) to arrest audience attention; and 2) to put Jesus’ work on the Cross in the spotlight.
  1. Anchor your story to the Bible. 
    Sincerely, your communion devotion need not be tethered to the preacher’s sermon text for the day.  But your communion devotion is well-served connected to a verse or two of Scripture (and not a long text—well, because of the time restraint we are under in our culture, if we desire to have a sincere influence for Jesus).
  1. Take it all to The Cross. 
    I have heard communion devotions which never mentioned Jesus or the cross or the elements.  That might be a devotion, but it is not a communion devotion.  An effective communion devotion takes our hearts directly to the symbols of the cross.
  1. Remember to pray for the elements and the hearts taking them. 
    More than once I have heard someone say, “I got so nervous, I forgot to pray!”  The small prayer at the end of the Communion devotion builds a significant bridge between people’s hearts and the symbols on the Lord’s table. 

Are you intentionally leading communion devotions as a church leader?  Speaking for myself, without a specific and deliberate plan, my next communion devotion is capable of becoming “The Worst Communion Devotion Ever.”

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt 1)

by Billy Strother

As a professor and preacher for over three decades, I have heard a great many devotions around the Lord’s Table.  I have given a few myself.  Mostly though, when preaching, I am a Sunday spiritual consumer when it comes to the devotion at the table, listening to other leaders. 
 
I have heard all kinds of communion devotions:  some so long they rivaled the length of the sermon; some which brought a tear to my eye; some spoken in a language foreign to me, but which still moved my heart; some which never mentioned Jesus or the cross, and some which really opened my heart to the moment of participating in table fellowship with the Lord in the moment. 
 
I do not remember the exact words of the best communion devotions I have heard over the years; simply that they opened my heart for the moment of table fellowship. 
 
But I do remember the worst communion devotion I ever heard.
 
In the fall of 1988, just minutes before my sermon, the leader selected to lead the communion devotion stood up at the microphone and cleared his throat.  The transcript of that devotion has been forever seared into my mind:
 
“Folks, communion is like that new number one song I just heard on popular radio by Bobby McFerrin.  When it comes to communion, like Bobby sings, ‘Don’t worry, be happy!’  That is what communion is all about.  The Lord does not want us to worry and he wants us to be happy.  Let’s pray!” 
 
And he did … pray.  I just do not remember the prayer at all; everyone was a little shell-shocked!  While the song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” won three Grammy Awards in 1989 (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance), it really is about as antithetical to self-examination as one can get. 

Paul told us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 how we ought to approach the Table, and in verses 28 and 31, he specifically tells us to “examine ourselves.” 
 
That Sunday, I discovered that not all communion devotions are created equal.  The humble communion devotion is a big spiritual event.
 
I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

We’ll explore that in depth next week.

Elders Cast Vision

by David Roadcup 

The ability to craft and utilize a compelling vision is one of the cornerstones in the life of an effective church.  

What is vision?  It is developing the ability to see what is not yet there.  It is seeing things as they could be through God’s eyes.  It is looking beyond where our church is at the present and asking, “What does God want to see happen in the life of our church in the future?”  The ability to proactively move to develop a workable vision and then communicate that vision to your congregation members, leading them to buy into that vision, is a crucial step to moving a church forward.  

A very important question:  What part does an elder play in determining the vision of a church?

First, we must ask another question: Who determines the vision of a congregation?  There can be a variety of views on this issue.  It is only logical to respond to this question in this manner:  in most cases the lead minister (senior minister, preaching minister, etc.) of the organization should be the “tip of the spear” when it comes to vision casting.  A good lead minister will always seek the Lord in prayer for the vision for his church.  In addition to prayer, the lead minister should consult with his staff and the elder team when setting the vision.  This process should always be a collaborative process initiated by the Lead Minister.  All key leadership individuals (paid pastoral staff and elders) should have input into the development of the stated, written and communicated vision.  

In bringing input and ideas to the vision casting table, let me encourage every elder to keep the following in mind:

  1. Vision should be determined through the direction of the Word of God and prayer.  All we strive to accomplish should be directed by God’s Word and prayer.  We know from Scripture that God’s will is very clear about our ultimate vision.  The Great Commission (Matt.28:18-20) indicates that our ultimate goal is to win those who are lost and outside of Christ, to immerse them and nurture them to a healthy level of spiritual maturity.  This work is to be done here at home and around the world in every country, city and village.  It is as clear as that.  Winning the lost and nurturing the saved, here at home and around the world, is our primary objective. 
  2. Key leaders create and agree on the vision.  The Lead Minister propels this effort.  He must lead in this area.  But as an elder, know that you should be able and encouraged to make a contribution to this process.  Here is an effective question that every elder should ask himself when vision-casting: If money were no object (if a church had all the money it needed – an unlimited supply), what would you like to see happen in your church?  What would we do when it comes to evangelism?  What would we do in terms of our youth ministries?  What would we do when considering our missions outreach and urban evangelism?  What would we do for the marriages in our congregation?  in other words, if the sky was the limit, where would we like to see our church in 5 years if we were truly accomplishing our vision and mission?  I truly believe that as the leadership team of the church, we should dream big!  We should ask the Lord to show up powerfully – undeniably – in our church.  
  3. We communicate the vision to the church.  The vision we believe God has given us for our church then needs to be communicated to the body through a series of sermons, the church’s bulletins, newsletters, etc.  We make sure that everyone in the church knows the vision of the church and will come on board in executing that vision through our staff, finances, prayers, buildings and ministries.  

Elders, as a main part of the leadership team, should participate in the vision casting of their church.  THrough prayer and collaboration, a Holy Spirit led vision can be clarified and accomplished! 

Elders Resolve Conflict

by Rick Grover

Over the past six years, our congregation has gone through more than its fair share of change, disappointment, loss, and now renewal.  And through it all, our elders have remained united. We had to acknowledge our own mistakes and failures as leaders, the changing context of our church family, and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us through the murky water of conflict. 

In the midst of everything, we discovered that our congregation was not equipped to handle conflict in healthy ways.  We had the typical “fight or flight syndrome” rather than the “share and care syndrome” of working through conflict.  We learned that there are four basic reactions to church conflict that, if not addressed, can lead to greater infighting and division. 

Over-spiritualizing
Some church members avoid conflict because they see it as an evil rather than an opportunity.  Thus, rather than deal with conflict, they respond with spiritual platitudes such as, “We don’t need to discuss this any further.  We just need to be on our knees and pray that God will convict the hearts (of those with whom we disagree).”  It’s hard to argue with someone’s conviction to pray, but prayer should never be used as an excuse not to deal with real issues. 

Denying  
Whether in marriage or ministry, some Christians take the ostrich approach and want to bury their heads in the sand.  Elderships can be on a dangerous path of disarray if they are unwilling to go through the tunnel of conflict.  As I’m sure you’ve heard before, “Facts are your friends,” even if those facts are not very encouraging. 

Trivializing
This is the “frog in the kettle,” where churches are facing significant problems, but elders are still living in the glory days and not in current reality.  When elders trivialize conflict, factions, or divisions, they are playing into the hands of the enemy.  We should never make a mountain out of a molehill, but too many unaddressed molehills can trip up an eldership and congregation. 

Guilt-tripping
In church conflict, we easily fall into the trap of the blame game.  The minister blames the elders for the church’s problems.  The elders blame the minister.  The congregation takes sides and blames the elders or the minister or both.  When we were going through our own tunnel of conflict, we had to stop blaming each other and start collaborating on possible solutions and ways to move forward. 

Responding to conflict is never easy, but it is necessary for church health and growth. When we had significant internal tension, it was no surprise that newcomers could sense it and wanted no part of it.  Healthy things grow – and that includes churches.  Your church may be in a geographic area of non-growth, but healthy growth is still possible, even if it is measured in ways that go beyond simple Sunday morning attendance. 

For our congregations to handle conflict in healthy ways, elderships must take the lead.  Are your elders’ meetings characterized by any of the above four common responses to conflict?  Does your eldership over-spiritualize, deny, trivialize, or guilt-trip each other when conflict occurs?  If so, the path forward for your church begins with you taking the first steps in your eldership and handling conflict in ways that honor Jesus Christ. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 
1 John 3:16 (ESV) 

And in the church, that begins with the elders. 

How do I know if my church is healthy?

by David Roadcup

A doctor examining a patient looks immediately for signs of vitality and health.  When the signs are present, the doctor knows the patient is doing well.  When the signs are not there, this is telling the doctor that the patient needs attention.  A diagnosis is made, medication or treatment is prescribed, and the patient finds restoration of health. 

The same is true for a congregation.  Certain characteristics in the life of a church tell us that the church is healthy and thriving.  A lack of these characteristics would tell us that the church needs attention and treatment.  A church’s “vital signs” can be broken down in many ways, but for today, let’s examine three of the most important church health measures:  

The Unity of the Congregation 
The unity of a church is critical to the health of that church.  Disunity within the body brings division, strife, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to fulfill her mission.  If there are points of disunity and they are growing and getting more intense, the primary leaders (senior minister and elders) must face the causes of the disunity, pray for guidance and move into the issues, carefully handling them with wisdom and discernment.  Elders must proactively handle and manage whatever is causing the disunity.  Jesus Himself said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).  Satan has used disunity for two thousand years to slow down or destroy the effectiveness of the church.  This must be a continual focus of leadership.  As leaders, we carefully guard the unity of our church body.  

The Evangelism of the Congregation
The winning of the lost to Christ is the first and foremost purpose of the body of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).  We must evaluate on a regular basis what we are doing to reach lost people. 

In the Christian Church, we have many congregations that are very invested in winning first time believers to Christ.  Churches in our brotherhood report baptism services of 50, 60 or more people baptized on one day in a celebration of salvation!  How pleased the Lord is with this!  An acquaintance of mine immersed over 700 new believers in one Sunday afternoon.  This is the heart of the church. 

We must take a hard look at our evangelism results, friends.  Are we really looking for, encountering and leading to faith in Christ those who are outside the kingdom?  We simply need to look at our numbers.  How many first-time believers do we baptize on a monthly basis?  On an annual basis?  This number will tell us about the evangelism “temperature” in our congregation.  Remember, leading first time believers to faith is the beating heart of the body of Christ.  

The Discipling/Assimilation of the Congregation
As we evangelize non-believers and lead them to Christ, we need to also be devoted to the spiritual growth and maturation of these believers.  Exposing them to great Bible teaching on a regular basis is at the heart of their spiritual health.  We teach our people to feed themselves when we teach them about the classic spiritual disciplines and how to incorporate them into their lives.  We need to involve them in significant ministry and service.  And they must be connected to other believers in fellowship and community.  Each of these aspects are necessary to help our members become healthy and “heart deep” in the life of our congregation.  

Each of these three areas need to be regularly monitored.  As leaders, we look at our numbers and the effectiveness of our ministries.  These will tell us how healthy our church is as we continue on the journey to developing, through the Lord’s guidance and will, a healthy and productive church. 

God’s Grace to Make Decisions

by Dick Wamsley 

I was beginning my eighth year as Dean of Students and Professor of Pastoral Care at Nebraska Christian College.  The college was in the first phase of a leadership transition.  The President and Academic Dean had both been there over 30 years and were scheduled to retire at the end of that academic year.  Three years earlier, I was asked by the trustees to consider accepting either of those two administrative positions, so I committed to be the Academic Dean.  But at their September meeting, the trustees approached me to reconsider my decision and apply for the President’s position.  I did not see myself as president material, which was why I did not pursue it earlier. 

At the same time, I was completing coursework toward the Doctor of Ministry degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I was enrolled in the class “The Decision Making Process, Systems and the Planning Cycle.”  It required that I complete a project in my ministry that applied what I had learned in the classroom.  So I decided my project would be to discern the will of God for this ministry decision. 

What I experienced from that project not only changed the course of my role at the college – I accepted the presidency – it awakened me to how God was just waiting to extend His grace at a time when I was focusing more on my perceived weaknesses than His grace to enable me to lead the college as its president.  If I had walked away from the trustees’ challenge because I focused only on my perceived weaknesses, I would have failed to experience the grace of God. 

Like me, you may have always believed that God bestows His grace at His discretion and not at our request, and in some respects that is true.  But there may also be times when He expects us – in fact waits for us – to seek from Him the grace He has already reserved for us. 

The Apostle Paul talks about God’s all-sufficient grace in 2 Corinthians 12.  Speaking of his “thorn in the flesh” he wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Cor. 12:8-9, ESV).  The writer of Hebrews goes a step further:  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). 

One of the actions I took while seeking God’s will concerning my role with NCC was to ask three friends, who knew me well and my giftedness for ministry, to devote some quality time to pray concerning the specific guidance I was seeking from God.  I provided each of them with a list of reasons I had prepared for accepting either position.  After a prescribed period of time, they were to report back to me their own conclusions as God had directed in their prayers. 

Those conclusions were a key to the confidence I had in approaching God’s throne of grace for help in a critical time for me, and in making the decision to accept the call by the trustees to become the college’s fourth president.  Now some might consider that kind of approach to prayer too bold, maybe even a bit presumptuous.  But I considered it “drawing near to the throne of grace,” taking action to seek God’s grace in a time of need. 

When you or your group of elders are faced with having to make some tough decisions, instead of first seeking human resources that will help you “stand on your own two feet,” drop to your knees seeking God’s all-sufficient grace.  

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.