Seasons of a Leader’s Life, Jeff Iorg. Broadman & Holman, 2013. 227 p.
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Iorg’s book, Seasons of a Leader’s Life.
“As you near the end of your leadership career, you will likely look back over a mixed bag of decisions – some good, some bad. You will also look back over countless situations where you chose a course of action when the options were muddled and the consequences unclear. In other cases, the situation was more traumatic and defined. You had to make choices with significant negative results assured – like losing your job, downsizing others, losing money, creating divisions in your ministry, or some other negative result. In the worst possible cases, people suffered because of your decisions.
Leaders make decisions, sometimes hard decisions, in the face of turmoil or even persecution. Part of leading is taking responsibility for making tough choices and living with the consequences. One friend told me, “You can’t lead if you can’t inflict pain.” Our decisions may cause pain for others. At other times, we afflict ourselves by our leadership decisions. Leading hurts.
How can a leader maintain emotional equilibrium, knowing the potential consequences of the choices made? What helps maintain perspective and gives you the strength to make the hard calls? Can you leave a legacy of controversial decisions with generally good outcomes? Peter outlined resources for leaders to draw on when making touch decisions to do the right thing, no matter the anticipated negative consequences.
Peter started this part of his legacy with a promise that “if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed.” He advocates being ready to “give a defense” of our hope in Jesus Christ and responding to everyone with “gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear.” Peter advised that detractors will ultimately be “put to shame,” although in the short run they may appear victorious. He reminds us “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Throughout this section, Peter interweaves the example of Jesus making the right decisions and suffering for it as a model for us. Jesus did the right thing and suffered for it in more profound ways than any of us will ever experience. He chose to die for us; he suffered for sin he didn’t commit to make our salvation possible. His example is the ultimate illustration of a person suffering unjustly while steadfastly refusing to compromise doing what was right. By following Jesus’ example, you can “equip yourselves also with the same resolve” to resist the “slander” that comes from people who attack you for making right choices with controversial results.
Along with Jesus’ example, Peter highlights two other resources to help you make those hard decisions with painful consequences. He begins by reminding us to “be serious and disciplined for prayer.” He then advocates, “Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since lovers a multitude of sins.” Peter insisted that strength is drawn from prayer and from other believers, people who will stand with you when the chips are down. Some people will abandon you to suffer alone. But others, who truly love you, will stand with you no matter how difficult the situation becomes.
Peter reminds us to foster fellowship with other believers as a resource to strengthen us through difficult decision-making.
Prior to the reminder about the support of others, Peter mentioned the priority of prayer. Your relationship with God, as accessed through prayer, is your primary resource when decision to do what’s right no matter the consequence. When you face a formidable decision, pray about it. When you feel isolated and alone and you’re not sure who to turn to, God is there for you. Pray about your decision, make your best choice, and God will sustain you in the darkest moments.
The secondary resource for strength in tough decision-making is the love and support of special believers. While many people will abandon you when pressure-packed situations become overwhelming, some will stand firm. When I became a seminary president a few years ago, a friend sent me this note: “When times get tough, call on Jesus. Then call on me. I will be there for you.” And he has been! Good friends who will stand with you, who understand the no-win situations you must face, who trust your character to undergird good decisions, and who refuse to abandon you are a special gift from God. Fair-weather followers may cut and run at the first sign of trouble. True friends will stand with you to the end.
Despite these resources – prayer and supportive friends – choosing to do the right thing no matter the consequences is still difficult. One reason is that the results of these decisions often look like failures in the short run. One pastor stood up to racism in his church and lost his job. Years later, his moral conviction was celebrated as the church repented and welcomed members of other races. One executive made an unpopular decision to change the funding priorities and policies of his organization. Short-term pain made many squeal for relief. But when as economic downturn put many other organizations out of business, his weathered the storm without layoffs or cutbacks. He went from goat to hero, praised by the same employees who had griped about his austerity in better times. One academic leader defended a key doctrinal position, which cost him followers and dollars. His school ultimately recovered but not without years of struggle. In all these cases, the right decision produced immediate loss and personal pain. While the rest of the story is more positive, in those moments of decision and immediate aftermath, the results weren’t assured.
This is reality – many hard decisions produce immediate pain. We hope righteousness will ultimately prevail, but when the decision is made, there’s no guarantee about the future outcome. The challenge is in doing the right thing no matter the consequences or results. The most dramatic biblical example is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as told in Daniel 3.
Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. He erected a huge golden statue of himself and demanded that everyone worship it. But when the signal was given, there were three young men who refused to bow down before the idol. Nebuchadnezzar was furious. He threatened to toss Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace. Their response perfectly summarizes this part of Peter’s legacy: “If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold you statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). These men were determined to do the right thing – no matter what.
They refused to worship an idol and were tossed into a furnace so hot their captors were killed in the process. Yes, they were later delivered by God’s power – but that’s not the most significant part of the story. The key point is that these young me were determined to do the right thing whether deliverance happened or not.
Part of your leadership legacy is the decisions you make and their results. More important, your legacy will show the kind of decisions you made and your moral courage to do the right thing no matter the consequences. Peter modeled this with some of his decisions, for example, like deciding the doctrine of salvation at the Jerusalem Council and accepting the vision of the descending sheets as indication of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in his kingdom. Peter knew the pressure of strategic decision-making and the ensuing controversies in the church. When he wrote this part of his legacy, he challenged us to follow his example.
You will leave a legacy of strategic decisions. Some of these may be quite personal – who you married and how you managed your finances. Some will be part of your leadership role – where you served, the ministry you built, the convictions you upheld, the doctrine you defended, and the people you employed. All of these decisions contribute to your legacy. But more important, the quality of your decisions – your willingness to consistently do the right thing no matter the consequences – is your true legacy.
People will remember what you did and what you decided. But they will remember more what you stood for along the way.”(197-200)