[About 7 years into my service as Circle of Hope’s pastor I offered the congregation some teaching I first heard from Janet Hagberg in 1979. It stuck with me. I happened upon this forgotten message from 2003 on Rehoboam when I was searching my files for something else and thought it was worth repeating, since it is a very challenging time for leaders, inside the church and out, as so much is changing.]
You people are amazing. In our network we have 22 cell leaders and 20 apprentice cell leaders. 4 coordinators of cell leaders. A pastor. 5 PM team leaders. 2 PM facilitators. 9 Mission Team leaders. The list goes on. Lot’s of leaders. Not only is it amazing that we have found so many wonderful, gifted, willing people to lead, you follow them well, you nurture them well, you cheer them on and support them – even when they drive you crazy.
It is the being driven crazy part that we are exploring tonight. Someone wanted to know, “What do I do when my leader seems half-baked?” It is an excellent and frequently asked question. And it has lots of variations.
- I’m fifty, my leader is 23, she seems to me like a cookie that was taken out of the oven after four minutes. What do I do with that?
- I’ve been a believer for fifteen years; my leader has been a follower for fifteen months. He looks like a pretty loaf of bread, but the inside is doughy.
- I’m working hard on my issues and repenting of my sins, the leader doesn’t know about some important issues, apparently, and I’ve heard a few too many things about his sins. Do I report them or something?
- I am serious about my faith and our mission, I want to contribute time and energy to the cause, but the person in charge seems to be on a perpetual vacation and implies that I am a pain in the neck because she thinks I am being too critical of her lack of intensity. Am I being too critical or am I being criticized?
Do you recognize any of these variations? If you do, then you are not alone. And that’s why there is a lot to say about this subject. I am not going to talk about all the ways we have structured ourselves as a body to alleviate the stress of having a half-baked leader – which mainly boils down to our reliance on being a team and the accountability and nurture involved in having apprentices and being in cells. I want to answer it at the micro level : what do I do when the leader is half-baked – which, in one way or another, may be inevitable, since we’ve all got a long journey to completeness. Jesus is the fire, but we are the oven, and you are part of that oven. If the leader is half-baked, you may have a part in his or her completion. So let’s start with you and me this time and see where we get.
The Tragedy of Rehoboam
A tragic story about a half-baked leader and what people did about him can be found in the history of Israel in 1 Kings 12. (I know how you love 1 Kings). It kind of starts with the prophet Samuel. You know that he was not too happy to be asked to give the nation a king. He liked the old way of letting God be the king and relying on prophets and judges that were raised up by the Spirit of God in them to fulfill the leadership functions necessary for the people. But Israel wanted to “go to town” like the nations around them and have a king. So Samuel anointed Saul, who turned out to be a disobedient disaster. He replaced him with David of the great heart but dysfunctional family. David was followed by the famous King Solomon, who was probably the most famous king Israel ever had, as far as being a king of note among the other kings of his age.
King Solomon, by most accounts was a great leader. He was famous for being wise. He expanded the borders of Israel and the whole nation prospered for the forty years of his rule. But there were some flaws. It seems like the more authority a person has the more important his or her flaws become.
Solomon may have had a wise beginning, and may have been very educated, but his method for solidifying his kingdom abandoned trust for God as King and relied for security on the common approach to kingdom building of the time – marriage. (Be careful about what your leaders tell you they need to do for security). Solomon filled his life with foreign-born wives, who were the guarantors of the treaties he was making with their fathers and brothers. What’s more, he let them keep their foreign ways as he moved them into the enormous new palace that he had built at the same time he built his enormous new temple for God. The simultaneous projects, tell you that something might be mixed up right there, plus, they cost the people a huge amount in taxes and conscripted labor. He was a flaming polygamist. The son who succeeded him (some people say it was his only son from all those wives, maybe he was just the oldest one) was the son of an Ammonite princess. His name was Rehoboam.
From the little we learn of him in the account, Rehoboam sounds like an insecure man who didn’t have much direct fathering or king-training. As soon as he is crowned he ruins the kingdom. His people wanted to go with him, but they had a few questions that people always ask their leaders, and Rehoboam answered all of them wrong.
12:1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all the Israelites had gone there to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: 4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
5 Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away. 6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.
7 They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”
8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 9 He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, `Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, `Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’–tell them, `My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.'”
12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”
15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite. 16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:“What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home.
If you are a leader, of a cell, a family, a school project, an outing to the Camden Waterfront, make sure to pay attention to what the people asked Rehoboam. It really wasn’t much that he couldn’t supply if he would have relied on God.
People keep asking the same three questions.
Essentially they began with “Do you love us?” “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Solomon got caught up in his own grand schemes and ended up enslaving his own people. By the time he got done people were resentful because it seemed like he cared more about himself than them.
They also asked “Can we trust you? Are you listening?” “He asked the elders, “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” He did not listen to their advice. He went back to his cronies, which was like looking in the mirror. It was like these guys he’d been playing the grand prince with since he was a kid were hungry to exercise some power. When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home. The ten northern tribes made Jeroboam their king and Rehoboam spent the rest of his life at war trying to put the kingdom back together again. If he just would have listened to one of his father’s proverbs: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes; but he that listens to counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15)
I also think they were asking “Who and what do you serve?” The historian who wrote the story in 2 Chronicles said, “Rehoboam did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the LORD.” (II Chronicles 12:14). People know when the leader can see a picture that is bigger than herself and her cronies. They can sense when the direction is coming from God or from one’s half-baked maturity. They can tell if you are open to understanding what is happening with the least as well as the greatest among us. They know if a certain action is about the cause or about enjoying the exercise of power or getting one’s needs met through draining the life out of one’s followers. They can tell if you serve or dominate. And that counts even if you are just taking your nieces to the mall.
There are not too many leaders who never have a Rehoboam day. If you get one that is as unbaked as he was, poor lad (although he was 41 years old!) I guess you’ll be wondering what to do. Normally, your leaders around here will be doing the best they can and not feeling like they are all that great at it. They will be serving because someone asked them or someone had to do it, not because they always had an aspiration to give their heart and time to further an extremely difficult cause for no pay, little recognition and the headache of having people ask them penetrating questions about their character. Even so, they will have half-baked days, they’ll have bad ideas and they will undoubtedly not be complete yet. What do you do?
I would take responsibility for your leader like they were your precious first-born child. When they spill the milk, do not slap them around; keep helping them to learn to hold that cup, because they will be dealing with milk again at the next meal. Don’t just leave the spilled milk there to stink, clean it up together – if they don’t want to deal with their stinking spilled milk, make them help you – and let’s go on. My conviction is that leaders are baked; they are nurtured into completeness by caring followers.
So if the leader is half-baked, for instance, they don’t love you or even God well, love them.
We have had leaders involved in some sins that became as public as their leadership. Getting drunk. Sexual sins. Major lacks of reconciliation with other leaders. And worse things will happen and may be happening right now. In the middle of that, I think our first responsibility is to love. They are having a problem, just like you and me. For instance, right now my parents are both terribly sick and might die soon. Some days I am going to act out of my grief and conflicted feelings about that. Before you decide my actions make me a bad, unholy leader, ask me some questions. When you think a leader is half-baked, talk to them, understand them. Figure out what is baked not just half-baked. They are people, so speak the truth in love to a person, not to your abstraction of what a leader ought to be or to your fantasy of what you would like or to your unfinished business with your mother or father or with the last leader who abused you. The talking will be very instructive. Talk to God about them, too. Prayer may soften your heart to love.
Please notice that I did not say, “Love them by pretending they are baked.” That will do no one any good. I did not say, “Learn to love unbaked food.” I did not say, “Turn off your brain and stop being so critical.” But I did say, “It is easy to see where someone is. And it is relatively easy to see where they ought to be. But love calls us to help them get from here to there, even if they are the leader. If everyone has to perform perfectly for you, they will either fight you or run from you because you are scary. Either way, that won’t help them lead.”
Secondly, if the leader is half-baked, they are not altogether worthy of your trust, trust them.
Naturally, you’ll have to have hope like God’s to do this. To trust the demonstrably untrustworthy is God-like. After all, isn’t it true, that God entrusts us with his own Spirit and God is relying on you and me to advance his cause of redemption? God’s is an heroic trust. I say that trust breeds trustworthiness. It is true that we give people responsibility and authority and they get too full of themselves and run people over, their natural insensitivity is heightened, they say wrong things, say things that aren’t true, they alienate people. It is true that when my son Ben uses a butcher knife I find it almost impossible to watch, but I trust him with it. And it is also true that I have been known to cut myself, as well. He needs to learn how to do that and he needs a person who loves and trusts him and who has been cut to help him learn better.
If you can’t trust your leader, you may not be trusting God enough to bear the pain of seeing someone go through life as half-baked as he sees you are. Trust God in someone else, not just what you see them doing. Trust God’s precedent, not just their track record. Don’t build a case against them, build a case for them and then help them realize their potential. Your admiration will do more to make them trustworthy than your suspicion and anxiety.
Every leader is going to make mistakes, but we need them, and we need more of them. We live in a trust system so people can gain their fullness and serve us and transform the world. If you hold back all the time, they can’t do as much, and they can’t catalyze us to reach our potential as a body. Can you see how much power mistrust can have? I used to sit in Council meetings and have elaborate discussions about what we were going to do as the church. It seemed like I would end up paying special attention to people who could always find a flaw in any argument and always cast suspicion on the process. I finally stopped listening so carefully. What I had counted as discernment was just mistrust. People wanted to move, but the mistrusters didn’t.
You’ve noticed that I’m turning around every question people always ask of leaders and asking them back at the followers. Do you love me? Can I trust you? Now, Who and what do you serve?
Serve with them
When the leader is half-baked, when you’re not sure what they are serving, serve with them.
It is hard not to serve God when you are surrounded by people determined to follow Jesus. Our leaders either have to bake or flee the oven, because we are not changing our minds. I’d say that most of the time we get the leaders we deserve. If we are apathetic we frustrate them and make them lazy and ambivalent. If we are critical we make them defensive and short-lived, and maybe even cause them to give in and serve us, rather than the Spirit of God! If we follow Jesus first and allow the leader to catalyze and steer and discern the process of the journey, they end up being very valuable to us.
It is true, Rehoboam was a bad leader. He was worse than half-baked. He didn’t love them, couldn’t trust him and he served himself and the god of his own power, and maybe some Ammonite idol his mother brought to town. But while the elders did try a little bit with him, it probably should be noted that the people didn’t love him too well, they did not have a radical trust for God in him, and they never served the cause larger than him. So they ended up with half a kingdom and civil war and eventually a whole boatload of them got carted off to Babylon. It’s not just about the leader.
I think you know that, for the most part. But someone asked the question, and it will come up again, because we are going with the people God calls out to lead us and many people have answered his call. They are shaping us, nurturing us, guiding us, and helping us make a difference in the world. If God is doing so much with the half-baked, what might he say to you if you came before him at the end with a whole plate full of fresh leaders for his people and the cause of his kingdom, baked to perfection by you and your little oven in Philly? I think the Lord would really enjoy that.