For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?”
During the last three days (11/18, 11/19, 11/20), I’ve been reflecting on the story in Genesis 30, in which Jacob tells his boss and father-in-law, Laban, that he needs to leave Laban’s authority in order to provide for his own family.
Using insights from psychologist Daniel Levinson, I’ve suggested that Jacob is a great example of a man in the middle of what Levinson calls BOOM: becoming one’s own man. (Levinson’s research initially focused on men; later he studied the adult development of women.) According to Levinson, what Jacob experienced is typical of men who have moved beyond early stages of adulthood. In our day, BOOM often happens to men in their late thirties or early forties.
Laban provides a fine example of how not to respond to someone who is feeling the need to experience more freedom and authority in work and life. He was so caught up in his own needs that he was unable to see what was going on with Jacob and support it. Now, it’s understandable that Laban did not want to lose a great employee as well as to lose contact with his children and grandchildren. But, as the story in Genesis progresses, Laban engaged in dishonest trickery, criticism, and threats of violence to keep Jacob from leaving Laban’s employ and household. Finally, when Laban realized that God was on Jacob’s side and that God would not be pleased if Laban were to hurt Jacob, he allowed Jacob to leave with his family.
If you’ve ever had a valuable employee who was feeling the need to leave, to do something different, to have greater opportunity or exercise greater authority, you can relate to Laban’s feelings, if not his behavior. In yesterday’s devotion, I shared the story of how my boss and mentor, Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, responded when I felt drawn to leave his staff and become pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. I know Lloyd felt rather like Laban. But Lloyd did not act like Laban. He supported and encouraged me.
Sometimes valuable employees remain happily in place for decades. When I was in Texas, I worked for Howard E. Butt, Jr., whose secretary, Dorothy, had served him for 49 years. Yet, often our best employees get to the place where they need a larger challenge than we can give them. Sometimes they need to do our job, or something like it. I can think of several people I have supervised over the years who moved into a BOOM stage of life. Because of what I had experienced from Lloyd, I was able to pass on the same grace I had once received.
If we’re going to be wise and responsible supervisors of our people, no matter what stage of life they’re going through, I believe we need to remember that as their leaders we are also their servants. Of course, this idea comes originally from Jesus (Mark 10:42-45). Max De Pree, in his epic book, Leadership Is an Art, urges leaders to see themselves as the servants of their followers. As they serve their followers, the followers flourish. Max writes, “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?” (p. 12). If we are committed to serving our followers, if we want them to reach their potential, to learn, and to change with grace, then we will pay attention to their stages of life. Moreover, we will seek to support not just them in their work; we will also seek to support God’s work in them. The more we allow God to guide us in our leadership, the more we submit to God as our Leader, the better we will be at helping our people become all that God intends them to be, even when it’s time for them to move on to something else.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What do you think will help a leader serve his or her followers when they are in seasons of transition?
What helps you to know and serve the people you lead?
What difference does God make in your day-to-day leadership?
Gracious God, thank you for allowing us to participate in your work on earth. Thank you for making us leaders, for giving us people who follow us. Thank you for . . . [you might want to mention specific members of your team].
Help us, Lord, to be servant leaders, to care about the growth and flourishing of those whom we lead, not just their performance. When it’s time for them to move on, give us the grace to support and encourage them. Help us to see beyond our own needs, to care about the needs of those we lead, not to mention the work of your kingdom.