Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me, and let us be on our way, so that we may live and not die — you and we and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you can hold me accountable for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”
In yesterdays Life for Leaders devotion, we focused on a story in Genesis 43. In this account, Jacob’s leadership of his family had been compromised by his grief and fear concerning his sons. He was, in fact, putting his whole family at risk of starvation because of his unwillingness to send Benjamin to Egypt, as Joseph had required, so that Jacob’s family might purchase grain in a terrible famine. But Jacob’s son Judah spoke up, challenging his father’s decision and urging him to do the right thing. Judah’s counsel enabled Jacob to snap out of his self-absorbed funk. Jacob sent his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt with a wise plan for how to get what they needed to live. Judah’s counsel made all the difference.
Lord, help me to listen to the counselors you have given to me. Give me open ears and an open heart.
As I’ve been reflecting on my own life in light of this biblical story, I remember a time when I was in a position rather like that of Jacob and when I had a counselor rather like Judah. It was in the summer of 2007. I had been serving as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church for sixteen years and had just accepted a new position as the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. I had not told anyone at church about this yet and was trying to figure out the best timetable for my departure. I felt deeply loyal to my beloved congregation and grieved over having to leave them, even though I felt excited about what lay ahead. Because of my strong feelings for my church family, I resolved to remain in my pastoral role for five months after I informed the congregation that I would be leaving. During those five months I would have the chance to prepare the church for the future, to say adequate goodbyes, and to grieve the loss of relationship.
Before I communicated this timetable to my church, however, I called a trusted counselor, Steve Yamaguchi. Steve was at that time the Executive Presbyter (pastoral leader) for the group of Presbyterian churches that included Irvine Pres. (He is now a valued colleague at Fuller Seminary, where he is Dean of Students.) Steve was not my boss, but he was someone whose wisdom I deeply respected. In my phone call with Steve, I shared with him my plans for the future. I expressed my desire to remain at the Irvine church for five months after I notified the congregation that I was leaving. I expected Steve to affirm this plan.
Steve responded graciously, saying that I could do what I was planning. But he wanted to share with me some concerns. “Right now, because of your strong love for the Irvine church, you want to stay for five months. But once you tell them you’re leaving, you will probably discover that you are more ready to leave than you expect. It’s likely that you won’t be glad you chose to stay so long. Two months would be a better length of time between notifying the congregation and leaving.”
“Plus,” Steve continued, “though you may not want to hear this now, the truth is that the Irvine church will be ready for you to go sooner than you realize. Yes, they love you as their pastor. They will always care for you. But when they know you’re leaving, it will be time for them to move on too. Staying around for five months will be too long for them, not just for you.”
How hard that was to hear! I was already sad about leaving a church I loved so much. The idea that leaving sooner than I had planned would be best for me — and for my church — was something I really didn’t want to believe. But I knew and trusted Steve. I knew he wanted what was best for me and for the church. I knew he had much more experience in pastoral transitions than I had. So, begrudgingly, I took his advice.
You may wonder how it all turned out. I did indeed notify my congregation in early August of 2007 that I had taken a new call to Laity Lodge and would be leaving at the end of September (gulp!). I spent the next two months at church working on transitional matters and spending lots of time saying goodbye to people I dearly loved. Though I felt loved in return, I noticed that church leaders were beginning to do their work without me, as, indeed, they should have. I was clearly a lame duck pastor, beloved and respected, but lame duck. Plus, knowing what lay ahead for me in my own life, I found myself increasingly eager to move on. By the end of September, I was literally counting the days until my move. And so was the congregation. I must have thanked the Lord at least a hundred times for Steve’s wise counsel. Because my leadership of the Irvine church had been so deeply personal, I needed the objective and gracious wisdom of another to help me lead well.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever experienced anything like what I have described here? Have you ever received counsel that was hard to hear but that you needed to hear?
Have you ever been in a position like that of Steve? What did you do? How did you feel? What was the response to your counsel?
Do you have people in your life right now who can tell you truth you may not want to hear? How often do you avail yourself of their wisdom? What helps you to listen to counsel that you really don’t want to hear?
Gracious God, thank you for the wise, caring counselors you put in our lives. Thank you for the times they speak to us in ways that are relationally risky. Thank you for their wisdom, commitment, and love.
Lord, help me to listen to the counselors you have given to me. Give me open ears and an open heart. Even today, may I be ready to receive whatever you want to say to me through these advisors.
And, if I am such an advisor to someone else, help me to be faithful, humble, and insightful in the counsel I give. May I be a channel of your wisdom through what I say.
May it all be for your purposes and your glory! Amen.