Friday, August 10, 2012

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit--Mario Vega--Leading Through the Anguish of Tough Decisions

Waiting to hear Mario Vega (in  Spanish) at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit--

Today's theme is based on Scripture in I Samuel 15:34 - 16:1   This account takes us back to 1000 bc.  The age of iron was coming to an end and the people groups were building powerful monarchies.  Israel was governed by tribal chiefs that ruled over small groups.  There had been no clear leader to rally the people into one united kingdom and Israel had relief exclusively on God for protection.

The people wanted to become a monarchy and build a mighty army so Saul became the first king.  Samuel played an important role in the appointment of God as king.  Saul was humbled in his early years and Samuel was endeared to him.  Samuel was proud of Saul in his role as king but on one occasion Saul deliberately disobeyed God and was carried away by greed and stole some cattle as spoils of war.  Saul tried to hide this--saying it was an offering to God.  But God wanted obedience and not sacrifice;  to walk in integrity was more pleasing to Him than riches.  '

So God no longer viewed Saul as qualified to be king.  You may think God was too harsh in rejecting Saul for one moment of disobedience but there are defining moments that reveal a man' inward character.

Saul's lifestyle of disobedience after that first act showed that God had not been too harsh.  Saul grew violent and profane.  His abuse of power led him to the mass murder of the temple priests and in his uncontrollable ambition he tried to murder his own son and pursued David with an obsession.  Those that allow themselves the liberty of moral failure open themselves to greater failures to come.  Charisma and skills were not enough to keep Saul on the throne of Israel.  Integrity of character was far more important.

Saul had now shown the world his lack of character.  It was very painful for Samuel to accept the God had rejected Saul as king and he spent the entire night crying over Saul.  His love for Saul ran deep and he grieved over the fact that God had disqualified him.  This brought Samuel to an ethical crossroads where he would have to choose between his love for his friend Saul and to his love for God and his values.

The moral integrity of a leader will challenge the integrity of many others as well.  As leaders we are not responsible for only our own actions but for those we lead.  Samuel knew Saul would consider his actions as opposition but Samuel determined that he would remain firm in doing what was right.  This is the deep reason that Samuel never again saw Saul's face.  Their friendship was forever ruined.  Saul was now traveling down a path that Samuel could not travel down.

In 1977 I came to know a church in my country of El Salvador.  The church had been started 3 months earlier with a small group of 25 people.  The pastor and I quickly became friends and 2 years I was sent to start another church in another city.  In spite of the distance I would travel each week to spend the day with my pastor friend and we became very close friends.  My pastor's church went from 3000 to 9000 people in one year.  The pastor's ministry was impressive and was a model many followed.  The church continued to grow until we reached our first 50,000 people.  On top of this other congregations were started in and outside of the country and had grown to be a denomination in the span of 20 years.

This phenomenal growth had not affected my friendship with the pastor and our friendship continued to grow.  In mid-1995 the pastor decided to form a board to lead the denomination.  As a trusted friend he placed me on the board with other trusted pastors.  Shortly after we discovered the pastor had fallen in moral failure.  I refused to believe the allegations but the facts remained undeniable.

Ironically the first decision the board had to make was to have him resign from his pastoral duties.  In an effort to protect his image and future ministry we made the mistake of keeping his failure a secret.  We hoped he would be spiritually restored and that he would save his marriage and return to public ministry.  Unfortunately things did not go the way we anticipated.  On the contrary, his behavior became even worse.  Problems began to surface in the church and troublemakers began to rock it.  The church started to show signs of cracking.

After 2 years the pastor showed no visible signs of repentance.  In the end he submitted his resignation but behind the scenes a conflict was brewing and I was asked to step up into the position of leadership.  For 17 years I was working in another city and had started a church of 7000.  I had not interest in returning to the capital city or taking over a church that was falling apart but God had been speaking to my heart.  I had the sense this pastor was not moving toward restoration.

Accepting this position of leadership would alienate me from this pastor who considered me his close friend.  I talked with him one last time trying to get him to reflect and think but he had resolved not to return unless we accepted his immoral lifestyle.  I had to choose--would I be with God or would i be with man.

I made the decision to choose God and what I deemed was right.  17 years have gone by since that decision.  Throughout all these years I have rarely seen my former pastor.  When someone's life values and principles are different, life's road begins to pull people apart.  Many thought I had failed my pastor as a friend for stepping up to take his place but only God knows how much pain and how much death to self was wrapped up in the decision.

Would you like to know about the difficult process?  Then come with me to Samuel's dark night and discover the process the prophet had to walk through.  The first phase was denial.  Samuel's pain was so great he could not accept the truth.  He could not accept that Saul would no longer be king.  It seemed like a bad nightmare that Saul had been rejected.  He expected God to change His mind at the last moment but God's decision was final.  The sun went down and the anguish continued to oppress his heart.  He had to confront the new reality.

He entered into the second phase--depression.  The depression that triggers an understanding of his ethical duty--a difficult duty but one that leaves us with no options.  His love for Saul could not blind him to reality.  Saul was not who he thought he was.  He lacked that healthy fear of God.  There was no turning back.  Integrity lost cannot be fully restored.  This daunting reality led him to a deep, deep depression.  Samuel searched for an alternative--one that would not involve firing Saul.  But there were no other options.

At about midnight Samuel entered into the third phase--acceptance.  He had to come to terms with the fact that Saul would no longer be king.  He felt alone and desolate.  If Saul wouldn't be king, then who would be?  It would be his responsibility as prophet to anoint the new king but this would alienate him from Saul.  And hadn't he been the one to appoint Saul?  Would he have to appoint another leader?

This process would not be complete until he would hear the voice of God saying, "How long will you grieve over Saul since I have rejected him as king over Israel?  Fill your horn with oil and be on your way.  I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem."

The next phase was one of action.  It was time to appoint a new king and look toward the future.  The plans of God were still on course.  It was time to turn the page over and move into action.  The heart finds comfort with every new step of integrity so Samuel went into action.  He dried his tears and moved forward.  It was time to anoint the new king of Israel.

Leaders are defined by the ongoing decisions they make and leadership rises and falls on the decisions that are being made.

Are you facing a difficult decision?  Are you letting your personal bias affect your decision?  It's difficult when you have to decide over people's lives but these are decisions that you cannot delegate to another person.

Give yourself permission to grieve, to cry and to walk through depression.  But never give yourself permission to not do what is right and don't give yourself permission to remain in the valley of depression.  Lay your grief before God.  Find a counselor.  Lift your eyes to heaven.  Look to tomorrow.  God has more in store for you.   This is the healthiest choice for all parties involved.

Every right decision that a leader makes will strengthen his influence.  You will never regret doing what is just and walking with integrity and when the years pass by they will reveal justice and integrity in your actions.

Be courageous.  Be strong.  Live with integrity.  The Lord is with you.

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