In my Bible reading this summer I have been going through some of the Old Testament historical books. Recently, a sentence from II Kings gripped me and hasn’t let me go.
You can read the whole story in II Kings 20:12-19, but here is the gist of it. Hezekiah, one of the few good kings that Judah had, became ill and the king of Babylon sent messengers to wish him well. Hezekiah not only welcomed the messengers, he showed them all of the riches that were in his storehouse, which is kind of like giving bank robbers a tour of the bank vault and letting them see how much money is there.
After the representatives from Babylon left, the prophet Isaiah came to ask about the visit. When he found out that Hezekiah had shown them all the riches of Judah, he predicted that because of Hezekiah’s foolishness Babylon was going to invade Judah and take everything.
Now, here’s the part of the story that haunts me. Here is Hezekiah’s response after he heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”
Did you catch that? As long as things held together during his lifetime, he was okay with it. In short, he cared about his own survival more than he cared about the longevity and legacy of his kingdom.
Don’t be too quick to judge Hezekiah; the temptation to care more about survival than legacy sneaks up on a lot of leaders, especially as we are running that last few laps in our leadership race. I suppose I’m more aware of that temptation now that I’ve been in ministry 40+ years and am approaching retirement age. It would be easy to avoid the hard decisions and coast. I might be leaving problems for those who follow me, but as long as there is “peace and security in my lifetime” then I’m okay with it, right?
Not only do leaders succumb to the survival temptation, entire churches do as well. We may be avoiding the risky decisions that will build a strong legacy for the generations that follow, but as long as the folks who are presently in the church are happy, it’s okay. After all, these are the folks who pay the bills, right?
So I’ve been thinking a bit about the differences between a legacy leader and a survival leader. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but here are some qualities I’ve seen in the legacy leaders I’ve known: