A few years ago while in Israel, I climbed Masada on the snake path. To go from the lowest point of the earth, the Dead Sea, to the top of a mountain fortress is, to say the least, a challenge. My guide told me of a pastor who runs that snake path. He can get to the top in less than thirty minutes. For a good hike, at a good pace, it takes about an hour. You have to adjust to changing altitudes and the path is very narrow and there are no rails. If you start to fall, you’re going to roll a long way down the side before you hit the bottom.
It is a fascinating hike. The scenery will take your breath away as your mind races with thoughts about how a massive fortress was built on top of Masada so many years ago. When we got to the top and I joined our group, Terri thought I was about to have a heart attack. My face was blood-red and I was sweating like crazy…but it was worth it to be able to say, in my 60s, that I had climbed Masada.
I’m not the guy who can run up Masada. I had to walk, take a few breaks, and keep pushing myself to reach the goal. The danger of the snake path is the loose rocks that can cause you to slip. Last year, our group walked down the ramp side of Masada. It was not nearly as strenuous, but it was still dangerous because of the loose rocks. Whether going up or going down, you need to pay attention.
When I was thinking about that climb this morning, my thoughts went to those in ministry who make a fast ascent but end up at the bottom with a tragic fall. They shoot off like a rocket, but end up like a dud. In any position of leadership, you have to be careful that you don’t go too far too fast or that you don’t outrun your gifts or your integrity. You can’t go any further than your character will take you.
My mentor Vance Havner said, “You don’t have to chase key men if you know the One who holds the keys.” With that in mind, I’ve never sent out a resume’, never asked anyone to recommend me to a church or leadership position, and never decided to run for anything.
While I’ve had the privilege of serving both Georgia Baptists, Southern Baptists, the International Mission Board, and other ministries, I’ve never sought out or politicked for those opportunities. As someone has said, “The office should seek the man; the man shouldn’t seek the office.” When you avoid politics, you can have a clear conscience and a calm assurance that the Lord put you in that place.
When we are young, we want positions of power and influence. It’s the nature of youthful zeal and passion – but wisdom must prevail. We cannot run ahead of God. He knows where we are and what He can trust us with. When we get older, we must not resent the zeal of youth or their desire to lead. Our role is to guide, counsel, pray, and encourage. Our intent should be to equip the next generation to fill our shoes without missing a beat.
Our admonition, if we are serious about investing in the next generation of leaders, should be to climb slowly, think clearly, see the dangers, and accept help along the way. The leader who climbs as quickly as possible or who ignores wise counsel, will make a dangerous ascent and most likely have a sudden and quick fall.
A few words of warning to the younger ones among us…
1) Don’t accept every invitation to speak or serve. Pace yourself. This race of life is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash.
2) Be patient. Let God open the doors; don’t try to push them open.
3) Listen to wise counsel. Seek counsel from those who are further down the road than you are. Learn from those who made the fast climb and the equally fast fall.
4) Avoid the detours and shortcuts that are really dead-end roads.
The road to where God wants you is unique. Some move at a faster pace, while others take time to surrender to God’s plan, path, and pace. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Ministries can be ruined in a day of quick judgments and un-prayed over decisions. Let God order your steps and your starts.
Be available, faithful, and teachable. God will take care of your calling and your opportunities. Don’t be a statistic, one of those of whom we ask, “Whatever happened to so-and-so?” The bottom of the mountain is filled with too many corpses of once great men and women who got ahead of God.