Leader or Fork-Fighter?

This talk, given to a group of medical and institutional workers by a veteran administrator, embodies many principles that are common to all kinds of denominational leadership. The article is both frank and forceful. While all the comments are not of universal application, they are all worthy of careful thought by all Adventist workers.

Associate Secretary, Medical Department, General Conference

To accept the responsibility of leadership in the church or in an institution affiliated with the cause of God is not a light and ir­responsible thing. It is a solemn obligation. Solomon suddenly found himself the leader of Israel, and when the sense of responsi­bility was fully grasped, he trem­bled under the burden and dis­claimed the ability to lift the load. There are dozens who are willing to accept the honor and stature, to one who is willing to accept the blame.

All human endeavors are but the ex­tended and lengthened shadow of leaders. Therefore, when leadership is accepted in any measure in the cause of God, it follows that to some extent that the conference, the church, the institution, or that facet of the work will be the lengthened shadow of its leader. The dedication of the church, conference, or institution is a great mirror, a great reflector, in which the magnified and amplified and extended image of the leader is reflected quite perfectly to the world. If we bemoan today that there is lacking a dedication, a holy and inspired motivation, a Godly spirit of service that existed in other years, we are but confess­ing our own shortcomings. Not long ago I read a statement that carried in it a great deal of thought, though I have forgotten the author. He wrote: "When small men cast long shadows, it is the time of sunset in a nation." It is our great duty and obli­gation to be men and women of such stat­ure that we can and will cast lengthened shadows in the organization in which we serve. These organizations will be our lengthened shadow.

A quality that I suggest to you is the ability to resist rote, complacency, and contentment. There is a great temptation to fit neatly into the security of the organi­zation and find in it your career. It has been done many times before. An interesting example of this trait of character is recorded in Judges 17:7-11.

"And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehem-judah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim of the house of Micah, as he journeyed. And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehem-judah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in. And the Levite was content to dwell with the man."

This Levite of long ago received his sal­ary, his chariot depreciation, his apparel allowance, his rent subsidy, his per diem, and Holy Writ testified he was content therewith. The priesthood had given him security as it has given it to us today. Here was a Levite seeking his place in life, and he found it in the house of Micah, the Ephraimite. His wanderings were over, his career discovered; his bread certain as the private priest of Micah, and he was con­tent. His contentment constituted his trag­edy. He had found security in the priest­hood. The mechanics of religion, the tech­nology of worship, the ritual of prayer and sacrifice, the sacerdotalisms of the day oc­cupied his time, his interest, and his atten­tion. He became, in short, a religious technician. He had learned unfortunately the art of peaceful coexistence with evil around him. The groves to Baal on yonder hill no longer disturbed the tranquillity of his soul. Wickedness in the town was unrebuked; avarice, greed, mendacity, frivolity, and abandon no longer interrupted the routine of his incense burning, his prayers, and his appeasement.

We face similar temptations. Ordination will have given us a life competence, in part a deliverance from the necessity of making a success. Surreptitiously and un­realizingly we will be tempted to fall into the easy groove of denominational ritual. Without rationalizing it we may be tempted to fall victim to the delusions that as long as one keeps morally clean and fi­nancially sound, he has a life career as­sured.

There is a temptation when the go­ing is a bit difficult, or when one runs out of sermons, to get in touch with some friend further up the ladder who will send in a "call" for us to another conference, and to move bag and baggage at denomina­tional expense, delivered from the abso­lute, stark, bald, uncompromising neces­sity of making a success where one is. Avoiding this is an earmark of leadership.

There is always the temptation to fit into the denominational organization, per­haps work into a department assignment and on to various steps on the ecclesiastical ladder and be partially delivered from the burden of campaigns, of subscriptions, and of Ingathering. If the Lord does not come to intervene, those who pursue this happy course and have learned the doleful lesson of peaceful coexistence with evil and of organizational security will retire to        
on sustentation with Social Security, there, in placid, happy, pious tranquility, to await either the resurrection or the com­ing of the Lord.

A quality I count as important is unim­peachable integrity. A leader cannot dab­ble in the slightest deviation from absolute veracity. For a leader there is not art alter­nate to candor. Evasion is but a mild form of prevarication. Even silence can at times be close to it. To willfully allow someone to believe an untruth is little different from telling one. A leader must never promise what he cannot fulfill. The confi­dence of the people is absolutely essential to success. The slightest deviation from ab­solute veracity destroys it more quickly than almost anything else. The penalty paid for compromising one's absolute in­tegrity is that one's truths go unbelieved. This is too great a price to pay.

Unimpeachable integrity includes the use of organization's time, money, supplies down to stamps, envelopes, and paper clips. We live in an age when the prevailing custom is laxity. I think frequently that God does not have to separate the sheep from the goats; they often separate them­selves when they make out their expense accounts and in dealing with things as small as telephone calls.

A qualification for leadership is the abil­ity to keep a vision clear and distinct before the mind and heart. A leader finds within the heart an inner urge, a compunction, and a compulsion that will prohibit any peaceful coexistence with evil, ever! While some look upon evil with curiosity, a leader always looks upon it with horror and re­gret.

While some look upon impurity and vice with amusement, a leader always sees it with shame and compassion. While some see, as the blind man long ago, people as trees walking, leaders will always see a lost world in desperate need of salvation every time they see people. While some will see contumacy and wickedness and calumny as accepted parts of life, leaders will always behold them with contempt. While some can see lack of dedication, complacency, and indolence where there should be zeal and say "It is none of my business," leaders cannot bear to see evil unrebuked. While some will seek personal gains, pursue side­lines, pull strings, and manipulate commit­tees, leaders follow the principle "This one thing I do. I set immortality in the midst of the multitude." Leadership is not the abil­ity to preside over committees, but to lead people to a goal. Moses led Israel forty years in the wilderness, but he was leading them to the Promised Land and knew where he was going. It was only said of Abraham, he went not knowing whither he went.

There is another quality I suggest for leadership. The ability to resist cynicism and the tendency to become critical. Insti­tutions, causes, even churches, are fraught with human frailties, burdened with inef­ficiencies, and weighed down with human weaknesses. It is impossible to attain stature in leadership without seeing unholy charac­teristics manifest. You will see manipula­tions, politics, inefficiencies, preferences rewarding mediocrity, evils where they are least expected. It is sometimes possible to see injustices meted out. Human judg­ments frequently err. It is easy to become cynical and bitter and critical and eventu­ally to lose faith in the cause and in the leadership. It is easy to drift into a position of tearing down, by untempered and ill-timed criticism, the very thing we give our lives to build up. A leader must see these outcroppings of humanity, even in priestly garb, for what they are—human frailties —and never allow them to lessen his zeal or shake his confidence or dampen his en­thusiasm. A leader must not give voice to criticism that destroys but does not build.

Another quality for leadership is open-mindedness and the ability to change. There is only one thing that I know of that solidifies faster than cement and that is the human mind. The cause of reaching con­clusions and solidifying upon them is the tendency to avoid the unpleasant necessity of continuous thinking. Unfortunately most decisions in the world today, and this in­cludes our church and institutions, are not made on the basis of sober analytical think­ing, but rather on the basis of precon­ceived ideas that have solidified—preju­dices that have hardened and caked—and on the basis of our emotions. Leaders must be able to rise above these elements, even at the risk of having frequently to plow up the hardpan of the mind by the process of rethinking. It is time-consuming, tedious, and humiliating, for often we have to con­cede that we have been wrong; and there­fore, the simplest thing is just to close the mind.

Our work is growing, and it should. In the days of A. G. Daniells there was a re­organization to meet the needs of that day. A similar need exists today or will exist in due time as distance is annihilated by speed, and communications become instan­taneous, as our social economic world changes and our work grows. We will sooner or later suffer from obsolescence and perhaps do even now. The pressure for modernization and change will mount; and eventually will prevail. It is not a symptom of weakness, but rather of growth. Among us as workers will come three different re­actions. Most of us will resist change, some will accept change, and a few will demand change. It is easiest to resist change. We au­tomatically oppose that which alters our prevailing pattern. I looked at new narrow neckties in the store window not long ago and said to myself, "I do not like them." Then I pondered why I did not like them, and concluded it was not the necktie that I disliked, but the change.

Knives and spoons are found in the an­cient mounds of antiquity, but not forks. The fork is a modern instrument, only a little over three hundred years old. Forks apparently were invented in Italy. It was not until the seventeenth century, however, that they were in general use, even in Italy. Sometime in the 1600's Thomas Cory-ate, a writer and traveler, visited Italy, and on his return he introduced forks into England. Normally you would think that people would want to try something new and would see virtue in the fork, but Cory-ate was ridiculed by his friends for using it. Forks were described as an insult to God. The Church of England took a firm stand against forks, and a clergyman preached a sermon against the use of forks using the words "It was an insult to God to use such a device for eating when he provided fin­gers for that purpose." As a matter of fact, Queen Elizabeth ate with her fingers, al­though she tried using the newfangled de­vice in her old age, and was severely criti­cized for doing so.

I look back with embarrassment at my own experience and realize I have opposed most progress made by the denomination at one time or another. It is ordinary and an earmark of mediocrity to dedicate the life to the perpetuation of the existing or­der in the certainty that it is God's will. Leadership is ever open-minded and re­tains the ability to change.

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Associate Secretary, Medical Department, General Conference

April 1964

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