What Do Leaders Do When The Heat Is Turned Up?

I’m teaching right now through the little book of Nahum.  Nahum is said by many to be the most ignored book in all the Bible; it’s even left out of the standard lectionary!  I believe that Nahum, like all the so-called “minor prophets,” has a very relevant and helpful message for us today – if we understand it in its proper cultural and historical context.

This Sunday I’m concluding the series, and like almost every week, there’s a lot of what I learn in the study that never makes it to Sunday morning – there’s just not enough time!  And since it has to do with leaders, I thought I’d share it in this venue.

The book of Nahum is all about God’s judgment on the nation of Assyria for their cruelty, for their atrocities in war, and for their disregard for people whom God created in His image.  In verse 17, we read (concerning Assyria’s capital, Nineveh), Your guards are like locusts, your officials like swarms of locusts that settle in the walls on a cold day— but when the sun appears they fly away, and no one knows where.”  The metaphor of locusts is applied to the military and political officials of the capital city – why?

Locusts are interesting creatures.  Feared in the ancient world for the destruction they could bring to agriculture, their swarms were the source of nightmares for many farmers and merchants.  A locust will settle down and be content when the weather is cooler, just as in the evening or in the early hours of the morning.  But when the sun comes up and begins to warm the earth, the locust feels the heat and will fly away.  The political and military leaders of Nineveh were content to stay and lead as long as things were good.  But when things started to turn against them, they fled!

Reading that verse makes me think of leaders that I’ve read about or known.  Leaders who are content to stay and lead as long as things are cool.  But when the heat begins to turn up, they fly away, running to another context where the heat is not present.

I read a study last week that the average tenure for pastors in local church is still less than 4 years.  The vast majority of pastors stay in one place 2-3 years and then move on to another church.  That’s so difficult for me to read. I don’t believe you truly earn the right to have the hard conversations in a church before you’ve been there 5 or 6 years!  In the local church, pastors deal with so many issues – with the organizational dynamics and change, with interpersonal issues, and with the community where the church is located, just to name a few.  And in my conversations with other pastors, I hear far too often that the heat got too hot and so it’s time to leave.

Now, sometimes it’s beyond your control.  Sometimes pastors are in toxic church environments where they don’t have the choice to stay – the choice to leave is made for them.  Sometimes business leaders are in toxic corporate environments where they don’t have the choice to stay – the choice to leave is made for them.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  In those difficult circumstances, leaders have to move on when the organization makes that choice.  I’m talking about leaders who jump when it starts to get difficult, when things are getting hotter and the conversations are getting more intense.  You could be leaving right before a breakthrough!

Leaders, if I can only communicate one thing to you in this post, it’s this – don’t immediately fly when it starts to get hot.  The challenges you have in the present place are likely to follow you wherever you go.  The human condition is the same all over – sin is prevalent in this world and in the human race.  Don’t for a moment think that by going somewhere else that things will be hunky dory and you’ll leave those problems behind, never to see them again.  That’s true in the church, in the business world, in your marriage – in every context.  Nahum speaks of those who fly away when the heat’s turned up, and that lesson is one that we can learn from as leaders.

The grass may look greener – but the same problems are in that yard too.  Leaders, make the choice to stay and work through the heat.  Yes, it’s difficult.  Yes, it means tough conversations.  Yes, it means hard work.  But the fruit of that work is worth it!  Last month I celebrated ten years at Southview, and while it’s been “hot” at times, the rewards of working it out, of persevering and sticking it out through the good times and the hard ones have been so worth it!

When you do work through the issues and persevere in your context, you might just find what I have – that the greatest cornbread is made in the hottest oven.

Have you ever been tempted to fly like the locust when the heat’s turned up?  What have you learned about the value of staying in one place for a long time?