Bob Buford wrote that book in 2004; he, himself, finished well in 2018. I have my copy of that book in front of me, right now. Here’s Bob’s inscription to me, on the inside flyleaf: “To Bob Shank – A true comrade-in-arms in this ministry. God has joined you and I together in so many initiatives over the years. We’re soul brothers; I’m grateful! Bob Buford, 7/30/04, Aspen.”
Bob finished well. Bobby Clinton – renowned professor of leadership at Fuller Seminary – estimates that 70% of Christian leaders do not. Howard Hendricks – founder of the Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary – said that 80% of the leaders in biblical history ended life on a decline. Howie (a dear friend and mentor, to me) finished well.
Knowing the constant risk of disqualification, Paul expressed his personal aspiration to the elders from the church he planted in Ephesus: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). For the esteemed Apostle of Christian history, the personal goal not yet realized: to finish the race and complete the task.
Richard J. Foster – still with us, at age 78 – is a renowned thought leader and theologian from the Quaker tradition. He’s written some timeless books including Money, Sex & Power: The Challenge of a Disciplined Life (1985) in which Foster has recognized the recurrence of threats most likely – through history, and still today – to trip Christian leaders seeking to emulate the finishing kick modeled by Paul: “The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
David was one of the All Stars of God’s history, but his was not a “charmed” life. Subject to the same temptations germane to leaders in power, he allowed himself to be distracted from discipline in a manner that continues to infect leaders today: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” (2 Samuel 11:1-4).
It was “the season of war” – and the kings of the region were on the battlefield – but David sent Joab, his top general, to represent Israel’s leadership while he stayed behind – in the palace, in Jerusalem – to enjoy the pleasures of power. A strategic blunder of immense proportion; his undisciplined exercise of privilege became the greatest failure of his lifetime.
My subject line last week was intense: this should scare the hell out of us. David was a man with the pedigree of Providence, but he was susceptible; can we really think we are not?
For the Boomer generation of evangelicals, Bill Hybels became one of contemporary Christianity’s leadership all-stars. His influence had spread to the ends of the earth, and the church he launched as a young man had become a defining movement. And then, we found out that there was a story-behind-the-story that made it all come crumbling down.
Warren Cole Smith is a graduate of The Master’s Program; he leads Ministry Watch and provides a thoughtful analysis of what’s happening in the faith movement. Click here to read his report on the rise and fall of Hybels and Willow Creek, and what happens when the king isn’t on the front lines…
Money, Sex & Power. Are your guard-rails in place to make sure you don’t find yourself in the ditch? Next week, we’ll be following the money…