The King Who Wouldn't Listen

by Andy Stanley

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Prov. 1:5 niv).       

Great leaders are great learners. But learning assumes an attitude of submission. And submission isn’t something all leaders are comfortable with. This is why I have always been fascinated by the fact that Solomon wrote so much about seeking wise counsel.

The value of surrounding oneself with wise counselors was something Solomon was able to pass along to his son, Rehoboam. The value of listening to their wise counsel, however, was not.

After Solomon died, the people wanted a break. So they came to Rehoboam to pledge their support. Rehoboam gave himself some time and invited other people into the decision-making process. Rehoboam’s advisers knew that great leaders are great servants. Now Rehoboam had the opportunity to recapture the hearts of the people. Had Rehoboam listened, he would have gone farther as a king faster.

But that’s not what happened: “But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him”(1 Kgs. 12:8).

Rehoboam’s friends had no more wisdom than he did. Rehoboam was blinded by power, and they were equally blinded by the prospects of being close to the man in power. They told him what he wanted to hear, and he went with it.

Three days later the people reconvened. Rehoboam gave them his answer. He said he would lead in such a way as to make them long for the days of his father. He was not there to serve; he was there to rule!

Upon hearing Rehoboam’s leadership strategy, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel decided not to follow. He heeded the advice of those who told him what he wanted to hear, and the result was a revolution. All because he was unwilling to listen to the counsel of those who were there to help him go farther, faster.

The Baptistery

When we were developing plans for our first worship center, I told our architect not to include a baptistery. In my experience baptism was always tacked on to the beginning or the end of a service. There was never an opportunity for the people being baptized to tell their story. It always seemed rushed. And other than the family of those being baptized, nobody else really seemed that interested in what was going on.

I wanted our baptism services to be a time of celebration. So I thought the best thing to do would be to build an outdoor baptismal pool. Our executive staff—all of them about my age—thought this was a great idea. The six of us were convinced that by putting the baptistery outside we would breathe fresh life into this sacred ordinance.

When I presented the building plans to our elders—all of whom were older than me—one of the first questions they asked was, “Where’s the baptistery?” I smiled and launched into my well-rehearsed explanation of why it would be a mistake to put the baptismal pool in the worship center. I sensed that this was going to be a hard sell, so I did my best to paint a picture of how exciting it would be to gather around an outdoor pool and celebrate as people were coming up out of the water.

The eleven men in attendance that night listened patiently to my impassioned plea. Then one by one they voiced their opposition to my “brilliant” idea. After several minutes of discussion we voted. The final vote was eleven to one in favor of including the baptistery in the worship center.

I left the meeting convinced that we had just voted to build something we would never use. While I had great respect for these men, I had a hunch that their appreciation for tradition had clouded their thinking. In the end, I told myself, they would come around to my way of thinking.

One week later our architect brought me the new plans for the worship center, complete with indoor baptismal pool. His drawings confirmed my fear. The contemporary design of our worship center did not lend itself to a centrally-fixed baptistery. Consequently, he was forced to situate it over to one side. It threw the whole room out of balance. I was really frustrated. Not only were we spending money to build a baptistery that we would never use, it was going to mess up the whole look of the building.

I was really tempted to do an end run around the elders' decision. But I had been brought up believing that God works through channels of authority. And like it or not, the elders, not me, were the authority over the church. So I threw up my hands and just let it go. After all, we could always use it for a puppet stage.

Now, five years later, when I think back on how close I came to ignoring the advice of that discerning group of men, it makes me feel sick. Baptism is the highlight of our morning worship service. People clap, cheer, whistle, stand, hug, cry. It really is unbelievable.

I have more in common with Rehoboam than I would like to admit. Chances are, you do, too. When I make up my mind about something, I don’t really want anyone telling me it is not a good idea. Every leader I know leans in that direction. So God, in His wisdom, has placed men and women around us with the experience and discernment we often lack.

If we are wise enough to listen, they will help us go farther, faster.

Adapted from Andy Stanley’s book, The Next Generation Leader,

Multnomah Press, 2003.

Andy Stanley is senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

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