Going Rogue

(From Voice magazine, Jan/Feb 2016.)

African elephants are the largest land animal on earth. At 12,000 pounds and ten feet tall, they can intimidate anyone and anything. Elephants don’t worry much about predators.

The norm is to live in herds within a matriarchal social structure. The largest female leads the group of eight to one hundred elephants in a tight family unit. At the age of twelve to fifteen years the males leave the group and begin a new family. There is always a dominant male in the herd, but sooner or later, a younger male will take over, and the older ones are left to wander alone. It is a melancholy scene to watch a great-grandfather pachyderm grazing completely by himself.

For whatever reason, some of these older males go berserk; they go rogue. Unstable males become violent and territorial. They go on a rampage, attacking anyone in their way, destroying crops and vegetation. These are the really scary guys.

Unstable elephant males become violent and territorial. That describes some human leaders as well. We might immediately think of Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin. They are well known, but there are thousands of other leaders who have acted the same way. They just didn’t have as big a platform on which to act out their rampage.

The irony is that rogues often get that way after some success. These are not normally young leaders. They are often at the stage of life where they have reached a level of success. They have built an empire, and their territorial nature leads them to think they own the place. They are difficult to work for. They may even become violent—at least in words.

Nothing is as dangerous as success. Few leaders can handle it. Something can be triggered inside when a leader has a positive track record. Going rogue results in a god-complex and leaders start acting it out. They are the boss. They bark commands and demand compliance. Their word is law. They must not be questioned. They have established their kingdom, and all serfs must bow in reverence. They are unstable males who have become violent and territorial.

There seems to be a fork in the road as leaders age. It often happens in their 60s or 70s. They either become gracious or caustic. One road leads to a mellowing; the other leads to harshness. The path a leader takes is a choice, but it is not just one choice. It is a lifetime of choices that culminate in an accelerated downhill race to the finish. Tendencies of a lifetime become accentuated and exaggerated. Idiosyncrasies that are managed and suppressed in younger years may become unleashed in later life.

Like the old rogue elephant, a rogue leader may end up wandering the savannah of life as a loner, kicked out of the herd. He may still be kicking up the dust and trumpeting, but everyone around him wants him out of the group.

There comes a time in every leadership role when the individual becomes a liability. He may have been a productive part of the herd, but there is a point at which he is no longer an asset. There is a time when his group participation ceases to be productive.

The trick is knowing when to step away before the herd kicks you out. Leaving the leadership role before things sour is an art form. There is no scientific formula for making a decision. Since I have not yet experienced this, I find it difficult to write on this topic. Perhaps this chapter should be another book a decade or two from now, but I have observed the rogue scenario enough to know I don’t want to be one.

Christian leaders often brag that they will die with their boots on and that there is no such thing as retirement in the Bible. But the reality is that most cannot keep their physical stamina and mental acuity right up to the end, especially if they live a long life. They may want to die with their boots on, but normally it is a good idea to take them off when they are in a hospital bed. There is no dishonor in stepping away from a leadership role before you must.

African leaders are renowned for staying too long. Their aspiration is president for life. The common saying on the continent is, “One man, one vote, one time.” Nelson Mandela was the exception. He stepped away for the presidency of South Africa long before he needed to. He was still mentally and physically doing very well, yet he was determined to set an example to the rest of the African leaders that they should not aspire to life-long positions.

Going rogue is not an isolated situation in the leadership world. The Bible is full of examples.

Moses successfully pulled off a major coup and ransomed a million people from bondage, performed multiple miracles, and personally talked with God. Yet he blew it late in life and failed to cross the Jordan and finish his task. Moses went rogue.

David penned poetry that resonates with people to this day and was considered a man after God’s own heart. Yet late in life he betrayed his marriage vows and then murdered Bathsheba’s husband. David went rogue.

Solomon was the smartest guy in the room … any room … any time … anywhere. Yet at the end of his life he turned against the very God who had granted all his wisdom and wealth. Solomon went rogue.

Uzziah reigned over Israel for fifty-two incredibly successful years. He was one of the most productive, godly, and famous kings. He won wars and fueled the economy of the nation to prosperity. Yet toward the end of his life he became proud and he self-destructed. Uzziah went rogue.

Noah pulled off one of the greatest feats of faith in human history and earned a place in the Hebrews hall of faith. Yet after all his success we find him in a drunken stupor. Noah went rogue.

Lot walked away from the decadence and debauchery of one of the most corrupt cultures of his day, yet he ended his life in a drunken, incestuous relationship with his daughters. Lot went rogue.

Judas was one of The Twelve, one of the chosen few. This elite corps of men lived with Jesus, the creator God. He witnessed the miracles, went on mission trips, and was held in high esteem for his proximity to Christ. Yet those “successes” did not keep him from a notorious ending. Judas went rogue.

Demas was a co-worker with the famous Apostle Paul. He was part of the winning church-planting team. He saw the power of God in people’s lives and the success of a massive church-planting initiative. Demas went rogue.

I play golf. I didn’t say I am a golfer. I just play golf. The older I get, it seems I do better on the front nine than the back nine. Perhaps it is lack of stamina and focus. It is just getting harder to finish the last hole with the same concentration and strength as I had on the first hole. This may be a microcosm of life. It seems counterintuitive that failure would come later in life, yet the stories from the Bible described here are all about men who failed during the “back nine.” I’ve noticed repeatedly that, in the ministry, more men fail later in life than earlier in life.

It is really difficult to finish well. One of the few leaders in the Bible to do so was the Apostle Paul. He was able to pen the following last words before the executioner arrived at his prison cell: The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-7). Paul was exceptional. The tendency for leaders is to go rogue.

I’m not there yet (I don’t think), but I am concerned about this next phase of my life. In preparation I’ve been thinking about this subject and asking a lot of questions. So the following is merely theory. I haven’t put it to the test, but here is my strategy to keep from going rogue.

  1. Be aware that this is possible. Merely the fact that this is on my radar must surely have some value. It is not going to catch me by surprise. Identify the tendencies in your life that, if they were exaggerated, would cause you to go rogue. I realize I have the potential of going rogue. Just knowing that fact must surely be a good step in the right direction.
  2. Guard my daily walk. It seems that leaders who go rogue did not just wake up one day a different person. It was a lifetime of habits and patterns that became accelerated and accentuated with age. I’m assuming the bad parts of me will only be worse with age. Now is the time to monitor my actions and attitudes. What I sow today will come to fruition later on.
  3. Ask for accountability. Establish an exit strategy from your present leadership role. I have asked three people who know me well and see me regularly to let me know if they see I’m “losing it.” I’ve watched boards agonize over letting the CEO go because he no longer “has it.” It is awkward to tell someone that he is going rogue. Therefore, I have invited three people to approach me without any fear of reprisal. They know I’ll be greatly disappointed if they see me going rogue and don’t tell me.

“Unstable males become violent and territorial.” That accurately describes rogue elephants. I hope it never describes me.

Adapted from Paul’s book Chief: Leadership Lessons from a Village in Africa.

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There are 18 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that most of those examples are of men who had some serious moral compromises early on in life.  Moses killed the Egyptian foreman in a burst of (almost righteous) anger.  David's pursuit of Bathsheba not only happened when he was in middle age--remember he ruled another 20 years while Solomon grew up--but also was preceded by some serious polygamy as well.  Solomon's apostasy was preceded, it appears, by decades of polygamy, reckless spending ("silver was considered of little worth in those days" means there was serious inflation, just as in Spain in the 1500s), and accomodating the pagan religions of his wives and concubines.  Judas was known to the other disciples as a thief long before he betrayed Jesus, Lot presumably had a bit of Sodom in his morals well before his daughters got him drunk, etc..

Not that there isn't some real thing as going rogue later in life--we don't have the phrase "grumpy old men" for nothing--but it strikes me that when I look at examples from around me and the Bible, people don't "go rogue" out of the blue.  They simply act out more what they've been thinking and doing for a while.

An example from my family; my great aunt died a few years back after a long struggle with dementia, probably Alzheimer's.  Those who know the disease know that some people just get really, really nasty with it.  Interestingly, not so with my aunt; she'd been a sweet lady when her mind was right, and she stayed that way as her memory went away.  It was sad to see this--she was a retired teacher and sharp as a tack--but some of the sting was taken away because she was always repeating some of the nicest things, full of gratitude.

So we might infer that old age, and the reduction of responsibilities that comes with it, simply releases what was already in the man, much like people who are mean to begin with get even meaner when they drink heavily.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This article speaks particularly to the common, and regrettable, situation where a retired Pastor makes a local church completely miserable by trying to control the new Pastor. It is a terrible thing to see a man who has served the Lord so faithfully for so long . . . finish in such a hurtful, despicable and sinful way. Let me urge every single preacher out there:

  1. Never, ever, never, ever, never, ever take a church where the former Pastor wants to stay on to "just be a part of the congregation"
  2. If you leave the pastorate and turn things over to a younger man, you must leave. Please read this again - you must leave. It's for your own good, the new Pastor's own good, and the congregation's own good. You MUST LEAVE. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Let me urge every single preacher out there:

  1. Never, ever, never, ever, never, ever take a church where the former Pastor wants to stay on to "just be a part of the congregation"
  2. If you leave the pastorate and turn things over to a younger man, you must leave. Please read this again - you must leave. It's for your own good, the new Pastor's own good, and the congregation's own good. You MUST LEAVE. 

Our church has two former senior pastors still in attendance. Both are committed to being "just part of the congregation." No problems.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Count yourself very blessed. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Our former Senior Pastor is still among us, after being in that position for 20+ years.  His successor just passed his 2 year anniversary with us.

Not a hiccup in the transition.  It has been seamless by any account, with no problems.  

Bert Perry's picture

....to see whether the "curse of the retired pastor" closely follows the pastor who doesn't do a good job of developing men to replace him.  My church has a few retired pastors in attendance, albeit not the former head pastor, and the former head pastor was well loved.  On the flip side, I've seen other churches have big problems with former pastors.  So I can't discount what Tyler says at all, but wonder if we might modify it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Satan uses men's pride against them. Retired Pastors who stay with their old congregation are particularly susceptible to this attack, not because they're horrible people, but because they are people - they're sinners. Satan knows where to attack a man, and in the case of some retired Pastors, it's the sin of pride. Instead of being the wise, older sage who quietly offers advice and encouragement to the new Pastor, they can become bitter, caustic, Pharisaical critics:

  • I know better than this young fool
  • I tried that before, it's a waste of time. 
  • That kid will be as good as me . . . someday
  • I need to be listened to, I need to be respected!

This pride works it's way out in the gathering together of factions, the encouragement (and tacit endorsement) of whisperings, the cultivation of sycophants. 

Some retired Pastors never fall victim to this madness, and God bless them! Others, however, do - and it is to the harm of the new Pastor, the entire congregation, and their own spiritual life.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

TylerR wrote:

Satan uses men's pride against them. Retired Pastors who stay with their old congregation are particularly susceptible to this attack, not because they're horrible people, but because they are people - they're sinners. Satan knows where to attack a man, and in the case of some retired Pastors, it's the sin of pride. Instead of being the wise, older sage who quietly offers advice and encouragement to the new Pastor, they can become bitter, caustic, Pharisaical critics:

  • I know better than this young fool
  • I tried that before, it's a waste of time. 
  • That kid will be as good as me . . . someday
  • I need to be listened to, I need to be respected!

This pride works it's way out in the gathering together of factions, the encouragement (and tacit endorsement) of whisperings, the cultivation of sycophants. 

Some retired Pastors never fall victim to this madness, and God bless them! Others, however, do - and it is to the harm of the new Pastor, the entire congregation, and their own spiritual life.

Why couldn't ordinary avenues of discipline apply? Matthew 18 et cetera

TylerR's picture

Editor

Church discipline does apply, for those who have the nerve to implement it. I'm just chiming in and contributing a practical example of older men "going rogue," from the article. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I have to think it would be extremely difficult on both sides to be the former pastor who is still there but not Pastor anymore and to be the new Pastor who has the former still there.

... not impossible, but I wouldn't want to do it.

A huge mitigating factor is if the former and the new were a team before the transition took place. But unless they're practically clones of each other...  

The discipline problem--if something like that develops-- is that the congregation has tremendous respect for their long time shepherd. They would not be able to act without being deeply conflicted.

Ron Bean's picture

Those rogue pastors that do exist have done much damage to the church.

Consider:

The pastor who remains as "Pastor Emeritus" and still runs the show.

The pastor who leaves but is always willing to advise members when they contact him.

The pastor who can no longer attend church due to age and health problems but runs the operation from his hospital bed for months until he dies.

The pastor who hangs on until his personal choice is installed as the new pastor. (In one case, waiting until his son finished seminary.)

The pastor who is repeatedly preaching old sermons while the congregation shrinks and uses their savings to support him.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

 

WHOSE church is it, after all?  WHO is the Head of the church?  Do pastors, present or former, need to be reminded? 

And do pastors, upon becoming former, suddenly renounce these responsibilities?:

Acts 20:28 (ESV): "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."

1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV): "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."

I see an example of grace & humility at my church in my former senior pastor, who is still among us.  His successor just passed his two year anniversary in the position, and I have neither seen nor heard even a hint of dissension in regards to the transition.  To me, a dumb layman, it seems absurd that a beloved member of our church family would need to leave, simply because he is no longer in his former position.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Count yourself, very, very, very blessed. Your situation is not typical. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I have to think it would be extremely difficult on both sides to be the former pastor who is still there but not Pastor anymore and to be the new Pastor who has the former still there.

... not impossible, but I wouldn't want to do it.

A huge mitigating factor is if the former and the new were a team before the transition took place. But unless they're practically clones of each other...  

The discipline problem--if something like that develops-- is that the congregation has tremendous respect for their long time shepherd. They would not be able to act without being deeply conflicted.

What Aaron says in bold.  If the old pastor actively mentors the new one, and they've got a relationship where they can, to use the southern proverb, "disagree without being disagreeable", then I can see Larry's experience as likely.  Otherwise, you are in for problems.  

And to step on a soapbox I use often, a pastor should be training his replacements in exactly that way.  It is not for no reason that Paul sent letters to Timothy and Titus for exactly that reason, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The author wrote this:

There seems to be a fork in the road as leaders age. It often happens in their 60s or 70s. They either become gracious or caustic. One road leads to a mellowing; the other leads to harshness. The path a leader takes is a choice, but it is not just one choice. It is a lifetime of choices that culminate in an accelerated downhill race to the finish. Tendencies of a lifetime become accentuated and exaggerated. Idiosyncrasies that are managed and suppressed in younger years may become unleashed in later life.

Yes, yes, yes. I perceive that this author is a prophet . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Count yourself, very, very, very blessed. Your situation is not typical. 

I wonder if the situation Tyler warns about is less typical in a church led by a plurality of elders than one led by a senior pastor...

As I mentioned before, our church has two former senior pastors in regular attendance. Certainly there is some comparison that takes place, but that's about it. One of these men currently serves as an elder (1 of 8 ) and will preach when needed. But, he serves as a member of our elders and not as someone with special privilege.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I would agree with you completely. In a church where the culture has always been one single Pastor, this would be a problem. Honestly, based on my own experience, I have wondered how a plurality of elders actually works in real life. I like the concept (and so does God!), but I'd be very afraid of ego and pride making shipwreck of the idea. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Honestly, based on my own experience, I have wondered how a plurality of elders actually works in real life. I like the concept (and so does God!), but I'd be very afraid of ego and pride making shipwreck of the idea. 

Tyler, I've only been involved with two churches that were led by a plurality of elders. The first was a train wreck. The second is a tremendous blessing. The difference between the two is the kind of men who serve as elders. The first church chose men who were good businessmen and who took charge and made decisions. The second church chose biblically-qualified men who were shepherd-teachers, and who were already engaged in counseling, teaching, and discipling others.

I was able to observe both groups up close for several years. The first group of elders was full of ego, pride, self-will, and in-fighting. They couldn't even agree on the biblical definition of an elder. The second group of elders, though not perfect, have repeatedly demonstrated humility, deference to one another, love, and a shared sense of mission and ministry. They all learned about biblical eldership by reading and studying Strauch together.

All I can say after observing both groups is that biblical eldership can work, and when it does it is a beautiful thing.

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