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Advice

For no particular occasion but the mulling over of past experience
(More of a devotional, but was not delivered as such)

1 Kings 12:6-11 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. "How would you advise me to answer these people?" he asked. They replied, "If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favourable answer, they will always be your servants." But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, "What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?" The young men who had grown up with him replied, "Tell these people who have said to you, 'Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter' --tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.'"


Advice is hard to give well, harder to take well. One of the most telling signs of an organization is the quality of advice given and received, and of a leader the nature of advice followed. This is so of military, business, or church institutions, for human nature is invariant across all these.


The story of Rehoboam, though not wholly applicable to every situation, is instructive. He got classic samples of the two standard categories of advice, which can be cast in modern terms:

  • Type A (Accommodative): Listen Rehoboam, if you concede one or two points, compromise on some others and set up a committee to negotiate more, you'll look like a hero, the kingdom will be stronger, and the opposition mollified. In a few years they'll have a new spokesman anyway, but the kingship will be more influential than ever.
  • Type C (Confrontative): Old buddy Rehoboam, it's a good thing you've got us around to explain to you how nasty this complainer Jeroboam is. He doesn't understand the process, doesn't know what he's talking about, doesn't speak for many people, and has a personal agenda to weaken you. You don't have to yield a thing. Give him a tongue lashing, send him away, and make your rule even harsher.

The A-types have the organization as priority, not their own personal influence or power. They're not in the advice business for what they or the leader can get out of it personally, but to make the whole community stronger.

Consciously or unconsciously, C-types desire influence and prestige themselves, and believe they can get it through the leader. They play on paranoia to manipulate the boss into dependence on them through what becomes a never-ending atmosphere of confrontation.

It's irrelevant whether there's any truth to their ad hominem remarks and slander against the delegation asking for reform. Requests for reform rarely start out as personal agendas or quests for power. Reformers variously want justice, a better system, a fairer management, a more efficient and less costly system, and closer adherence to generally accepted standards (including doctrine). Reformers begin as idealists, believing that if only the leader will listen to good advice, things will be better for everybody.


When upper/middle management is non-accountable, opaque, and likes to make arbitrary, non-consultative decisions, most of their advice is B-type, even if well-meaning, for they want to enhance the leader's power, and so their own. Such conditions are a sure sign of a sick or dying structure. Corporate bankruptcy or a government's overthrow are not far away.

Meanwhile, most leaders are inclined by fallen nature and well-stoked egos to follow Type-C advice, rationalizing a show of strength as necessary, while all the while acting out in weakness to generate more weakness.


Matt 20:25-28 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."


That is, things ought to be different among the people of God. They should lead by doing service, by taking the low position, even as Christ did. In standard terms, they and their advisors ought to provide and obtain accountability, consult widely on decisions, and act for the best interests of the organization and its people, not their own personal preferences. They should be servant-leaders.


Specifically, they ought to see a delegation wanting reform as an opportunity to grow, to reach higher, to achieve more, to learn and teach, to better serve the cause of Christ.

Alas, all too many Christian organizations are much like secular ones, and this is one reason why churches split. Organizational dissent is brushed aside, ignored, or ridiculed until such a head of steam builds up that a single bad decision in a matter that is by itself rather small touches off a chain of events that leave the institution and people's lives a smoking ruin.


The Bottom Line:

Are you a leader or do you advise one? What quality of advice are you giving and taking when (not if) things go wrong and people ask for reform (or even when things are going well and you're practising for when they don't)? Is it Type-A, the kind that builds transparency and accountability, fosters broad involvement and ultimately strengthens the organization to the glory and praise of God? Or are you giving and taking Type-C advice, promoting short term personal satisfaction at the expense of risking long term loss to the kingdom?

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