My wife and I frequently talk about the imprint our parents have left on our lives, preferences, habits and characteristics. While we both have many attributes that stand in stark contrast with to those of out parents, many of our mannerisms and proclivities bear the indelible traces of who they are.
My father’s decision to leave a high powered well paying job in the computer industry in the late 70’s, as the field was beginning to take off, and become a pastor was formative in my life. His willingness to follow the leading of God in his life, and leave behind the predictability of his job changed the social and developmental landscape of my family. We had less financial stability then we would have experienced if he continued down the computer science executive path. However, my family never lacked necessary and received incredible blessings as a result. The stories of impact and life change I could tell as a direct result of this decision could literally fill hundreds of blog posts.
35 years after he made that life altering decision, I felt a similar prompting from God to leave my position as a high school principal in Greece, New York. I was leaving behind a school and district that I loved and had poured my life into for over a decade. God was calling me to make a similar career move my father had years earlier. Joining the staff of The Father’s House, I reoriented my life in a radical way and began to dedicate my life to the church and helping others hope, faith and abundance through relationship with Jesus. My desire and ability to make this career move was clearly nurtured long before the idea and job offer from my pastor ever came to fruition. The decisions of my father defined the very fabric of who I am as a man.
While the positive aspects of generational decisions are wonderful, all to often the negative decisions have damaging results that leave subsequent generations irreparably effected. Abuse, addictions and innumerable unwise choices hamstring those who follow in these ominous shadows. Just as each of our personal heritages have lasting influence on us, leaders cause similar impact for those who follow them.
The Israelites had it good in the Old Testament. Yahweh, the God of the universe identified their ancestor Abraham out of all the people on earth and decided to make a covenant with him. God promised to bless and prosper both Abraham and his descendants. This is this ultimate example of generational impact. All the Israelites had to do was keep up their side of the covenant, by worshiping Yahweh alone and following the guidelines He set up. Unfortunately, as we read throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites struggled to do this, and they continually lost the benefits associated with being chosen by the God. Eventually God gives His people kings to rule over them and help get their act together. Some of the kings did a pretty good job and drew the people closer to God.
As time past, however, the kings began to act in evil ways. In 2 Kings 23:37 we learn that a newly appointed 25 year old king named Jehoiakim “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” In the very next verse, God sends the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jehoiakim and make him a slave. Talk about a fall from glory. Two chapters later Nebuchadnezzar returns, destroys Jerusalem, kills many of the royal family and takes the rest the Israelites into captivity.
Nearly 60 years later the generational impact of these kings is recorded for us in Ezra 5:12, “But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.” Even when Babylon is conquered and the new Persian Kings begin to allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild, the decisions of the leaders generations earlier continue to haunt them. Throughout the rebuilding efforts they face severe opposition for another 100 years. Think about that, the decisions of Jehoiakim and a few other leaders caused 160 years of affliction for the entire nation.
The great leaders we read about in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah accomplished incredible things, but they were constantly navigating the ramifications of those fateful decisions made long before. The people they led were conditioned over generations to act the way their forefathers did. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are full of stories of leaders wrestling the tendency of the Israelites to return to the evil ways that separated them from the covenant and promises of God.
As leaders we must be aware of the fact that every decision we make could have generational impact. We must also be aware of the generational legacy laid down before us. We must understand how the decisions of the past impact ourselves and those we lead. While we can over come the realities of the past, we won’t do so without understand the impact they leave.
Great leaders choose to impact generations!