Always Take the High Road (taken from Bill Hybels book Axiom)
When I was in my early twenties, I served as one of the youth leaders for a group called Son City. We had grown from a whopping attendance of twenty-five people to more than a thousand in less than three years, and God was rocking the house! Students were finding faith in Christ, mindsets were shifting, and lives were being transformed. But the church we operated in was in a difficult era. They had gone a long time without a senior pastor, the new pastor they brought on board struggled to rally any interest in his vision, and at least a portion of the adult population filled their spare time by resisting everything our student ministry stood for.
It was in the midst of this set of dynamics that God called me to leave that ministry and start Willow in a rented movie theater.
The new senior pastor of the church and I agreed that I would draft a resignation letter and then read it to the entire congregation on my final Sunday morning. So I immediately started putting together my thoughts, including my frustration with the deacons, my disappointment with the board of trustees, and my not-so-humble perspective on just how incompetent the entire church staff seemed to be.
The week before I was to read my resignation letter, one of the older men in the church took me to lunch. He thanked me for the impact Son City had had on his daughter’s life and then asked me what I planned to say when I addressed the congregation. I told him of my plan to shoot really straight and explain exactly what was broken in the church and how frustrating it had been to try to build a strong youth ministry in a weak church. The more I talked, the more a very concerned look overtook his face.
“Is this a bad approach?” I asked before I had even finished reading him my notes.
His response is one I’ll never forget. He said, “Bill, I cannot urge you strongly enough to take the high road on Sunday. Bless what you can bless. Thank everyone you can thank. Cheer on what is appropriate to cheer on. And be done with it. I am an old man now, and never once have I regretted taking the high road.”
I left that meeting, but his words never left my mind. When it came time for me to stand before the congregation and read my letter – the one I wrote after I ripped up the first one – I did take the high road. I admitted the wrongs I had done. I asked for forgiveness for the rookie errors I had made. And I blessed the church for being the kind of place where a gathering of a few dozen clueless kids could become such a meaningful, wide-reaching ministry. My departure caused a fair amount of upheaval, but less than two years after my decision to leave to start Willow, the leaders of that church invited me back to speak at their annual banquet. Which never would have happened had I proven myself a low-road guy.
Throughout Willow’s history, there have been scores of times when staff members have misbehaved or underperformed and ultimately decided to leave. Something in me desperately wanted to climb up to the rooftop and shout, “I want you all to know that this was their fault! Sure, they resigned, but only because they knew they were about to get fired!” So often I have wanted to say my piece, defend my honor, and protect our church from miscreants-in-the-making who might be listening from down below. But then I’d hear that elder’s exhortation float through my consciousness. “Bless what you can bless. Thank everyone you can thank. Cheer on what is appropriate to cheer on. And be done with it.” And so, with the Spirit’s help, I would.
Proverbs 22:1 says that a good name is more desirable than great riches and that to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. But the only way to get that good name is by taking the road that most honors God, that most blesses people, and that leads to healthy and functional relationships long into the future. The truth I was given is the truth I give to you know: “I’m an old(er) man now, and never once have I regretted taking the high road.