In some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out.
Visitors to the IBSA office building in Springfield sometimes take note of eleven portraits displayed there, acknowledging the men who have served IBSA as executive director since its formation in 1907. Those portraits used to hang in the entrance lobby, and since our building renovation a few years ago they have been on display in our first floor Resource Room.
While it’s hard for me to believe, by God’s grace I have just celebrated 10 years in that executive director role. That milestone recently led me to a few reflective moments in front of those portraits. Four of those men are simply historical figures to me, but I’ve had the privilege of meeting the other six personally. They each served in different times and faced different challenges, but together they form the legacy of leadership on which I now gratefully stand.
I’ve been told by others around the Southern Baptist Convention that 10 years seems to be about the typical length of service in the state executive director role. Since years of service are noted on a little plaque beneath each of the IBSA portraits, I did the math and learned that indeed the average term of service here in Illinois has been just over nine years.
There are, however, two distinct groups of IBSA executive directors among my 10 predecessors. Six men served less than seven years, and four served 12 or more. The smaller, longer-serving group were four of the first five executive directors, all of whom completed their service by the 1970s. The larger, shorter-serving group represent the more current trend. And at 10 years’ service, I now stand in the middle.
There are many reasons why leaders stay in roles for a short time, including some which are beyond their control. So I wouldn’t second guess the Lord’s leadership or providence in any of the shorter terms of service. But after investing 10 years here at IBSA, I have a new appreciation for the men in the longer term group.
It takes time to establish relationships, and to build trust. It takes time to learn the many systems and traditions and landmines inherent in a thousand diverse churches working together. It takes time to learn the regional and ethnic and generational uniqueness of churches and their leaders. It takes time to take necessary risks and make unavoidable mistakes, and then to recover and learn from them. And I’m now discovering that it takes time to do it all again and again, as new pastors and leaders come on the scene.
After 10 years, I feel in some ways I’m just getting started and just beginning to figure some things out. Yet by the law of averages I’ve already had as many years as most executive directors ever get. It makes me admire the men who stayed 12, or 17, or 19 years.
And it makes me want to sprint right past this 10-year mark and see what might be possible in the company of these long-tenured men that preceded me.
It’s certainly possible to overstay your welcome, or to outstay your effectiveness. And it’s always best when a leader can recognize that time long before anyone else does. But for the most part, it can be very good for an organization and its mission when a leader finds favor and stays.
So if you are wondering whether to stay and persevere where you are, let me encourage you to do so if at all possible. One day you will take your place among the portraits of former leaders in your place of service. It may be less and less common for leaders to stay long in one place. But if God gives you grace and favor to do so, I believe you will find a unique influence that only comes with time.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.