Born Stoic, Die Epicurean

Historian Will Durant is credited with originating the platitude, ‘born stoic, die epicurean.’ He was speaking of nations, but I believe it applies to organizations and individuals as well.

We start out fending for ourselves. We scratch and scrape, wasting little and stretching every dollar and minute for all we can get out of it. As we get more prosperous, we loosen up . . . we’re a little less careful, a little more relaxed about our spending and how we use our time. We take up golf or fishing or photography. Our standards get higher and higher. We don’t want McDonalds anymore, we like fine dining, white tablecloths and excellent service.

I’ve watched companies do this. The first office is a sublease with 20-year-old furniture. Customers are served like they’re the only one. Every employee does multiple jobs. It’s stoic, it’s stripped-down. It’s fantastic.

But as success comes, the company moves to a better, more professional office space. The organization is ‘rationalized’ with everyone knowing their single, specific job. Customers are ‘handled’ by the appropriate department. And it’s so boring.

Churches are great examples too. Twice, my wife and I led ministries within young churches . . . led them from startup to growth mode. Twice, we were replaced by staff hires . . . people paid to do what we were doing for free. By spending money and hiring someone, the church ‘lightened our load.’ It took away our pain . . . we no longer had to prepare, make calls or develop leaders. But it also killed our passion . . . we enjoyed the sacrifice, the giving, the pain of birthing something special.

We do it with church buildings too. We start churches in homes or borrowed space. Then we upgrade to rented space that’s outfitted to meet our needs. Before long, we need permanent space and since we’re doing this for the glory of the Lord, we need to make it nice. We add more offices, more rooms (that sit vacant the majority of the time) and more stuff that has to be maintained and insured. In fact, most of the churches who’ll be closing their doors this year will be doing so because their congregations can’t carry the overhead and insurance costs for their buildings and staff.

Over time, organizations build more and more comfort into their environments. They offer better and better benefits. Incumbents have more to protect, so the truth about things gets a little fuzzy. Overhead grows, focus diminishes and boom . . . you wake up and you’re in trouble.

Think about your organization . . . your church . . . even your family.

Is it stoic?

Does every dollar matter? Are people stretched and engaged? Is there shared sacrifice for common goals?

Or is it epicurean?

Is it lazy and getting lazier? Is it fat? Wasteful? Ungrateful? Arrogant? Focused on ‘protecting the base’? Maintaining the status quo?

The natural progression Durant spoke of is real.

Only passionate leaders can slow the fade.

Scripture: You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:5)

Mentor Tip: Lead a life that loves people and uses things . . . not the reverse.

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