June 2010

Yes, I’m about to make everyone who searches on Google about servant/leaders angry.  Therefore, I think you should probably go to another website or blog.  However, working within the mentally challenged community I’ve seen a different paradigm for leadership and servanthood.

First, I believe that certain people are born leaders.  Chrissy does not walk or speak but her nickname is “The Queen.”  That is because she has been a leader all her life.  She will never be a servant in the normal mold. She cannot perform even the smallest personal or toilet tasks for herself. She’ll never lift a chair or move a table.   However, no one who meets her would ever deny that Chrissy was born a leader.  The joke among her friends is that if she could speak, she would rule the world.  Michelle walks into the room and she owns it.  The same is true for Lloyd, Adam and Shelly.  Some of them, like Shelly, are outgoing in their personality.  Others, like Adam, are shy and retiring in their personalities.  Each one is able to lead people in a unique way.

Second, being a servant almost never makes a good or competent leader.  Carlos is an amazing servant.  He can set up a room for a worship service all by himself.  Twenty-or-so years ago, when he went to work on an enclave at a local manufacturing company, Carlos excelled.  After the state requirements had been met by the company regarding the enclave, the company fired the other five people and kept Carlos.  He has been doing the job ever since.  He is respected and loved by his fellow employees.   However, he would never have become a leader, unless he had been trained into the skills necessary for leadership.  The same is true for Joe and Terri and Eric.

All right, I know that Jesus taught that the Christian ideal of leadership must be fundamentally  different from the world.  However, the servant/leader concept seems to assume that leaders can automatically become servants and servant will miraculously ascend to leadership.  It has been my experience that this concept is flawed.

Leaders must be taught to be servants.  People in leadership position usually recognize that fact.  When I was in high school, I realized that people liked to do things when I asked.  It took me decades to understand that this was a recognition of the gift of leadership that the Lord had put into me.  I also realized in working with children and teenagers, that they worked better for me, if I modeled the behavior I wanted to teach them.  I could lecture folks for an hour and they still would not get the concept; or I could work side-by-side and get amazing results.  In this way, I learned how to use servanthood to enhance my leadership skills.

I’ve found that leaders often have a difficult time grasping this concept because they are able to get results from others by simply, asking politely.  Therefore, training is required for leaders to understand how to maximize their influence by incorporating servanthood principles. 

While teaching a leader to be a servant is difficult because it seems silly to attempt to fix something that ain’t broken,  teaching leadership is all but impossible for a true servant.  Carlos may never learn to hold his head up when he’s in front of a crowd.  But while loading chairs, he is as straight as an arrow.  Leave him alone and he will do the task single-handed and do a great job.  Put folks under him and he becomes nervous and clumsy.  Joe’s manner and tone of voice turns sharp when he puts on a leadership hat.  He doesn’t want to be bossy but he discomfort comes across that way. 

It takes a rare person to truly understand and embrace the concept of servant/leadership.  Shelley is the go-to person among her peers.  She is sought after for friendship and advice.  However, I can trust her to do any task assigned with the grace of a true leader and the poise and skill of a servant. 

Becoming a servant/leader is a great concept and a goal that Jesus commanded us to aspire.  However, there is much more involved than starting a servant/leadership class in a church or a youth group.  Unless group leaders understands the mind and heart of a servant, it would be extremely difficult for them to teach leadership to the servant.  In the same vein, teaching servanthood to a leader is a grueling task that demands years of hard repetition and stern correction.

What am I missing?  Where have I got this wrong?  Or do you agree?

Mildred was married to a wonderful man.  However, his philosophy was that she should answer to him at all times, in all things.  “My husband is like the dog that our family had when I was a child.  We also had a cat.  The dog wanted the cat with him at all times.  When he took a nap, he would pick up the cat by the neck and carry the cat to the spot that he would be sleeping.  Then he would put his arm over the cat so that the cat could not move.”  Mildred laughed, “It wasn’t that the dog loved the cat so much.  He was just afraid that the cat was going to go somewhere and have fun without him.”

I’ve found that a lot of relationships are like that.  Within the mentally challenged community, there are times that the child who is disable will adopt this dog mentality in regard to their parents.  It isn’t that the child loves the parent so much that she can’t be away from them.   They are merely afraid that the parents will have fun somewhere without them.  The parents have no wiggle room.

Parents, often, understand that this relationship has formed and recognize that it is unhealthy.  Yet, they feel stuck.  Moreover, they may not know what to do about it.  “Sam wants to be with me every minute.  I need a break.  I love him but 24/7 is too much,”  Marlene, Sam’s mom, confessed.  She had gone back to work to try to help Sam to adjust without her constant presence. But by the time she became employed again, Sam’s life was set in these unhealthy patterns.

This is the reason that Special Gathering is not a parent-oriented organization.  Of course, we want to have parent involvement but too often mom and dad need a break. Additionally, if our program is on Sunday mornings, parents can attend the worship services at their church.  Therefore, we don’t encourage parents to come if their need is for a time apart.  “Thank you, ” Marlene said, after pulling me aside the day after camp, “I cannot tell you how much I needed this wiggle room.”

Wiggle room is vital for everyone–especially parents of disabled children who have developed the doggie syndrome of “You Can’t Have Fun Without Me.”

When my father salvaged a signed “Miller” chandelier from an old Charleston, South Carolina, mansion, Mama didn’t want it in her house so Daddy hung it in the attic. I asked if I could have it.  I was about 11 years old and I loved it.  Whenever my dad and I were in the attic together, I would remind him, “Remember you gave that lamp to me.”  He would shake his head in agreement.

Years later, when my husband and I moved to Florida, one of the first things I wanted to do was to collect my original “Miller” antique from my parents’ attic.  Over the years, I had done some investigating about “Miller’s”  from the antique professionals in Charleston.  I learned that the famed artist Tiffany was a contemporary of Miller.  I was told, “Miller did with brass what Tiffany did with glass.” 

In the time that both Edward Miller and Louis Tiffany were creating their masterpieces, some of Miller’s work was as valuable as a Tiffany because Miller worked with brass, rather than glass.  During the time that I was doing my original research, I was told that Miller’s work would become as valuable a Tiffany, even though Miller’s name has become somewhat obscure.

However, my “hall lamp” is not worth nearly as much as an original Tiffany.  It is the legacy of Tiffany that has made the difference in the value of their art pieces.  Tiffany was an artist who endeavored to create beauty.  Miller was a business man who endeavored to bring kersene lamp to the world, thereby building a business in Meriden, CT.  The Miller Company is still making quality kerosene lamps.  Tiffany didn’t have a business.  His works are displayed in art museums.

These two men have both left an important legacy to the world. While Tiffany has become a household name in regard to art created at the turn of the 19th century, Miller’s company is still the standard by which kerosene lamps are built and designed.  And many household still depend on the kerosene lamp during severe weather events.  Miller’s lamps are still being manufactured.  The creation of Tiffany’s art ended when they buried the artist. 

Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, what kind of legacy are we creating in our ministries?   Will be end up being the Miller’s whose work continues, while the notoriety dies?  Or will our ministries be like the Tiffany’s whose notoriety grows but the works die with the person?  D. L.  Moody wanted his legacy to be a continuing ministry.  He built a church and a school.  Both are still in existence.  We see others whose ministry legacy are buried with them.

What are we building?  As people of God what is of more value being a Louis Tiffany or an Edward Miller?  Perhaps only eternity will carry the real answers.

Honor Your Mother

Ruth 4

Central Theme:  We must love and respect our mothers.

Introduction–I could not imagine how much my mother loved me until I had my first child.  I could not imagine how a mother could love two or three children until I had two children.  I could not imagine how a mother would be willing to sacrifice until I had my three children. Have a member read from Ruth 4. 

       I.     Tell the story of Ruth, Boaz and King David.

              A. Ruth was David‘s grandmother.

              B. She was a woman who trusted God in what she did.

      II.     The Bible says that mothers will be made holy by having and raising children.

              A. Your mother loves you like no other person on earth.

                   1.  She was willing to give her life to give you birth.

          B. God gives mothers a special place in the scriptures.

     III.     Mothers are special To God.

              1.  We are to treat our mothers with great respect and love.

Conclusions:  God commanded that we love our parents.  Logic tells us that is a good idea.

About a year ago, I referred you to the site that contains several videos that demonstrate how we develop our sermons.  If you haven’t gone there, “How We Develop Our Sermons” is a place you will want to see.  Watching all the clips will take about an hour but you can break them up.  Even if you don’t like the process, you can learn from it.  I learned more about how to preach from a couple of really bad preachers than I ever did from the many good preachers I’ve sat under over the years.

I know that using the phone while speaking with others and while in meetings is rude.  Because I’ve had a mobile phone for more than 20 years, it is an appendage of my arm or a fixture in my purse.  Like most of us, I have a continuing and growing love/hate relationship with my cell. 

One thing that I love is that I can do things–like go to Wal-Mart to pick up supplies during office hours–because I’m no longer chained to my desk .  Often, however, I’ve found that cashiers have not learned that every person who is talking on the phone isn’t gossiping with their brother-in-law about their mother-in-law. 

One afternoon, I was between meetings.  With time to kill but not enough time to go back to my office, I realized that I could either sit in my suffocatingly, hot car and catch up with my voice mail or I could walk.  I chose the fresh air and strolling through downtown Melbourne.  It is full of quint antique and thrift stores.  I popped into one store while punching the return button of a call I had missed. 

The attendant followed me as I grazed through the store.  Then I found a gold mine of inexpensive, all-but-new suits.  I grabbed a cart and started loading it up with my $3 bargains.  There was no one else in the store.  The attendant worked around the area that I was standing.  As I approached the cash register, my phone rang.  It was a person to whom I needed to speak.  Answering the phone, I saw the familiar frown of strident disapproval cross the attendant’s expression.  I could not miss this call and I had to check out my purchases or be late for my meeting.

After my phone call ended, the attendant said sternly, “Do you know how rude that THING is?”

I smiled as sweetly as possible.  “It may be rude but I could not be shopping if it weren’t for my phone because I would have to be in my office answering the phone.”  Again, smiling as broadly as possible, I said, “We found years ago that cell phones are a lot cheaper than secretaries.”

Yesterday, when checking out some supplies at Wal-Mart, my phone rang again.  Again, it was a call I had to take.  I had everything prepared for the cashier and the transaction went smoothly until I realized that she had forgotten to check out something.  I didn’t find the missing item which was sitting in full view of her until I had put back my credit card and the card holder and I had my packages in hand ready to leave.  “You forgot this,” I said to her.  Immediately, I began to fumble and drop things, trying to manuever my packages, find my card holder and then my card.  My call was interrupted momentarily but I didn’t want to let the caller go.  The cashier was visibly irritated and she looked at the customer behind me as though to say, “Stupid cell phone users.”

Again and again, she gave me and her next customer The Look That Can Kill.  I wanted to say to her, “Sorry, I didn’t realize that the mistake you just made would cause so much confusion.  I really am all right.  I’m not upset with you.”  But I could not get in a word because as soon as I had swiped my card, she turned to the other customer and dismissing me, she said, “FINALLY…”

Cell phones are an unpleasant reality of the business world.  Nevertheless, business executives who could never leave their offices can now take business calls in Wal-Mart or in a crowded restaurant.  Teachers can handle after-hour student emergencies quickly and easily.  And, yes, pastors and other ministers are able to work in the community and not be chained to their desks. 

Are cell phones a genuine pain?  Yes. Aren’t they one part of our modern life that we hate?  Yes.  But admit it.  We love them.

Because I’ve been working in the yard for the past week every spare minute, I have either dirty fingernails or no fingernails.  My hands, arms and legs are scratched and bruised.  My toenails are black from being rubbed in the dirt, as I’ve knelt to plant or pull up or transplant. 

It seems that everything we do in life leaves some kind of imprint on our bodies, minds and perhaps even our souls.  Since camp, I’ve been bone tired.  I’ve rested and slept; but my body didn’t seem to be able to find a spot in the bed where I could get comfortable and really relax.  Then I realized that what was missing in my sleep equation was that I need hard physical work to relax after a time of great stress. 

At the end of a period of time where I’ve been living under tension, hard, really hard physical labor is the only thing that helps me to relax.  Therefore, I got up from the couch and began working in my yard.  It is 90-plus degrees in Florida. The heat and humidity make pulling weeds and trimming hedges while maneuvering around thorns and briars a real physical challenge.  Yesterday, I raked and picked up leaves under the moonlight.

Today, my day began with a pastors’ prayer meeting.  Each one of us shared the joys and struggles of our individual ministries.  One pastor is losing her associate who has become her right arm.  He will be deeply missed.  Another minister is also losing his associate who showed up on his door step with his family about a year ago and has been a drain on the ministry since.  Joys and struggles mark our ministries and our souls. 

One young man is waiting to hear if he will become the senior pastor of the church where he has served as interim for four years.  The church has prospered and grown during this time but the committee is noncommittal about their intentions.  Another pastor has been promoted to the senior position.  While excited about the advancement, it isn’t a situation to which he has ever aspired.  He loved what he did for almost 20 years.  The adjustments have been more complicated than he imagined.  Joys and struggles mark our ministries and our souls.

This morning, as others shared, I sat thinking about the joys of working off the tensions of ministry with hard labor.  Joys and struggles mark a completeness as our heart become intertwined with the heart of God.  Like a grapevine, we cling feverishly to the Life Giver while struggling to learn and do our best for the Lord.   As we moved around the room laughing at the joys and wincing at the struggles of each person, I thanked God for marking my life with my personal joys and struggles and allowing me to minister in the precious field of labor where he has placed me.

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