Fire Fighting

412Dear Servant Leaders,

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” James 3:5

While attending our son Andrew’s college orientation weekend we found ourselves in the midst of national headlines. As we turned into the Azusa Pacific University campus we couldn’t help but notice the huge clouds of smoke rising only one mountain range behind the school (not the most comforting thing for already nervous parent’s to see!).  The Azusa fire (see actual picture at left taken outside a Target store a couple miles from APU!) was massive and required some 1,600 firefighters from around the nation and Canada and was actually one of the smaller of the five Los Angeles area fires. As the investigations continued it was revealed that arson was the cause of most of these blazes. Worse than any of the damage done to the environment or developments, etc., two lives were lost just in the few days we were there in the battle to contain and extinguish these massive blazes. Servant Leader, you are a firefighter. Just as there is a fire season each and every year that must be prepared for and subsequent fires that must be battled in the southwest and pacific coast, fighting fires in your ministry is simply not an option. The only question is, what size fire will you battle and how will you battle them?

Here’s what I would suggest:

1 – Create “fire breaks” intentionally and frequently. This means creating some margin in your ministry in a consistent way so that, even if a fire gets going, it can only go so far without facing a wide open space where it is difficult to “jump” and spread any further. Purposed times just sharing your hearts and some probing Q/A can go a long way. Create a safe, confidential environment where leaders are affirmed, encouraged and prayed for. Do this often.

2 – Burn the under-brush. This means purposefully identifying and  removing excess brush (dead under-growth) that can serve as “fuel for the fire.” This might come in the form of small attitudes and/or areas of stress and tension among your lead team. Find it out, burn it out, plow it under, pull it up and otherwise deal with it before it gets the chance to set anything else on fire.

3 – Stomp it out. Stomping out flying embers can be a pain when you would otherwise rather be enjoying the warm glow of the fire that the Spirit has set in and through your ministry. As you have no doubt discovered, fire can be your ally or enemy. If not contained, it can quickly become an almost uncontrollable and unstoppable force. So, when a rogue spark gets out of hand (a bad attitude, inappropriate comment, disagreeable disagreement, test of authority, etc), STOMP IT OUT while you can. Be proactive in confronting what could very quickly “spread like wildfire!” No, you won’t feel like making the call or making that appointment for coffee, calling an accountability partner to join you and otherwise confronting the source of what may seem like merely “smoke.” You will be tempted to think you are overreacting and may even be accused of doing so. However, remember the old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Don’t let a little spark turn into the kind of blazes that destroy everything in their paths and, tragically, even claim lives. Be vigilant. Be proactive. Be a firefighter.

In closing, I remember watching Smokey the Bear service announcements as a kid and can still remember him saying … “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Thanks, Smokie!

Firefighting with you,

Tom

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