I recently remembered a conversation I had years ago with a great pastor and Christian leader, Carl Flewellen. He had served in various roles on the local, state and national levels in our movement and was well respected by all. Having seen him across the room at our national General Assembly meeting I worked up the nerve to approach him. I thought that a ministry veteran of his stature probably wasn’t going to have a lot of time for a rookie like me. Still, I made my way across the crowded floor during a break and introduced myself, wondering if he could tell how nervous I was.
“Hey, Tom! Sure, I know you. I’ve watched you from afar and I have known your daddy for years!” Wow. all of the sudden I felt at ease. I wasn’t sure quite what it was but I was surprised and relieved. It genuinely seemed as though he had all the time in the world for me. We did the small talk thing for a minute or so and then I asked the question that had been on my mind for some time. I had been asking it of ministry leaders I looked up to and was anxious to hear what he had to say. “If you could give a young pastor just one piece of advice on how to lead, what would you tell them?” His answer came almost before I finished the question, “Just love’em!”
He went on to explain that as a leader you can and will make plenty of mistakes along the way. Still, if people know that you love them, really love them, then they will love you in return and will follow. Amazing. I am so grateful. I’ll never forget that brief encounter and just how true his words have become in my life and ministry.
Now, have I always followed his advice? No. Unfortunately not. From time to time I have been guilty of straying from this simple non-formula and can’t tell you how much I regret doing so. This is just so easy for leaders to do, at least for me in the craziness that is 21st century ministry. Of course, purposed programming and targeted visions and values are what people really need and it’s up to me to take the lead in them, right? Sure, these are good things. However, I’m reminded today of another ministry vet’s words from long ago. Something tells me they apply today more than ever…
“And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13