Leadership Principle No. 10–Your Brother is Your Partner, Not a Competitor

Pastor Roy said to me, “I have it on good authority that Pastor Tom has come into my church on Sunday afternoons and nosed around, trying to find who visited our church that morning and if any of his members joined us.”

We both called that taking insecurity to the next level.

There’s a lot of insecurity in the ministry, unfortunately. Some pastors forget their assignment to take the gospel to the world and shrink their field of ministry to the neighborhood around their church. If someone else starts a church inside what they consider their territory, they resent it. If the new church prospers, they feel jealous. If they lose members to that church, they become deadly enemies.

I know from personal experience how it happens. You’re leading a church that has been dying for years and you’re looking for any signs of life and revival. Suddenly a family joins your church. The fact that they are moving their membership from another congregation in the same town matters very little. All that counts is that someone thought your church was attractive enough, that your ministries were important enough, and that your preaching was successful enough that they wanted to join you. Sometimes that is the only encouragement you get in a month.

Meanwhile, the pastor of the church that just lost that family may take the loss personally, depending on a lot of things. If his church is otherwise healthy and prospering, he will take it in stride. If he also is struggling to stay alive, an entire family jumping ship can be a death blow. If it turns out that you were guilty of enticing them in any way, the pastor understandably takes it personally and feels insulted.

Just so easily do neighboring pastors, even of the same denomination, become competitors.

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Leadership Principle No. 9–Sometimes Leaders Must Follow; Do It Well

The year our church decided to spend two weeks constructing a new plant for Calvary Baptist Church of Matawan, New Jersey, our youth minister was in charge. Bryan Harris–now pastoring in Vallejo, California–was gifted with administrative abilities and experienced in leading construction teams, so we all followed his leadership. Within two weeks, a new sanctuary and educational building rose on that spot and everyone had the experience of a lifetime.

Two years later, when our church in Columbus, Mississippi, opted to erect our own educational building instead of contracting it out, we put Bryan in charge and the members all worked under his leadership.

The year we took our youth choir and some 20 adults to England for a two-week-mission of concerts and ministry, our minister of music Wilson Henderson was in charge. He was experienced at leading these trips and was close friends with David Beer, the British pastor who was our host in Tonbridge, England. Even though I was the pastor and technically his “superior,” I took orders from Wilson.

Sometimes you are the leader, sometimes a follower. But no one is the leader in every situation. Whatever the occasion calls for, a faithful follower of Christ will want to set the example for those coming after you.

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Leadership Principle No. 8–Remember Names, and Use Them

I’ve previously mentioned the lengthy conversation I had with C. C. Hope, Jr., some years ago when his wife was in surgery and we sat for hours in the waiting room of the Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. At the time, he was one of the three F.D.I.C. commissioners in Washington, D.C., and past president of the American Bankers’ Association. I told him I had heard of him before becoming his pastor.

In the summer of 1986, when I announced our move from Mississippi to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, a Starkville banker friend, John Mitchell, told me about Mr. Hope. He said, “You have a deacon in that church whom I really respect. C. C. Hope was president of the ABA. We had him down here to speak at a bankers’ function. My wife had just broken her leg. The next time I saw him was five years later. He called me by name and asked about my wife, remembering that her leg was in a cast the last time he’d been here. I was stunned.”

C. C. laughed when I told him that. “That’s actually what did it for me,” he said. “Remembering people’s names.”

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Something Else

It’s hot in New Orleans. Summer, which officially arrived last Thursday, did what she normally does–arrived in mid-May and threw a blanket over New Orleans and made herself at home like she owned it.

A group of youth and sponsors from Faith Baptist Church of Texarkana, Arkansas, are doing the summer camp at Highland Baptist Church this week. While spending Tuesday morning drawing all the kids, I said to one of them, “Good thing you’re Southerners. You know about hot weather.” He said, “Yeah…but this is something else.”

Yes, it is. It’s called the humidity.

When we moved to this city to attend seminary over 40 years ago, one of the first things Margaret and I did was buy an air-conditioner. We’d managed in Birmingham, Alabama, with only a window fan, but it was “something else” down here.

The Wednesday pastors meeting welcomed 25 today, about normal for the summer months. Thuong Le of the Vietnamese Baptist Church just returned from 2 months in his home country, teaching preachers, and brought with him a minister who is going to establish a work in New Orleans East where so many Vietnamese live. Pastor Le said, “After his initial 3 months are up, we hope to have found the finances to support him so he can continue the work.”

(As always, for a complete account of the pastors meeting, go to www.bagnola.org where administrative assistant Lynn Gehrmann posts her notes.)

“Since we’ve been taking visiting church groups into New Orleans and the lower parishes,” Rudy and Rose French reported, “we have felt that we need to be knocking on doors in our own neighborhood of Norco.” Rose told us, “The problem was what to use to get people to open their doors and talk to us.” She thought of the baskets of toiletries and household items they’ve been distributing in St. Bernard Parish–and that’s where Rudy was today–and said, “The people of Norco did not have a lot of hurricane damage, so they don’t need that. They needed something else.” So she asked the Lord.

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Leadership Principle No. 7–Discipline yourself.

This morning as I write, while walking on the levee by the river, I chatted with a neighbor I’ve frequently seen but had never met. He has an unusual morning routine. Instead of walking a long distance up and down the levee, he has marked off 1,000 feet and goes back and forth. “I do eight laps,” he said. “That’s 16,000 feet. About 3 miles.” I congratulated him. It’s the same distance I get in each morning, and I know what an effort it can be sometimes.

The man said, “I’ve lost 70 pounds up here.” I was impressed, and this time I really congratulated him. Losing 5 pounds can be difficult, but imagine losing seventy!

I thought of a woman I met in Nashville this Spring. In the cafeteria at the Lifeway building, I was chatting with and sketching a number of church secretaries in town for their annual conference where I was a speaker. Several women walking by called greetings to the ones at my table. The lady I was drawing said, “See the one in the purple sweater? She works in our office.” I glanced at the cluster of ladies exiting the doors. The purple-clad was a large person and easy to spot.

“She has lost over a hundred pounds,” the woman said. She added, “There’s an interesting story behind it. She was desperate to lose weight and felt she couldn’t do it by herself. So, she looked into having stomach-stapling surgery. When the doctors examined her, it turned out she had a heart condition, and they refused to do the surgery until she lost a lot of the weight she was carrying.”

A classic Catch-22 situation: she cannot have surgery to lose weight until she loses weight to make the surgery safer.

“Anyway,” said the secretary, “she put herself on a diet and has lost half the amount she needed to get rid of. And she’s decided to skip the surgery. She discovered she’s strong enough to control her appetite without the aid of the doctors or drastic surgery.” I call that a wonderful discovery.

Self-control is one of the bigger issues in this life. There are many facets to it. Here are several.

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Dropping Names

Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. Clifford Stine. Brad Bradford. Jimmy Draper. And Mama Rose.

The Billy Graham organization sends out a prayer card with the famous evangelist’s photo and dates of telecasts so we can pray. I post it on the fridge with a magnet and almost daily pray for him. I have told here of the time Dr. Graham spent an hour or more in my office, just before the funeral of his beloved friend Dr. Grady Wilson. As we chatted, I asked myself, “Do you pray for this man?” Realizing I didn’t, I asked why not. My answer was the weakest thing: “He’s a world-wide evangelist. And I’m only one person.” Instantly, something inside me said, “And do you know anyone who is two?”

Ever since, I’ve prayed for Billy Graham. Even if–and perhaps because–he is a world-famous Christian leader, he needs the prayers of God’s people. Particularly, in these days since the homegoing of his wife Ruth, I’ve lifted him up.

Monday night, I decided to type in the name “Clifford Stine” to a movie-star search engine and see what came up. Sometime in the early 1970s when I was on staff at the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, I met this gentleman. He and his wife joined our church, and if memory serves me correctly, I baptized them. They were retiring from the motion picture industry in Hollywood, his wife had relatives in Jackson, and so they moved there. I picked his brain somewhat about what movies he had worked on and still recall the answers.

He was not an actor, but a director of photography and sometimes director of special effects, spending his whole career with Universal. The first movie he worked on was King Kong. Really. And in the 1950s when Universal was turning out all those scary sci-fi movies, Stine directed special effects on them. “The way we did the ‘Incredible Shrinking Man,'” he said, “was by making larger and larger furniture.” Low-tech by modern standards, but hey, it worked.

So, last night, his name came up and I learned that, yes, he worked on King Kong in 1933 as “the second assistant camera.” He was 27 at the time. He worked on Gunga Din, Spartacus, Patton, The Hindenburg, two Abbott and Costello movies (“Meet the Mummy” and “Go to Mars”), and Doris Day’s Pillow Talk. And about fifty others.

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Leadership Principle No. 6–Learn from your failures and go forward.

I invited Adam to lunch with me, planning to speak to him about his relationship to Christ. His wife Christa appeared to be an active Christian and their two daughters were full participants in our church’s youth program. Perhaps Adam just needs a little encouragement, I thought.

After he agreed to meet me, I asked Adam to choose the restaurant. “How about Jimmy C’s,” he said, and had to tell me where it was. I was new to the New Orleans area and hardly knew one restaurant from another in this city noted for great eating. We would meet at noon on Thursday.

We greeted each other, were seated in a booth, and gave our orders to the waiter. I went straight to the subject on my mind. “Adam, can I ask you about your relationship to Jesus Christ?” He was friendly and open and did not mind at all telling me his thoughts. Somehow along the way, he had studied under humanist teachers and they had provided a steady diet of atheistic reading for his young vulnerable mind, and it was my assignment, it appeared, to try to counter some of that.

The waiter brought our lunch, I said a short blessing, and we dived in. That’s when the young woman showed up at our table.

She was dressed–or not dressed would be closer to the truth–in a flimsy, see-through shortie pajama thing that showed far more of her than it ought. I would not have been more stunned than if she had walked down the aisle of my church dressed like that in the middle of my sermon. Glancing around the restaurant, I saw she had company. Other attractive young ladies were similarly unclad and were visiting at the tables and chatting with diners.

Adam and I had visited Jimmy C’s on the day of their weekly lingerie show.

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Leadership Principle No. 5–Know when to give in.

Two cars met on a narrow one-way bridge. One man leaned out of his window and yelled, “I never back up for fools!” The other called out, “I always do,” as he reverses his automobile.

Question: which of those two men is the stronger? Obviously, the one who gave in to the other.

Here’s another.

The interstate traffic was heavy, fast, and aggressive. This was no place for timid drivers if they wanted to survive. Suddenly, a speeding car cut in front of two others without giving a signal and almost clipped the bumpers of both vehicles. The two drivers were shocked, then frightened, and then enraged. One driver took out after the offender, the adrenalin of his anger fueling his determination not to let the culprit get by with such behavior. The second driver calmed himself down and reminded himself that his goal was to arrive safely at his destination, and most definitely not to get revenge, not to teach other drivers a lesson, and not to let his anger get him into trouble.

Now, which of those two drivers is the stronger man? Clearly, the one in control of his spirit.

How does that line go from Proverbs? “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” (16:32) The point is made in the opposite way in Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

The little church had decided that the two leading women of the congregation would get together and select the new carpet for the auditorium. Eloise wanted a neutral color. She said, “We’re still not sure what color they’re going to paint the walls and we don’t want to clash with that. And, this color will go well with the choir robes.” Evelyn, however, had her heart set on a bright red. “We had red in our last church and it brightened up the place so much. I’m not going to budge on this. It has to be red.”

Church fights and congregational splits have been built on differences as slight as this. But Eloise was determined not to let that happen. She said, “Let’s do it your way, then. I’m sure red will be fine. It’s not as if this were the most important matter in the world.”

Good for Eloise.

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The Day of Small Things

The other morning, a TV news show featured the author of a book about transitioning from college life to the workaday world of a career person. The woman said, “One thing you should do is clean up your internet image.” That was a new thought for me. She continued, “You want people to think of you as a professional person now, not the carefree kid of messy dorm rooms and frat parties.”

I thought of one of our pastors. His e-mail address begins “tennizbum.” On the other hand, another of our pastors has an address that begins with “Godsman.” Knowing nothing of the two except their internet handles, which would you choose as your spiritual leader? (Tennizbum is a good guy. Just making a point.)

Sometimes these little details are clues to who we are in greater ways. I keep thinking about a staff member I used to know who was extremely lazy. One of his former pastors said to me, “I should have picked up on that quality about him from the beginning. The first time he walked into our church offices, he spotted a couch near the receptionist’s desk and said, ‘Oh boy–a couch! This is my kind of church!'”

Robert Cerasoli is a name we expect to hear more in the future. He’s the new inspector general for the City of New Orleans. We’ve never had one of those before, but the office was created in 1995 when voters approved a number of revisions to the City Charter. An ethics board was called for, one that would hire an inspector general to study the workings of city government and root out corruption. Only recently did we get the ethics board and they’ve just now hired Cerasoli as the IG from a list of 21 applicants.

The assignment doesn’t begin until August, but Cerasoli, a Massachusetts native, has been in town this week–at his own expense, he said on the radio; he’s serious about this–meeting with officials and trying to get a handle on the exact powers, directions, and limitations of his job.

The newspaper says his salary is $150,718 and the budget for his office is $250,000 for the rest of this year, which doesn’t sound like a lot. When you consider that U. S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office has netted 28 convictions, guilty pleas, or indictments in an ongoing probe into city government just in the last year or so, it’s obvious the inspector general has his work cut out for him.

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Longing and Relocating; Working and Thanking

“I’m calling from USA Today newspaper. Jim Burton of the North American Mission Board in Atlanta said you might be able to help me.”

If I can, I’ll be happy to.

“I’m writing about the spiritual state of the people in your area, how they are adjusting to their post-Katrina lives–dealing with the problems of the devastation, the slowness of governments to help, the few neighbors returning, the difficulties in rebuilding, and so on.”

I told her people are more open to talking about God and receiving the spiritual assistance of others than we’ve ever known them to be. Our people who take baskets of household items door-to-door in the troubled areas are finding everyone hospitable. No one refuses to open the door and no one slams it in their faces. They appreciate any help offered and are glad to listen to someone with a witness.

But out in Jefferson Parish–the cities of Metairie and Kenner, primarily–there’s an anomaly. (I didn’t use that word. It only shows up in my writing, not my talking.) Every one of our churches, even the ones which appear to have received no hurricane damage, has lost members, some as many as 40 percent. And yet this parish’s population is around the same as before the storm. This would indicate that while thousands are moving out, those moving in have not been attending church, or at least not in this parish.

Down the street from our associational offices on Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans sits the regional offices for the Lutheran denomination. Monday, one of their leaders sat at our break table and told a similar story. All their churches have lost members and their schools are all suffering. The people with faith seem to have grown in faith, but the churches have not grown numerically. A ‘for sale’ sign sits in front of their headquarters building. They’re asking $1.3 million, and would love to relocate to the Northshore area.

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