Recently, I was guest-preaching in a church where the choir and a visiting singer presented a wonderful special just before the sermon. As they were finishing, the singer, an older gentleman, had some kind of seizure and toppled from the stool where he had been sitting.
Immediately, two things happened: most of the congregation went into momentary shock and a half-dozen people jumped to their feet and rushed to tend to the man. They helped him out of the sanctuary and ministered to him in the foyer. (A subsequent note from a minister assured me the man is fine, that a few hours in the hospital to stabilize his heartbeat and he was on his way home.)
I asked the minister, “Who were the people who got up and came to help him?”
Two of the men who stepped out of the congregation were deacons, two were firefighters/paramedics, and a fifth was a registered nurse.
After the congregation prayed for the gentleman, it was my time to preach. In my opening remarks, I pointed out something.
“Did you notice who came to the aid of our friend in trouble? They are leaders of this church.
“A leader rushes to the trouble. The rest of us sat back and watched. We were concerned and many of us sent up silent prayers, but this kind of situation requires a specialized kind of worker.
“In churches, when trouble arises–as it always does; never forget that–a leader will respond immediately and rush to see to the situation. Non-leaders sit back and say to themselves, ‘Someone ought to do something about that’ or ‘These things have a way of working themselves out; they always have in the past.'”
That’s how we can tell a leader: He or she goes to where the trouble is, not away from it.
Bruce Catton, in his outstanding Civil War book, “Grant Takes Command,” tells of President Lincoln’s pleasure in finally getting a general in charge of the Federal armies who would do something. He had gone through a whole array of generals who loved the honor, adored the uniforms, prided themselves on position and authority, but who had always found reasons not to move out and confront the enemy. Lincoln said they would say, “If we only had more Cavalry” or “If I just had more horses” or artillery, then they would act. Lincoln called these their “pet impossibilities.”
With Grant, however, Lincoln found an entirely different kind of leader.
He said to one of his secretaries: “Grant is the first general I’ve had! He’s a general!”
When the secretary, William Stoddard, asked about that, Lincoln said, “I’ll tell you what I mean. You know how it’s been with all the rest. As soon as I put a man in command of the army he’d come to me with a plan of campaign and about as much as say,’Now, I don’t believe I can do it, but if you say so I’ll try it on,’ and so put the responsibility of success or failure on me. They all wanted me to be the general. It isn’t so with Grant. He hasn’t told me what his plans are. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I’m glad to find a man who can go ahead without me.”
Now, we need to say here that not all commanders-in-chief would want their general to keep his plans to himself, but would like to know what was planned and to be assured of the soundness of the approach. But, bear in mind that the war had been going on for over two years and Lincoln had brought in general after general and eventually fired them all in his search for one who would truly lead.
In U.S.Grant, Lincoln found his leader. Catton’s book is a faithful portrayal of this unassuming little man whose greatness was late in arriving and unseen for a time by all but the most discerning.
What does a leader do? He acts.
Someone asked Grant on one occasion about a decision he had just made. “Are you sure you are right?”
Grant said, “No, I am not. But in war, anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong we shall soon find it out and can do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything.”
Someone has to make the call, and that person is the leader.
To take a poll and ask the congregation, “What do you want to do?” is not to lead. (Granted, there are times for just such a question to be put before the people. But not often.)
Leaders act, act decisively, and act on faith.
Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. If they cannot handle making a bad decision sometimes, they will never last. If the congregation will not support a pastor who calls it wrong occasionally, but requires 100 percent accuracy on everything he does, there will be constant bickering, frequent turnovers, and zero progress.
“That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord” (Judges 5:2).