He was Hoffman Harris, the busy pastor of fast-growing Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. The confused kid was me.
I was a new member of his church back in the ’70s. I was finishing college and struggling with a call to serve God. Pastor Harris had sermons to write and things to do. He had hundreds of other people and priorities clamoring for his attention. But he made time on a regular basis to talk to me, patiently answer countless dumb questions and connect me to key people he knew from his many years in ministry.
When I became a Mission Service Corps volunteer with the Home (now North American) Mission Board, he persuaded an understandably doubtful mission committee at Briarlake to provide partial support for an untested, untried young man. After I left the Atlanta area to join the IMB staff in Richmond, Va., he kept in touch with me — more faithfully than I kept in touch with him.
There was something about “Hoff.” When he preached or talked to you, he wasn’t just saying words. He was giving you his heart. You felt you were the sole focus of his attention. Jesus’ disciples must have felt that way during His earthly ministry.
If not for Hoffman Harris, I probably never would have gotten involved in mission communication. If not for Bill and Joyce Dillard, I probably would have quit after the first few years. Bill was pastor of Parham Road Baptist Church, the congregation I joined after moving to Richmond. The Dillards not only welcomed me as a member, but fed me countless meals (the sure way to a single guy’s heart) and let me sleep on their couch when I was feeling lonely and discouraged. No advance notice was required: The door was open, the place at the table was set. They had their own sons, but happily “adopted” many guys like me through the years.
I could name other friends, relatives, mentors and missionaries who have freely given me their time and wisdom, with no agenda beyond love and no expectation of return beyond the joy they received in giving. If you look back, you will find people in your life who have done the same for you. They are the people you will remember with gratitude when the finish line comes into sight.
I am amazed at the number of books, articles, speeches, sermons, seminars and videos about “leadership” flooding the market these days when so little real leadership is on display. Never has so much been said about something so rarely practiced. Why are so many institutions, businesses, churches, families and relationships crumbling? There are many reasons, but one of them is lack of authentic leadership at every level of society.
“Leadership is about influence,” writes Jeremie Kubicek. “Influence is power. And how you use that power will affect your world and those around you. Will you choose to empower or overpower? To liberate or dominate?”
Kubicek, who runs a company that coaches and develops leaders, is author of “Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving it,” published in 2011. Yet another book about leadership, you groan. But Kubicek is on to something. He thinks leadership is dead because many so-called “leaders” have abandoned their real responsibility in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, which devalues others, or self-preservation, which defines mediocrity.
“You don’t need massive power or a prominent position to lead positive change in an organization,” he says. “You need only influence: the most potent and underutilized professional resource on the planet. … Great leaders with true influence build relationships by serving the needs of those within their spheres of influence, even as they serve the needs of their businesses. This isn’t just a business tactic; it is a lifestyle.”
And it applies to every area of life. Influence comes from trust, according to Kubicek. No one trusts — or willingly follows — a leader who looks out only for No.1. But people will follow a generous influencer almost anywhere. “To have influence, you have to reach beyond your walls and give yourself for the benefit of others.”
That takes time, commitment and humility.
Maybe this sounds familiar: “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness — nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8).
That’s the Apostle Paul, who knew something about leadership, and he didn’t need a fancy seminar to learn it. He mastered the art of true leadership under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit — and the guidance of faithful believers who prepared him to be the great missionary and disciple-maker he was.
Above all, Paul loved and served the disciples he made. His words were powerful, his example more so.
I learned that truth from Hoffman Harris and Bill and Joyce Dillard, who understood what real leadership is all about.
Erich Bridges is overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board.
Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/.