Years ago, more than I care to recall, I was a Pastor in a fishing village between Aberdeen and Inverness in the North East corner of Scotland. Late in the first year of my stay there, I learned a lesson in leadership that has stayed with me my entire life.
Early in my Pastorate, I joined the local Ministers’ Fraternal. It seemed like a great way to network, learn the community and get spiritual support. All the preachers in town would meet monthly, to discuss issues, pray and, unfortunately, gossip. Yes, clergymen do that, too.
One of the Pastors in town was a frequent topic of clerical gossip. Since he often missed the gatherings, he made himself an easy target. He was also the minister of the largest Church in town, so he was doubly marked.
The accusations were many, but were primarily built around the claim that he was a ‘sheep stealer’ and that he spent his time poaching members from other congregations. The facts that he didn’t wear robes on Sunday and often missed the fraternal gatherings were added tender to the fires of animosity. Since I was young and ignorant, I generally accepted the criticisms presented by these established clergymen and kept my distance from the accused rustler.
I had moved to the village in the early autumn, when the weather was gorgeous and the colors vivid. From mid October through April, however, the weather can be savage. At almost a moment’s notice, terrible storms with hurricane force winds can blow in and batter the Scottish coastline. These storms have a severe beauty all their own, but they are to be respected.
One particularly bad storm hit in March. Three local fishing boats went down the same day with a loss of 15 lives. Grief held the entire community in its unrelenting paw. Brides were widowed. Children were orphaned. Mothers lost their sons. Hearts were darker than the March skies.
In order to process the heartache and comfort the smitten, the Ministers’ Fraternal agreed to have a community memorial service in an ecumenical effort to minister to these wounded souls. We would hold the service in an ancient but grand Church of Scotland building located in the town square.
On the night of the memorial service, all the ministers were to meet in the ‘vestry’ to get ready for the program. As I entered the room, I felt extremely out of place among the robes and hats and furs and sashes of the ‘established’ Church clergy. It was like a contest to see who could be the most ornate. Also, the seating order was of high concern. Certain gentlemen and ladies were expecting prominent seats while the rest of us would be relegated to the back of the stage. Since I was under dressed by comparison, I offered no resistance.
The infamous sheep stealer was nowhere to be seen. Would he miss such an important gathering? That didn’t make sense.
As I walked out to take my place on stage, I spied a short, middle aged, white haired man, helping elderly women and men find seats in the crowded auditorium. He pushed wheelchairs, escorted the hobbled and carried babies. He did not rest until everyone in attendance had found a seat, even though it meant he carried quite a few chairs from a closet in the back of the building.
As I’m sure you’ve surmised, the industrious usher was none other than the dreaded poacher of innocent congregants. While his more prestigious colleagues were trying to out robe one another, this gentleman was serving the community.
After the service, while the other ministers were huddled with local civic and political leaders, our white haired desperado was serving tea and sandwiches to people unable to walk to the buffet lines. When the crowds were gone, he remained behind with the cleaning crew to fold tables, put away chairs, wash dishes and mop floors. Did I mention that this was NOT the Church where he pastored?
That night, as I laid my head down on my pillow, I truly understood why the little snow capped man had the largest congregation in town. He took Jesus seriously, when He said, “Whoever wants to be the greatest among you should become the servant of all.” And, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”
I have not been the same since that night. I hope I’ve been a better servant as a result. I may never be the real servant leader I want to be, but I can truly say that I’ve seen it modeled.