A Tribute to a People Visionary

You may have noticed the conspicuous absence of stories and illustrations in the last edition of "The Pastor's Coach" - "Are You A People Visionary?" - I know, I know, the best writing is story. But sometimes I just get carried away with content. I'll make up for it in this edition.

It's great timing too, with Thanksgiving upon us, and our nation is generally in a grateful mood (just to be alive). Last time I wrote about the "what" of being a people visionary; this time let me focus on the "who." If, in fact, it's true that the best teaching is story, then this very personal account should find its way to your heart.

All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to someone. If you're feeling alone and a bit underprivileged, there is at least your mother (and father) for whom to be grateful. Unless I have really missed the birds and bees story, they had substantial participation in your presence on this planet. OK, so you may have some issues with Mom and Dad; set those aside for a moment and be grateful that they gave you a shot at life itself. At some point, after all, what you do with the gift of life and others investing in you is up to you.

Let's go back to the gift.

 Many of us are extremely aware of our level of debt to those who have invested in us. From Mom and Dad, to mentors and teachers, and then there is your favorite "Uncle Bud" - the one who accepts and loves you just the way you are. Who is it for you? Have you told them recently how much you appreciate them?

This is my opportunity to thank someone who has invested deeply in me, and at the same time paint a picture for you of what a people visionary looks like. I don't normally share such personal mail with over 40,000 people, but I'm proud to let my gratitude be known.

We met 20 years ago. I was newly married and graduating from seminary. I knew a couple things about survival in ministry, very little about success, and nothing about lasting significance. This veteran leader saw something in me - I suppose a spark of potential. It was definitely buried, so he must have been looking for something good.

Of course, graduating from seminary - I had all the answers. After all, I knew the principles of Methodical Bible Study inside and out. And I was convinced that they were the cure for the local church. Teach people the 27 laws of Methodical Bible Study. Knowing the difference between the law of generalization and particularization would surely change their lives. I shared this with my soon-to-be leadership mentor. Though he fully knew that it would more likely drive people away from me and possibly out of the church, he enthusiastically cheered me on and said: "put your heart into it and let's see what happens." He gave me permission to make mistakes. Although we had only recently met, he hired me to be a pastor on his staff, and he genuinely seemed to believe in me - already.

It didn't take long before we had our famous "sit down" toward the end of my first year on staff. He talked about making a change or making a change. Either way, it was clear that change was coming. The package deal of confrontation and challenge had my undivided attention and I'll never forget his words: "Dan, you act more like you own the church than serve it." I wasn't sure what that meant, but I figured it wasn't good. He let me know that he saw great love and compassion in me for people, but I was lousy at expressing it. And then he began to talk about principles like: "Walk slowly through the crowd," and, "People don't care how much you know till they know how much you care." Little did I know that principles like these and dozens of others would become the foundational guidelines for a lifetime of ministry.

Years went by, with many stories that could be told; stories of investment, of prayer and good old fashioned fun. Not to mention being pushed, stretched and sometimes dragged whether I wanted to go or not! Then came another moment, (distinctly part of people visionaries) where he took a risk on me. There was a need in the church to have something called an Executive Pastor. I say "something called" because we didn't really know what it was - we invented it as we went. If I'd have known then what I know now, I'd have been wearing rubber pants and a crash helmet for the first year of that phase. I made mistakes; he stuck with me. I grew up; he encouraged me. I occasionally hit the ball, and he rewarded me.

One of the things that sticks with me the most today is the incredible amount of time he invested in me. No matter how incredibly demanding his schedule was, he always had time for me. And of course, the time wasn't limited to me. I continually hear untold stories of a phone call made, a note written, a lunch with a young pastor. Yesterday, while doing some training at the Church of God in Cleveland, TN, Pastor David, who was terribly ill, told me of how this person came to the hospital and sat there with him (David) for three hours. Dozens of stories untold ...just because he loves people. I vividly remember the day my mom died in 1997. He dropped all the demands upon him and flew across the country to be with me and my family - and do the funeral.

There is so much that can be said of a people visionary, and particularly the one in this story. From sacrifice to sustained effort. But in order to keep this short, let me offer one last piece to this story; the current piece. It's about letting go. I'm a parent of two beautiful kids, one nearly 11 and one that will be 13 next March. My friends who have kids who are older and are leaving the nest tell me how excruciatingly difficult and even painful it is. Letting your kids go - I can't relate yet to the depth of the difficulty, but I sense inside it's true. We want to protect what we love, but ultimately our investment is intended to set free, not hold captive.

You know from an edition of "The Pastor's Coach" last month, that after 20 years of ministry with my mentor (The last six years with INJOY) I have returned to an incredible local church as Executive Pastor. The natural tendency is to hold on and claim title to the investment, but he didn't. He launched me with blessing and encouragement, saying: "If you need me, I'm close by."

Unless, you are new to INJOY, and this newsletter, you know the people visionary in this story is John Maxwell.

 This edition is a tribute to him and all he has invested in my life.

Thank you John. Thank you for looking for the good and seeing potential in me, for encouraging my passion for ministry, for teaching me to communicate love to people, for confronting and challenging me, for taking a risk, for letting me make mistakes - but not allowing the same mistake made twice, for amazing amounts of time, and for loving me. Thank you for being an incredible people visionary. I love you. Let's get lunch together soon. I'm buying (a first!).

Back to you, the reader. Here's my question for you: who are you believing in and who are you investing your life in?

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.