Carnival Ducks


It was their last day on the beach, so Steve and Donna were going to do this day with some intensity.  I think everyone’s last day of holiday is like this.  Steve had placed his beach chair next to mine for several mornings running.  He likes to fish, and always spoke before throwing his line out in the water.  Eventually Steve brought his engaging wife over to chat, and we had exchanged some pleasant, if not obligatory, conversation.  Up until this last day, I would have written off this connect as temporary, forgettable, and perhaps insignificant.

But this was Steve and Donna’s last day.  They engaged me deeper.  They purposely invaded my 7 a.m. time with God.  How dare they be so intrusive!  I’m glad they were.  I now know more of their story and they know mine.  Steve works for a Kentucky state representative.  Donna is a regional manager of Kentucky jailers.  They live near Shelbyville.  Donna wanted to know what I did… as they had both observed my early morning rituals and day-long reading habits.  Their curiosity landed on “professor.”  I, of course, smiled at that one!

I explained my path as a pastor, and told a bit of my story.  This really opened up the conversation.  Their posture even visibly changed.  Now I know Steve is 63, leads the singing at his 45-member Christiansburg Baptist Church, likes to inject humor when the congregation isn’t smiling, shares a wonderful relationship with his only granddaughter (of which I was shown the most recent iphone photo), believes his boss will soon run for governor, and has lived a difficult story with he and Donna’s daughter.  She, the daughter, was raped by a baby-sitter’s brother when she was only eight.

The power of story was unfolding as we talked, circled up our chairs, and took off the relational SPF so we could all be enriched and better connected through story.  I think we all knew it was God’s story creating ours.

Before we said our goodbyes, I had given Steve and Donna our girl’s latest CD.  Donna asked if she could have my contact information.  I gladly wrote down my name, phone number, and church I help lead and gave this freely away to people who a day earlier were perfect strangers.  I hope they call.

People walk by my beach outpost like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery.  With so many intriguing shapes and sizes, I wonder about the collection of stories I’m missing out on as eyes connect for a scant second and then move on.

For several years, my study break allowed me to make a rich connection with a lady named Lucy.  You can read about her in past blogs.  Lucy died last summer at the age of 87.  This year I’m seeing a few other, older, regular beach walkers whom I think knew Lucy.  I want to stop them and ask.  It’s amazing how hard I find it to arrest their walking with a, “Excuse me… did you know my friend Lucy?”  My insecurities seem to prevent me.

Yesterday afternoon, a young couple parked their tent and chairs within feet of my family.  They have such a cute little blonde-headed girl.  I’m reminded of years gone by with our little ones.  Their daughter fell asleep under a towel, and I made the very simple remark of how beautiful she was.  Of course they smiled and said something about she’s always adorable when she’s sleeping.  That was about the extent of our exchange.  No big deal.

This morning, I sat alone on a quiet beach wearing my Lovett tennis t-shirt.  The dad of the young sleeping beauty was taking off for a run.  He circled back and said, “Lovett… are you from Atanta?”  Minutes later I knew he and his wife were teachers from Dacula, and he knew initial details of my story as well.  You never know when stories will intersect unless a greater story causes even a semblance of engagement.

Back at CCC, we’ve been engaging in God’s great story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  It’s an EPIC story.  God’s story contains ours.  THAT really is the good news.  When His story is central in my life, I stop seeing people as carnival ducks rotating by.  When my task, career, comfort, and ambitions begin to limit my story, I tend to box others in as carnival ducks.  Sad.

Story is at the center of the gospel.  God’ story of Jesus is first and central, and then ours unfolds gloriously as a loving subplot.

Church leadership often makes God’s story a subplot to what I desire.  A strong, large, successful church can so easily become my story to the neglect of a greater One.  The difference may be, as Oswald writes… “a willingness to take a first step towards Christ-realization, not the initiative towards self-realization.”

God is challenging me this break with practical leadership tools I’m sifting through.  “Amplifed Leadership” has great ideas and useful strategies.  In fact, I contacted Dan Reiland, the author, through Facebook… and I hope to have lunch with him soon.  He lives in Gwinett.

However, I must make sure any leadership strategy I employ is all about God’s story first and points to His story within me and others.   I’m not trying to be spiritually arrogant or difficult, but I read Reiland’s words with Christ-realization filters.  Consequently, I struggle with: “”I have observed too many equipping sessions that devoted hours and hours to studying the Bible and left little to no time for actual ministry training.  God’s Word will not return void, but it may not address the specific skills your team will need to be effective in a particular area of ministry.”  Hmmmm.  Or this one concerning mentoring… “If ‘The Donald (Trump)’ were here to talk with us, I’m sure he’d say that his leaders determine his destiny.  I know that’s true of ministries, especially the local church.”   Hmmm.  If it’s Jesus’s Church and He’s the Head, who then really determines destiny?

I have to be discerning.  Reiland puts forth great ideas. His work is certainly not devoid of Jesus.  In fact, this may be a book our CCC staff will study through starting in August.  However, there’s such a push, pressure, and western way about doing church, it’s easy to partner Jesus with our ideas instead of bowing and dying to His ways and His plan.  (Reiland’s frequent name dropping and attendance numbers of his successful church don’t help me.  But… my honest, sad emotion is jealousy.)

Os Guiness hits a church leadership nail dangerously close to the head when he quotes a pastor’s deepest fear.  “I’m haunted when I look into the eyes of my congregation and realize they are always only two weeks away from leaving for another church.”  Yep, that’s extremely poignant and real.  I’m human.  I deal with that.  It’s the reason conferences, latest strategies, church leadership books, and mass produced DVD’s fly off the shelves for church leaders more focused on their own story than God’s.

Guiness, in his book “The Call,” states how weak leadership codependent on followership, forces a leader to pander.  It’s a trust issue.  It’s not defining Jesus’ Church as fully HIS as much as it is a leader’s identity and ego.  Again, I’m guilty.  I’m human, and I know better.  The answer is to sell out to the Audience of One instead of a congregation of many.

May I mentor, as “Amplified Leadership” suggests — but with the goal of imitating Christ and not merely loading the church deck with leaders.  May I equip and develop people not to merely grow a big church, but to point many to the EPIC story of Jesus.

His story makes ours meaningful.  Jesus’ story makes mine better, and helps me to invade other’s in ways that avoid carnival ducks.  The young couple with the beautiful sleeping daughter have a story.  Will my story intersect theirs because the Gospel story is the real connector?

Joseph’s story in Genesis is amazing.  Hard.  Unbelievable.  Joseph, however, always goes back to his subplot being a attached to God’s bigger story.  Eventually he tells his idiot brothers who literally sold him to slavery, “It wasn’t you who sent me here, it was God.”  Joseph could have turned his bumbling siblings into carnival ducks.  Instead, he swims in a grand, more defining, and more fulfilling EPIC story of God’s creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

May Jesus lead through me in such a glorious fashion.

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