Leaders Always Sit In The Front
It was in the second row on the left side of the sanctuary where grandma and I sat every Sunday. My grandmother was blind. Upon our arrival at church I would lead her to her Sunday School class. After making sure she was settled in, I would go to my class. I would leave my class a little early and then wait for her class to finish. Grandma and I would make our way to the sanctuary and find our seats for the church service. One Sunday I asked grandma “why do we have to sit so close?” Could not we sit in the back or at least a little farther back? She said no. I said ‘why’? She said ‘Leaders always sit in front.’ Leaders…. a little blind lady and her grandchild, we were not leaders. I said to her Grandma we are not leaders! She said ‘if they need us they will know where to find us. It meant little if anything to me at the time. Upon further review, I have reflected on her words many times, and have come to believe she was right. Part of being a leader is in being in the right place. Bobby Unser said “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” My preparation and opportunity first met at 2604 Oliver Street, Fort Wayne Indiana. This is where my grandparents lived most of my childhood. It was a safe place, a sanctuary if you will. It was where I spent untold hours with my grandmother. It wasn’t a school, but I learned lessons that have lasted a lifetime. Being the oldest grandchild I was with her constantly. My grandmother was the biggest influence in my life. My grandmother was an outgoing extrovert, before I had any idea what that meant, I just thought she was grandma. She told me the oral history of our family. She told me what was right and what was wrong. She gave me directions and advise. She encouraged me and loved me unconditionally. She made it easy to believe in God.
She only completed the ninth grade. Yet she was well-versed in a lot of things. She sang hymns while she washed dishes. Every few days she would receive via the mail, books for the blind. They were long playing record albums. Though blind she would read books and read many of them. The subject of the books she read ran the gamut. Sometimes I would listen to with her. I remember listening to the life story of Martin Luther. I had no idea what the reformation was, and I continually asked her if he was related to Martin Luther King Jr.? She had one rule, if any of the books contained curse words the record player was stopped, the record removed and placed back in the case, and I would turn the return address card around and the recorded book left the house immediately.
I have since 1983 read at least 100 books a year. Grandma was the person who instilled my love of reading. It happened so naturally I do not remember her saying make sure you always read. I knew that if this blind lady could read extensively in what seemed to be such an inconvenient manner, then I with two good eyes had no excuse not to read.
Now back to the conversation that began this chapter. Leaders always sit up front. I am not sure why this statement took root in my mind and heart. But it is deeply imbedded. When I sit toward the back in church, I am distracted by the people in front of me. I find it more challenging to focus on what I need to be focusing upon. One of the ways that I interpreted her statement was that to be a leader you need to get ready and be in place. Too many leaders are trying to lead from behind and the back row. The back row is a poor vantage point from which to lead. Leading has in its basic meaning being in front and forging ahead. It is very difficult to direct from the back. When leaders are not leading an event, because they understand leadership they sit up close to be a support. The farther back the less engaged you can become. I know that there are legitimate reasons to sit in the back such as you have to leave early, you have health issues that cause you to enter and exit the room often. Other reasons such as having small children sitting with you and the list could go on. I have noticed at times some of the same pastors who voice displeasure when the people sit in the back on Sunday morning, when at a clergy meeting also sit as far in the back as possible. Perhaps our people are not listening to what we say, they are merely, modeling what they see out of us. That in itself could be another leadership lesson. My grandmother believed though we were not integral to the inner workings of our congregation, we were still to be supportive, positive and engaged! So what I heard as a little boy is true to this day. I still believe leaders always sit up front. I have heard responses when I quote grandma, “I sit in the back because I do not want to draw attention to myself. Let me ask you a question. How many clergy members do you know who are afraid of being noticed? Now, I have met and I know some about whom this would be true. The nature of pastoral leadership is you are noticed. You are noticed regardless of where you sit in a meeting. In our form of government, the Senior or Lead pastor is the chair of the Governing board. We spend a great deal of time being front and center. In our world today being in the front sounds like being upfront. As in transparent. I believe in this, but I am talking about another component to leadership. It could also be stated as “to be a good leader you have to be a good follower.” Just because I am not in charge, I should still be engaged and present. We as leaders need for people to be receptive and participatory when we are leading an event. Why would we not offer that same courtesy to other leaders? Yes, grandma was right, leaders always sit down front.
At the time my grandmother told me this I did not see the point. It didn’t seem like any kind of a principle to incorporate into one’s life. Yet to this very day I think about it often. In my responsibility now I’m in quite a few meetings with pastors. I have noticed a trend among not just pastors but all people. If you look in the parking lot everyone tries to park as close to the front door as they can. Once inside you will notice many try to sit as far away from the front as possible. The question arises, why the same person who thinks it’s important to park close to the front door turn around and sit as far away from the front as possible? Is it cultural? Is a habit? Or is it something that happens with no correlation whatsoever between where one parks their vehicle and where one sits in a meeting?
I believe it all comes down to a certain idea, leaders should be in the middle of things and they should be supportive of whatever is taking place regardless whether they are leading the event or just a participant. Leaders need people and people need leaders. Whether we are leading or not, we should be front and center and supportive of whoever is leading the meeting. Sitting toward the front signifies that I am actively supportive and hopeful, as well that I am filled with a spirit of anticipation at what the spirit will reveal to me and what new information I can receive and then apply to my situation and life.
Another reason a leader should sit in the front is because we model with our lives not just our mouths. Many times we fail to remember that our modeling communicates as much if not more than our words. It may seem like a lot of pressure realizing that people are watching our every move as a leader, yet that indeed is what is happening. Not one of us is ever going to measure up perfectly to everyone’s standards of how a leader conducts themselves. People are watching they have always been watching leaders I will not be able to change that equation nor will you. The point of this is not to make us paranoid and always looking over our shoulder. I believe there is freedom in Christ. I am seeking merely to remind us that our life the way we live is one of our greatest teaching tools. We are modeling and mentoring even when we are not up in front speaking. Most of our greatest lessons are caught rather than taught.
There is a paradox in the life of a leader I have heard it stated this way: if you want to be a good leader you have to be a good follower. And if you’re in the business of recruiting leaders don’t look for the ones with the sharpest verbal skills, or the ones who seem to have everything together, rather look for the ones who are supportive and have been faithful and consistent in their lives. Some want to go into the ministry, they even believe that God has called them yet they are not in any way involved in the ministry where they live. They have not developed a consistent habit of serving and supporting the ministry in the local church they now attend. If one is not supportive of ministry where you’re living there is nothing about a ministerial license that all of a sudden is going to make one become a faithful consistent a lifelong learner. The Bible is filled with examples of people God called out of the shadows. They all are different, they have a different skill set yet the overarching commonality in their lives was their consistent and faithful service right where they live this moment. I believe if you want to be a leader, yes please prepare yourself read learn study go to school take classes find a mentor to model and many many other things, but do not forget consistent faithfulness in whatever and wherever you are today. If there are muscles that need to be exercised in your leadership life faithfulness should be first on the list. For we can have the greatest talent in the world but shoddy consistency willing to do the greatest talent in the world.
There is a powerful biblical mandate that speaks to leadership: one who is faithful and little things will be given other things to be faithful with as well. Leadership is not proven from a pulpit or a lectern or in front of a class, it’s proven and faithful service in the littlest of things. Yet some feel their destiny is stardom, therefore a broom and a mop is beneath them. If this is where you are today a broom can be the switch that turns your leadership and do something spectacular. Because if you sweep with all of your heart and asked him to the Lord God will reward faithful service. Also with the broom and mop we learned there are no small items no small duties and no small people in the kingdom of God. Every responsibility is important.
Recently I was in a small church, I know what your thinking only 100 people gathered, I am talking really, really small less than 10 people. They were sitting in a lovely and clean sanctuary that was built to seat nearly two hundred people. That is just the main floor. On the second floor they created a chapel with the old pews from the sanctuary. So in a really unique situation they have two sanctuaries that each can seat between 150-200! The Sunday I was there to officially close the church, there were nine people in the main sanctuary the only sanctuary that was open. Interestingly all eight of the people sat in the last two rows! The ninth person was a visitor and walked in after the service started and he sat in the last row. As I preached to the small group I felt like I was preaching from next door. As I entered the building all the vehicles were parked as close to the building as possible. Thus the theory works in many places park close, sit far away. My grandmother was on to something when she told me that leaders sit in the front. I have for years pondered what the hidden truth was in her axiom. Do leaders sit in the front, so that they can remain engaged with what is happening? Do they sit in the front so that they will not become distracted as there are less distractions? Could it be that leaders love to give positive reinforcement and encouragement to the speaker? Yes, yes and yes.
The following was taken from material from an upcoming book. “Leaders and sit in the front, and other lifetime lessons learned from grandma.” by Ron Blake