Recently, I remembered an incident from my teen years. I am not exactly sure why. Something I read just recently in a book about leadership brought this incident into my mind. The author reminded anyone who desires to be a leader, to remember to do nice things for and to talk to people who will have no way to do anything nice for you. It is an exercise in being an authentic, genuine leader. You see most of us have no problem being nice to people who can reciprocate. That reminds me of what the Bible says about being good to those who can’t pay you back. As the author was challenging us to be nice to everyone and to treat everyone with respect and kindness, my mind went back to when I was 15 or 16 years old. At that time in my life I had no adult family in the church. My role models and adult influences were people in the church. I lived for this interaction that was so lacking in my life. The churches of my denomination in Fort Wayne, Indiana were conducting a “youth revival.” It moved each evening from one church to the other. My home church was to host the meeting on a Thursday evening. Our youth group decided to have a party after the service in the church fellowship hall (which in those days was the basement of the parsonage next door). Our youth leader and few of the youth went to get the pizza. I was tasked with going over to the fellowship hall and making sure everything was okay and greet the people as they came into the room. The song evangelist and his pianist came in first. I spoke first ‘Hi, I really enjoyed your music tonight.” They gave a slight nod of the head and continued into the room and walked to the ping-pong table. I walked over to the table and watched them play. About three times I tried to engage them in conversation, only to have them talk over me and basically ignore me. Not being overly bright, I eventually caught on. I walked away from the table and waited awkwardly for my friends to return from the pizza run. Now at 15-16 no one would have picked me out as the most likely to succeed at anything. I was at church by myself and wanted desperately for these men to talk to me. I know I probably dressed odd and acted that way as well. Now having travelled a little bit and preached and spoken in places that were far from home, I understand a little more how weary and tired they were. I know that when you are with people continually you need a break. I understand that they wanted to play ping-pong and not be bothered by some gangly teenager. I get all that, and I understand. I also remember when 30 years later the same song-evangelist wrote me a letter asking if he could be considered for a singing part in a conference that the denomination was putting together that I was in charge of, and I knew as I read the letter he had no idea that he had met me 30 years before in a parsonage basement. Did I hold it against him? No! Did he participate in the conference? NO. I would like to think that it had nothing to do with the event from my youth, I would like to think that it was because we were not picking singers for this conference.
Immediately after that phone call, I wondered how many times have I ignored people, or rather have people felt ignored by me? Nearly every time I enter a church to speak, a pastor retreat etc, I remind myself someone here today needs my undivided attention. Young, old and in between. Someone is facing a battle, they are discouraged, and they are looking for someone to look at them and say God bless you. I know like my friends from long ago I have failed to pass on the peace of Christ to hurting people. I cannot use tiredness and distractedness to keep me from looking the ‘sheep’ in the eyes and telling them by my words and actions that they matter to God. Help me today Lord to see the people right in front of me! And please forgive me if I have ignored you or not spoken to you, I am sorry. So let’s start over and try to be a blessing to someone today.