Several years ago I worked for a company in the automotive industry that was, like many during the Recession, enduring financial hardships and facing many unknowns. It was a scary season of layoffs and downsizing that affected everyone from the removal of the top three General Managers to the unfortunate hourly workers whose numbers just came up short. Our company replaced our three General Managers with one man who came from Germany to navigate and motivate us through a depressing time. This new GM was small in stature but he carried a big stick and a big vision. I can’t remember most of anything he ever said in many of the meetings we had in the years to follow other than the speech he gave about The Most Important Person. It was an after shift meeting with the entire plant, which meant it was about 10:00 PM. I can only imagine what our faces spoke to him after a long hard shift, wondering if this meeting would be our last. Not that I can recall in detail but I’m sure our GM highlighted our success and areas for improvement among other such things that good leaders need to communicate. But it was not the raw facts that stuck with me that night and until this day. It was a parable of sorts he told about who the most important person in our plant was. Our general manager pivoted and asked the large crowd a question, if a new potential buyer came to our plant for a tour who would be the most important person or have the most significant job that day? Would it be upper-level management? Would it be the Engineers? Through his thick accent he said “Possibly, but it could also be whoever cleaned the restrooms that day”. What our General Manager understood was buyers will be presented with facts about production potential, cost, and profit at every factory they visit. And while cost and profit are important, when those potential customers visit your restroom the condition will speak a stronger word about your work ethic and values than any spreadsheet.
That simple story, intended to convey the importance of every worker doing his best, has impacted my leadership strategy in the church as well. Recently thinking about the important people God used in my life to encourage and strengthen me in my faith, I recalled several pastors, many other faithful men and women of God. But above all those whom God has placed in my faith journey, no one person God has used may be more crucial to shaping who I am now than a man whose name I never knew. This gentleman never preached a sermon to me, nor did he teach me a bible lesson. We only met one time and we never shared anything other than a handshake and smiles. What makes this unknown man so important in my life is what God decided to do with his simple act of faithful service. On a random Sunday in the summer of 2005, at a side entrance to Walnut Memorial Baptist Church in Owensboro Kentucky stood a grey haired man holding the door open. What he didn’t know was a young man had been sitting in his truck for two previous Sunday’s looking at that church from across the street trying to talk himself into going in. That young man had wandered far from God since he had first committed his life to follow Jesus when he was 15. He was empty, without joy, and clothed in shame. I never saw my grey haired blessing the previous Sunday’s I sat in my car with fear and anxiety. I laid wounded on the battlefield of spiritual warfare, unable to aid myself and ignorant of what I truly needed. But that blessed day, God’s servant stepped outside with bulletins, a friendly smile, and a warm welcome. To the others coming in that door he was commonplace and easily forgettable. But to me that day he was God’s answer to an unknown desperate prayer. With trepidation I made my way across the street to that door to find something that I had been missing for several years. When our eyes met I could tell this dear saint knew, through spiritual guidance or my disheveled look, I was new here. Maybe this is what every good greater is prepared for and finds fulfillment in, a wayward visitor looking for help. I expected for him to greet me and hand me a bulletin, which he did in a way that made me feel like I was walking into my grandparents house for Christmas. What I didn’t expect was how he reacted when I confirmed what he already knew by telling him this was my first visit. Without hesitation he told me to follow him and he would guide me to the worship center and help me find a seat. My polo and khaki shepherd left the 99 to help clear the path for repentance and restoration for the 1. I don’t remember what songs we sang that morning or even what the pastor said during the sermon. What I will always remember is the simple act of service that God used to alter the course of my life.
God would call me a few years later to serve his people as a pastor of students in Indiana and later as a lead pastor just 20 miles from Walnut Memorial. Over the last twelve years I have had the privilege to be discipled by several great pastors and teachers. My journey continues to be guided by Spirit filled people, like my wife, whom God uses on a regular basis to help shape me into the man he desires. We should rightly give honor and respect to those gospel giants whom God uses to speak truth and extend grace in our lives. I would bet that the man who received me with kindness that day, never preached to hundreds, was never asked to speak at a conference, or ever published a book. But what I can say with confidence is that his seemingly minor and obedient act of service has made the most difference in my life. It is quite possible that this gentleman has already went on to glory, never seeing the full extent of his labors. But I believe one day I will be standing in line with many to embrace my brother and say thank you.