Born or made? How leaders are formed

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I don’t expect the following names (Uncle Eddie, Eardley, Coach Smith, Pastor Lue, Judith, Tita, Dr. Biberstein, Dr. Willie Jennings, Coach Morley, Dr. Mary Fulkerson, Pam, Barry, Tony, Danny, Mama, Joycinth) to mean anything to you, but these people represent milestones, pivot points, influencers in my life’s journey. What I am getting at here is, I don’t know where I would be without the impact of these in my life. These people are gifts of gold to me.

Reading through Acts this week reminds me of these people and the power of partnership and influence: Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:25-26)

It is possible that Saul, who later became Paul, could not have become the great church planter and leader in the history of the Church without the influence and partnership of Barnabas. Barnabas left Antioch and traveled over 151 miles to find Saul, bring him back to Antioch to help solidify the growing, diverse church in Antioch.

But he also brought him back to Antioch to influence, mentor, and validate his gifts and calling. The action of Barnabas underscores that tomorrow’s leaders do not come into the world prepackaged, ready to lead. Tomorrow’s leaders are nurtured through mentoring relationships, experiences–both positive and negative–education, humility, and self-awareness.

When Alex Haley achieved great fame and fortune because his book, Roots, was turned into a blockbuster series on TV, the world beat a path to his door. Top of the world. Everyone wanted to interview him. Many years ago now, I read an article about Alex Haley, his humble beginnings, and his service to his country in the Navy. In an accompanying interview, the journalist kept looking at a picture hanging on the wall. Finally, he asked Mr. Haley, “Tell me about that picture?,” pointing to a large picture of a turtle sitting on a fence post. “What is the significance of that picture?” Haley responded, “I keep that picture to remind me that the turtle did not get to the top of that fence by itself. It got there because someone helped it. I keep reminding myself that I am where I am because many hands lifted me up.”

So, think about where you are today. How many hands lifted you up? Would you then please consider doing the following:

First, make a list of the people in your life who influenced you, encouraged you, partnered with you through your life. It is humbling, and there is no room for pride or boasting in such an exercise.

Second, would you be willing to write a letter to one of the Barnabases in your life and thank them for being present and supportive of your journey through life?

Third, could you find a way to pay it forward? In other words, a “Barnabas” found you, influenced and encouraged you. Who might you lift up and encourage?

Fourth, would you be willing to reach out to an emerging leader and find ways to bless and encourage that young leader?

By doing this, we help shape future leaders in our homes, churches, and society at large.

Today we too often find ourselves withering under the weight of arrogant and unprincipled leadership in many areas of our society. Men and women who have no regard for how they use their power in the lives of people who depend on their leadership. Leaders who give praise to themselves and forget how they got to the top of the fence.

Almighty God knows I am not a perfect man. And, sure as the Lord causes the sun to rise each day, without the people whose names I listed above, I would not be where I am today. Thanks be to God for his gift and grace in our lives.

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