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Presidential Perspective - Thinking Beyond Tomorrow: Leaders for the Long Haul

Philip AmersonAs a pastor I held an early morning Bible study in a nearby restaurant. Each week I would pass a hand-printed sign by the cash register that read “All Meals Free Tomorrow.” Of course, anyone expecting a free meal the following day would learn that “tomorrow” on Thursday still meant “tomorrow” on Friday. Or, as the saying goes, “Tomorrow never comes.”

Too many in our society chase after the mirage of something free tomorrow—some program or strategy or simple solution—tomorrow. Bill George, Harvard Business School professor and former head of Medtronic, wrote of the tendency of leaders to point fingers at one another during times of economic or political stress. He said that rather than seeking long-term structural or cultural direction, there is inevitably the flawed effort to find short-term fixes. George said the root cause of our stagnation and finger-pointing is leaders practicing short-termism. (“Leadership’s Lost Decade: Will It Breed Better Leaders?” Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2010.)

In recent weeks Garrett-Evangelical has seen the passing of three distinguished alums: Terry Gladstone, Gene Hancock, and Gordon Sorensen. Each of these remarkable persons gave longtime service as clergy leaders. Terry was the epitome of the very best of The United Methodist Church’s Order of Deacon as she sought to serve others. Gene and Gordon were extraordinary preachers and congregational leaders. Each lived with an eye and a heart beyond tomorrow. They were prophetic and pastoral, wise and imaginative, serious yet joyful. They gave of themselves for the sake of a deeper and wider vision of the world and the church. To become such a witness takes a lifetime, and the breadth of such decades-long ministry can never be adequately measured.

I believe anxious denominational leaders today are missing their greatest resource. During times of transition and change, there is an unhelpful desire to point fingers and think only about tomorrow What we need are not dashboards, seminars, or better marketing campaigns. What is needed is to focus on the gifts already assembled. We need to value and celebrate the witness of persons like Terry, Gene, and Gordon. How will our young learn of these faithful role models who stand in a long heritage of leaders who looked and lived beyond tomorrow? Carl Sandburg wrote of those who “can’t be bought” and of the long-term value of people who love and serve others over the years (The People Live On, 1936). As he put it, “This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.”

Terry, Gene, and Gordon... and scores of other clergy served over the decades interpreting the power of the Gospel to transform, to heal, to bring hope and renewal in the midst of tragedy, despair, and stagnation. They are the long-termers, the “lifers” who model the way forward.

I can still remember the day in our early morning Bible study when our group considered Psalm 30. We laughed about the “free meals tomorrow” sign and reveled in a God whose love was everlasting. We smiled and read Psalm 30:5 over and over: For his anger is but for a moment, his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

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