Black Sunday

I can think of no subject more important for an emerging leader than a God-inspired vision for you and your particular area of leadership. Praise God for entrusting you with the opportunity to be a light to His world. And honor Him by carrying out His vision with passion, creativity and the kind of stubbornness that will never allow you to sell out to the highest bidder or be swayed to do it like everyone else. Your vision is sacred; don’t be tempted to take your eyes off to appease your detractors.

blacksunday
They called it "Black Sunday."

I drove up to the building where we were holding our Sunday church services and saw black wreaths on all the doors. I thought it was an example of creativity gone wrong; it turned out to be a very different situation.

As I asked some questions, I found out the whos and the whys behind these strange decorations. The wreaths were to symbolize the death of our fledgling church—a prophetic announcement of our imminent demise. The leaders behind the stunt were not Goth kids or color-blind decorators; they were some of our most trusted leaders.

Along with the black wreaths, these leaders took our sound system, piano, supplies and asked me to return a used car they had given me. These were some of our wealthiest members whom we were counting on to help us grow this new church of a few hundred. Worst of all, they divided our congregation, and many young families left with them.

It was the worst possible time for this to happen. I felt varying feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal and fear. If it wasn’t for something that had happened to me as a teenager, I would have bailed.

I was a scholarship athlete on the Florida State basketball team in the era of high socks and short shorts. The Seminoles were a team full of ultra-athletic young men with a penchant for women, drugs and parties. And then there was me.

I grew up in a pastor’s home. I thought I had seen a lot of stuff growing up, but what I saw there was more than a little shocking. Looking back, I think the coach recruited me to babysit my wheels-off teammates when we went out on the road. I still marvel that he never set a curfew or limits of any kind. My teammates were snorting cocaine, hiring prostitutes and leaving a trail of busted hotel rooms in their wake.

One particular day, I was sitting alone in my dorm room evaluating my spiritual life. I was a follower of Christ, but my faith felt very stagnant. As I was leaning on an old, rackety air-conditioning unit, I asked God to help me influence my lost teammates so I could introduce them to Jesus Christ.

The very next day, one of the guys started asking me some questions about my life—and in particular, the different way that I talked and seemed to live my life. We continued to talk for a few hours, and pretty soon, I found myself praying with Scott to receive Christ into his life.

This was a feeling I had never felt before. The sensation of leading a desperate person to my Savior was the greatest thrill I had ever experienced. As Scott prayed, I sensed that I too was about to begin my own new journey. For the first time in my life, I started to think about full-time ministry.

The next Sunday, I invited Scott to church. Our experience at church was the other crucial catalyst for who I am today and for the church I am blessed to lead. As we sat through this traditional church service, I began to see church in a new way.

As I shared my hymnal with this new believer and our other friend, I got this sick feeling. All the songs that I had come to love in my youth were now obstacles to my new friends. The sermon we heard had some great content, but for the most part, went totally over their heads. For these guys, the experience was straight out of some science-fiction movie that creeped them out more than it invited them closer to Jesus Christ.

When the final amen sounded, we all breathed a sigh of relief and headed for the doors. As we walked out, I prayed to God, "If you ever call me to pastor a church, let me create a church where everyone can understand your message of love, hope and grace—even people like my FSU teammates!"

More than 20 years have passed since those two powerful experiences happened. Those two experiences shaped my eventual profession—and the vision for a new church plant in Irving, Texas. I heard from God with the kind of intensity and clarity that changes a person forever and forms the kind of anchor from which you can face the pressure, the obstacles and the changing tides of our culture. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have made it through Black Sunday.

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What would have happened if I tried to appease those "wreath leaders" instead of staying true to God’s vision for me? What if I tried to chase them down and change the vision so our attendance and bank account looked better?

Fellowship Church has been greatly blessed by God. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t faced opposition. And one of the best leadership lessons I have learned happened as we decided how to respond to this blatant display of disrespect. There is no question in my mind that every young leader faces a critical fork in the road very early in their leadership.

I can think of no subject more important for an emerging leader than a God-inspired vision for you and your particular area of leadership. Praise God for entrusting you with the opportunity to be a light to His world. And honor Him by carrying out His vision with passion, creativity and the kind of stubbornness that will never allow you to sell out to the highest bidder or be swayed to do it like everyone else. Your vision is sacred; don’t be tempted to take your eyes off to appease your detractors.

There is no guarantee that you will be successful. But there is one sure way to fail: Take your eyes off God and turn your attention to your wreath leaders who haven’t heard what you’ve heard. Keep your vision vertical and your spirit humble as you break through barriers and change your world for Jesus Christ.

What will you do when the vocal minority chimes in? What will you do when you try something and it fails? How will you respond when you face a strong and direct challenge to your vision?

This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01.

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