Stop Following and Start Leading
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Glen Beck said:
“The truth shall set you free, but it’s going to make you miserable first.”
I want to share some truths with you: truths that took me 44 years of leadership experience to learn. As Glen Beck said, these truths have brought a lot of misery to me through the years. In this teaching, I’m going to share some truths that will set you free: free to be a better leader. Prepare yourself, however, because it may also make you miserable first . . .
Miserable about how little in your own strength you really have to change your world;
Miserable about how little you have accomplished so far;
Miserable about how few souls you have won to Christ;
Miserable about how little time we have left and how great the burden is to change our world before it self-destructs!
Geo. Bernard Shaw said:
“If you are going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.”
I’m going to tell you the truth over the next several days. But, lest you kill me, I’m going to try to make you laugh a little too.
Groucho Marx said,
“Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men. The other 999 follow women.”
Leaders lead both men and women: followers follow. Are you a leader or a follower? This weekend, I prophesied over a woman at the Redding Foursquare Church. I told her I heard the words “Tag a long.” I told her she had been a follower, just tagging along leaders. But, the Lord was going to begin to make her a leader. The next day, she introduced me to her identical twin: her older twin, who she admitted had always been the leader and she the follower. Are you a “tag along?” Does the Lord want to change your “natural birth order” and transform you into a leader?
Leaders are important, because leaders are always leading people somewhere where they want to go, but don’t know how to get there. And, the best leaders lead people where they think they don’t want to go. Maybe your already don’t like the direction this teaching is going, so “A teaspoon of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Here’s a little Prov. 17:22 medicine:
A preacher was spitting and shouting and making wide gestures as He harangued against the evils of drinking. As he brought his sermon to a close, He cried, “So in conclusion, we need to take every bottle of beer in town and unceremoniously take it down to the river and pour it out.”
The people resounded a loud, “Amen.” Seeing they were with him, the preacher continued, “And we need to haul every bottle of every type of alcoholic beverage at the liquor store in trucks and pour all of it out also in the river!”
Another loud, “Amen!” Feeling the anointing, with shoulders held high, he finished his successful exhortation with the words, “And may God himself take and pour all the booze, from all the bars in town once and for all into the river.” To one more jubilant, “Amen,” the preacher sat down with a smile on his face. The song leader then took the podium and with a sheepish green announced, “Now, everyone turn in your hymnals to page 127 and sing ‘Shall we Gather at the River?’” (Ha, ha!)
Great Leaders know how to get people together and to “gather” at the river of God’s blessings. God is pouring out new wine into a flowing river in these last days. Leaders must know how to drink at that river, and they must know how to motivate people to follow them to that river to also get a drink. Apparently God has given me at least a little bit of leadership ability to motivate people, or you wouldn’t be reading this.
I don’t consider myself a great leader but I have studied the lives of many great leaders. You can learn the hard way, by experience. Or you can learn the easy way, by learning from others. As Proverbs 1:5 says, “A wise man will hear and increase learning.” Solomon says, we can learn from “hearing” and reading is one way we hear from teachers. That’s why you are reading this.
As our devotional verse in 2 Tim. 2:2 says, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We hear from teachers, pass these on to “faithful men,” who themselves become teachers also. The same principle applies to leaders: Leaders pass truths on to faithful men who themselves then lead others. I am passing on truths to you this week.
2 Tim. 2:2 shows that You need only two qualities to becoming a great leader:
1) “Those things which you have heard:” You must have a hearing ear. That means a teachable spirit: pursuing knowledge by turning hearing ears to others leaders who are speaking (or writing).
2) “Commit to faithful men:” The world doesn’t need more leaders (Kadify, Hitler, and Osama were leaders!). But, it does need “faithful” leaders: faithful to God, faithful to the truth, and faithful to practice what they teache. Notice it doesn’t say to “commit” these truths to “smart men” or “talented men.” In God’s school of leadership, faithfulness is the most important quality:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” (1 Tim. 1:12)
3) “Who will be able to teach:” Leaders have to be able to show others how to do it by example and by their ability to communicate. If you are “walking the walk” and you can “talk the talk” you can be a leader!
4) “Others also:” We must always keep in mind that in the Kingdom of God, the purpose of leadership is never to hold some position. The purpose of leadership is to lead men and women themselves into leadership:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:11, 12)
Do you qualify for leadership? If so, explore How to be a Great Leader and “hear” lessons from historical and biblical leaders.
1) Great Leaders must Learn how to Continue to Learn
John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” So often graduates from any training program have the feeling, “Ah, I already know what I need to know to do what I want to do.” But, many are in for a shock! When I first graduated from Bible College, I had business cards made up that said, “Rev. Dea Warford.” I was ready to counsel and teach and show everybody how to do it. It wasn’t long till I realized that I didn’t have the foggiest idea myself how to do it, much less to tell others how to do it.
Paul said, “If any man thinks he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” I preached in a small church in Oregon. The pastor and I were talking about how when we first graduated from college, we were full of confidence and pride. He told me, “When I graduated, I thought I could take over Jack Hayford’s Church on the Way and double the attendance.” He found out it wasn’t that easy or quick.
You are leaving one school to enroll for another. It’s called “The School of Life.” “The School of the Spirit” “The School of Hard Knocks.” And, You never graduate from that school until you die. Every day you’ll be sitting in that classroom. So, make the most of it. You’re going to have to figure a way to make money to support your life-long education, so you've got to work somewhere. But, remember, “Money is not your primary asset in life: time is.”
That’s why Paul said, “Redeem the time for the days are evil.” You do well in taking advantage of the time you have daily when you seek to learn more.
We learn best from great leaders. Solomon wrote, “Walk with wise men and be wise.” Many of us will never be able to actually “walk” or “counsel” with wise men like Jack Hayford, Billy Graham, John Maxwell and the like. But, we can “walk with wise men” in the books they write.
“Cease to read; cease to lead.” is an axiom worthy of any graduate. Read what wise men have to say and you will be wise! Read as a way of life: the Bible, books, newspapers, watch CNN or Fox news, listen to TV and radio preachers, go out of your way to hear wise teachers when they speak publically. “Reproofs of instruction are the way of life,” Higher education should be your way of life.
If I had it to do all over again, as a Christian, I would read one book a week and memorize at very least one verse a week. Had I done so, I would have read over 2,300 books by now and would know the same number of verses of Scripture. Read, memorize Scripture and invest your time in the pursuit of knowledge. Continue beginning tomorrow learning all you can is my counsel.
2) Learn to Lead others into a life of winning souls to Christ
TL Osborn is an evangelist who has been preaching the gospel world-wide for over 6 decades. He arguably has preached to more people than anyone in history. He was the graduation speaker for Rhema Bible Center, Kenneth Hagin’s school in Tulsa, Oklahoma which specializes in teaching on the subject of faith. In his sermon, TL rebuked the graduates saying something like, “Most of you aren’t interested in fulfilling the “Great Commission” and taking the gospel of salvation around the world. Most of you want to buy a mobile home and drive around holding “Faith Seminars.” Many young leader’s idea of leadership is telling others how to do it! But, what is the “it” that we should really be telling people how to do?
The greatest leader of all time, Jesus, took 12 men and told them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He didn’t say, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to build a big church. Follow me and I’ll show you how to perform miracles. Follow me and I’ll show you how to teach others to live the Christian life.” No, He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
If you’re not by your words and deeds ever keeping paramount the importance of winning the lost to Christ, you are not a Christ-like leader. Paul is arguably the greatest Christian leader of all time and he said, “I am all things to all men that I might win some.” The bottom line for Paul was winning the lost. Charlie Sheen says life is all about being a “winner” and “winning.” He means by that: “winning” by beating others, winning financially, and winning at acting. But, Paul defines winning as winning men to Christ.
This can and should include attempts to publically preach Christ and gain the attention of the lost. But, as Christ showed us, it can include one person at a time: a woman at a well, an impotent man at a pool of water, a demonized man living in a graveyard. Soul winning is Advancing the kingdom one person, one conversation at a time.
The wisest man who ever lived said, “He who wins souls is wise.” (Prov. 11:30). So wisdom is not proven by how many people leave their church to join yours because you are a better preacher, or because your church has the best music or the best cappuccino in the foyer. The bottom line of wisdom is that souls are won. If souls aren’t being won, it isn’t wisdom at all, it’s baloney: Your like Charlie Sheen holding so called “torpedo of truth” tours, gaining a following of people who find you more entertaining. But, Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified by her children.” If 2 years from now, you don’t have sons and daughters in the faith left behind everywhere that you go, then you are not wise: Solomon said it! Prove him otherwise if you dare.
3) Great Leaders learn to Make things happen
It’s been said that there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who don’t know anything is happening.
Donald McGannon wrote, “Leadership is action, not position.” Leadership isn’t a title. It isn’t a PHD placard sitting on a desk. Leadership requires action. Leaders are making things happen: people see it, get excited about and want to be a part of it. Someone said: “If you think you’re a leader, look behind you. If no one is following you, all you’re doing is taking a walk.” I hope none of you is going to walk away from this school of ministry and one day soon look behind you to discover that no one is following you. To ensure that this doesn’t happen you must learn how to make things happen.
You accomplish nothing if you attempt nothing, so attempt something. Welcome mistakes, embrace them and determine you’ll learn from them. Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." Your success as a leader will likely follow on the heels of many failures. But, learn to see those failures as merely steps to your success. Rocks can be stumbling blocks to success or stepping stones: you determine which they become.
Determine you’d rather mess up than miss out! Secure leaders aren’t afraid to make mistakes. My sister, Elaine, is a prophet. When she was in the beginning stages of her prophetic ministry, I was her pastor. One time I told my congregation that we were struggling financially. I explained that if we could just get one new tithing family a week for 10 weeks that we would be financially secure. My sister “felt a witness” and walked up and prophesied that I had my new member each Sunday for 10 weeks. We rejoiced: but, I didn’t get one of the 10! We have laughed about it since. Elaine was embarrassed by it, but she learned from it. She didn’t stop prophesying because of a mistake. She just was more careful.
Now, Elaine travels with me in ministry around America. And pastor after pastor has commented on how accurate her prophecies are! You’ll mess up in your attempts to lead people, but better a mess every now and then than a complete miss every time!
John Wooden, UCLA champion basketball coach observed that, “Winners make the most errors.” Unless you’re ready to make “errors” you aren’t ready to be a winning leader.
Fear probably keeps leaders from becoming great more than anything. I see three fears that keep leaders from boldly blazing a trail for others to follow . . .
1) Fear of man: How can you know if someone is a trail blazing pioneer? By the arrows in his back! If you are taking people new places in God, men will resent you, criticize you, and hate you when you are doing things they can’t or aren’t doing. Jesus warned, “Beware when all men speak well of you.” Solomon explained, “The fear of man sets a trap.” Don’t let the fear of what man will say about you cause you to be trapped in the bondage of inertia.
2) Fear of pain: Great leaders must pay the price of pain. Paul’s 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 description of his years of leadership is fraught with pain: “Are they ministers of Christ? . . . I am more; in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often . . . five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep . . . in perils of robbers . . . in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” You want to be a great leader like Paul? Get ready for pain. No pain; no gain is as true of leaders as it is of weight lifters. The weight of true leadership always causes pain: the Captain of our salvation’s scars in his hands bare eternal witness to this truth. Do you have scars yet? If you’re a great leader you soon will!
David Livingston was a great leader. He kissed his wife goodbye in England and went to Africa to try to blaze a trail to the interior for missionaries to follow to reach the heart of darkest Africa. Leaders are trailblazers. David’s actions as a trialblazer was in the spirit of what Harold McAlindon wrote: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
David requested that when he died, his heart would be buried in Africa: he loved it so much. David’s pain? For two years his wife didn’t know if he was dead or alive. He suffered with malaria, was attacked by a lion, lost a son in the battle of Gettysburg, buried his wife and young daughter in Africa and himself was found dead in his tent on his knees at his bed as though in prayer. The natives, grateful for his labor on their behalf, carried his body by hand 1000 miles to the ocean so that it could be buried back in England. As they passed by villages along the way, other tribes would inquire what they were doing. When they found out, they would ask incredulously, “Why are you carrying this man so far?” Their answer: “This is a big man.” Great leaders are big men. Big: not because of their big TV viewership, big church, big books or big reputation: they’re big because of their big scars. Future leader, are you prepared for your future scars?
3) Fear of failure. This fear brings us to our next Great Leader requirement
4) Great Leaders Learn how to live with failure
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, he was too impractical and temperamental to be a success. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858: yet he ultimately became a man now considered one of our 3 greatest presidents (along with Washington, and FDR).
Winston Churchill failed sixth grade. He was subsequently defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62 (Heh, I’m 62! Can I have your vote for President?). Churchill later wrote, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up."
Thomas Edison's teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for being "non-productive." Yet, he became America’s greatest and most productive inventor.
Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4-years-old and didn’t read until he was 7. His parents thought he was "sub-normal," and one of his teachers described him as "mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams." He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. Is there anybody here who now considers Einstein a failure?
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball teams. He later reported, "I've failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed."
Babe Ruth is famous for his past home run record, but for decades he also held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times in his career (about which he said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.").
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
Decca Records turned down a recording contract with the Beatles with the evaluation, "We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out."
27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss's first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
Jack London received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story.
Thus we see that history is replete with eventual successes and Great Leaders who experience failure. Confucius said: "Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall." Before Confucius said that, Solomon wrote, “A righteous man falls 7 times and rises up again.” You are righteous, but you are still going to fall. You are likely to fail often in life. But, rise up again. Some here may never gain complete dominion over one big weaknesses or may go many years in the wilderness of the five W’s: “What? Why? When? Where? Wow, this isn’t any fun at all.”
Moses didn’t get to enter the Promised Land because of his failure to overcome his anger, yet he was a great leader who led millions out of Egyptian bondage. Paul never got his prayer answered to be delivered from the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, but it didn’t keep him from praying faithfully for others. Maybe what seems like a failure to you; in God’s eyes is really just a part of your further schooling.
It’s called “the death of a vision.” You were so sure. It seemed to be so workable. You thought you had heard so clearly from God. But, your plans, wishes, hopes and dreams were destroyed. Moses experienced it tending sheep for 40 years on the backside of the desert. He killed a man, so sure that he God would use him to deliver Israel. But Israel didn’t believe it. And, Pharaoh didn’t believe it. He ran for his life and didn’t see his dream fulfilled for 40 years. Joseph’s vision died when he spent years in prison for something he didn’t do.
I understand the concept of “the death of a vision.” As a 21 year old Bible college graduate, I expected to have a ministry like Billy Graham. I “knew” I would be famous in the body of Christ. Now, at 62 years of age, I am virtual unknown and preach in small churches to small crowds around America. I had to die to my 21 year old vision. Oh, there is still a hope that Paul Crouch will realize how great I am and let me speak on TBN, but I have learned to live with the death of my vision and still keep doing my best to lead others into their vision.
Nietche wrote, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” The death of my vision didn’t kill me, it made me stronger. I am wiser, humbler (Now, I didn’t say I’m humble, I’m just humbler than I used to be). And I’m certainly more of a servant to the body of Christ than I was when I was in my 20s. I now have a newly developing vision as I age: and that is a vision of rising up young people to do what I had always wanted to do, and never did. I want to make people like you to be great leaders. True greatness is making someone else great! Some of you need to die to your selfish vision. Some of you are no more than a Christian American Idol contestant: full of your own plans and need for success, acceptance and admiration of others. If that’s where you are today, God won’t let you stay there.
When I came to my first pastorate in Sheridan Wyoming, as a proud, self-confident man of 23, I remember sitting at the piano in the sanctuary playing on Saturday night before my first Sunday morning sermon. I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, any day I’ll have one of the biggest churches in the organization.” Why? Because Dea Warford had come to town! I learned the hard way; nobody was excited the Dea Warford had come to town: sinners, Christians or even the devil. Before long, the attendance not only didn’t increase, it began to decrease. I remember preaching one evening and looking out across the audience, I counted 5 people who were sleeping while I was preaching!
This wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up! So, I started fasting and praying for the power of God in my life and within 6 months, I was leading a team of 13 people in an evangelist tour where we saw people saved, filled and healed by God’s power. Failure as a pastor became my launching pad to the leadership position wherein I would see the most success: as an evangelist.
Nearly 4 decades later, I left the evangelistic field and tried again to pastor a church. Just as before, the church shrank instead of grew. So, I went back to the itinerate evangelistic field, and by the grace of God I plan to stay here: whether you sleep through my sermons or not.
So, see your failures as launching pads for the rocket of your most successful talents to launch you into your intended orbit in God’s universe.
5) Great Leaders Learn How to Hear from God
Young people are often reading and listening and asking leaders for some wise tip. That’s wisdom. But, unfortunately, what they are often really seeking is some “Secret Ministry Technique.” During the 70’s there were some radical changes in churches. They started developing slogan church names to attract people: names like “Faith Center” “Bible Temple” “Christian Fellowship.” “New Life” began springing up everywhere. As I was driving down the 99 Freeway in California one time, I saw a church sign that had all their other slogan names beat hands down: It said simply in big, bold letters, “The Church.” One church boasted this name outside the building, “The “I rebuke you Satan in Jesus Name Church!” Got any ideas what goes on in that church?
Two things that many churches began doing in the 70’s were to remove the hymnals and sing choruses on overhead projectors and some pastors began to sit on a stool while they preached. One of the cutting edge leaders of bringing change to the Foursquare church was Jerry Cook, who pastored one of the fastest growing churches in the organization in Gresham, Oregon. Jerry spoke at a conference and told of a pastor of a small church who wrote him and said, “I’ve taken away my hymnals. I bought a stool. But, my church still isn’t growing. What am I doing wrong?”
There’s no “secret ministry technique” that will make you a successful great leader. It’s still today “the anointing that breaks the yoke.” There’s just one technique you really need to develop: and that is to hear from God. The Bible is full of great men who heard from God: Paul on the road to Damascus, Moses at the burning bush, Elijah who “stood before God;” prophets who heard from and then spoke the word of the Lord before Kings.
You must know what God wants you to do if you are going to do anything that really lasts. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Francis Frangipane wrote, “Our primary purpose in life must be to abide in Christ.”
As you daily abide in Christ, talk with Him in the quietness of the early morning hours, as you listen for His voice, ready to obey Him: the Lord will give you directions. You’ll need God’s directions too, because when men fight your leadership; when pain causes you to draw back; and when failures make you doubt yourself: you have to be able to look back at a time when you know you heard from God so you can continue to “fight the fight of faith.” FF Bosworth wrote, “Faith begins where the will of God is known.”
But Dea, that’s my problem, I don’t know what the will of God is for my life. Then, seek Him until you find Him. Because if you don’t know where you are going, no one is going to follow you. Or, worse, as Jesus said, “If the blind lead the blind, they all fall in the ditch.”
When I was a young pastor, I would imitate other leaders. Jack Hayford was the man I respected more than anyone on earth. Some said I sounded like him when I preached. One time when my daughter was little, I had one of Jack’s cassette teachings playing in my car. Carissa, asked, “Is that you daddy?” I said, “No, just one of my wannabees!” (Ha, ha). I so imitated Jack Hayford, that I preached his truths, sang his songs, and even prophesied his prophecies! I tried desperately to get on Jack Hayford’s staff or tried to get him to counsel me. One time I was going through a deep trial, walking down the street, I thought to myself, “Oh, if I only had Jack Hayford walking here beside me to counsel with me.” God had had enough! He took Jack forever out of my life. The Lord has again and again through the years, let man fail me. He let man give me the wrong counsel. He let man embarrass and reject me. I was by nature insecure, raised by an insecure alcoholic father and always looking for a father figure or a man to affirm me: a man I could truly follow.
God had to teach me the truth, as Rick Warren put it well in his book, The Purpose Driven Life: “Not imitation but inhabitation”
The Lord longs to inhabit your life. He longs to incarnate Himself in you. He longs to communicate His purpose in you and live out his power through you. This will only be discovered as you learn to follow Him. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Not, “Follow me as I follow Peter.” It’s alright to learn from others, quote them, and even get their counsel at times. But, ultimately as Great Leaders, you simply have to know how to get your directions directly from God Himself, in your devotional times in the Word, in your times in His presence. And, you have to learn to stand alone, secure that you really are never alone anyway.
Don’t see yourself as a man or a woman with great power and abilities. See yourself as someone who knows a God who has great power and abilities! Lead through His leadership.
6) Great Leaders must learn to die to self
Matthew 20:26-28 (NKJV): “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Great leaders, in the final analysis, are but servants. And, Jesus said, servants “give their life a ransom for many.”
John 12:23-27 (NKJV) further clarifies this truth: “But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” Jesus, as the Greatest leader of all time, came for the purpose of dying.
Notice the above verse: “Unless a grain of what falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone (In other words, no one is following) but if it dies, it produces much grain (That’s a metaphor for a harvest of souls).”
Somebody give me the name of a great leader. Speak the name of one out loud. . . . Most of us know these great leaders. But, let me ask a question. Who recognizes this leader’s name: “Robert Semple?” Very few. Now, who knows this leader’s name: “Aimee Semple McPherson.” Let me close my message tonight by telling you a story of greatness. A story about a big man. A story about a leader who fell into the ground and died and by so doing produced a harvest of souls.
Aimee Semple was a teenager living in Canada during the first decade of the 20th century. She attended a revival where a young Pentecostal evangelist named Robert Semple was preaching. His preaching moved her and eventually she committed her life to Christ. Robert was Single and began to fall in love with Aimee and began courting her. One day after returning from a crusade, he came to her house with a map of China. He shared the great burden that he had to win that nation to Christ. Turning from the map to Aimee, He said, “Aimee, marry me and help me win the Chinese to Christ. But wait, before you answer me, let’s kneel at this sofa and ask the Lord about it.”
They knelt in prayer. Immediately, Aimee saw a vision of her and Robert walking hand in hand up a road into the distance. She opened her eyes; she was so shocked; this was her first vision. She closed her eyes, and again saw the same vision, but this time she was walking on that road alone. She interpreted the vision as an answer of “yes” to marry Robert.
Before long they were married and on a boat on their way to China to serve as missionaries. They had no promise of support, just a call and faith in God. Aimee would later recount how Robert would sing around the house (to the tune of “Bringing in the Sheaves:”)
“Bringing in Chinese, Bringing in Chinese, We shall come rejoicing bringing in Chinese. Bringing in Chinese, Bringing in Chinese, We shall come rejoicing bringing in Chinese.”
While lying on his lap one day, Robert told Aimee, “Somehow, I feel that one day, I will rise to meet the Lord in the air from Chinese soil, and around me I will see the many Chinese that I have won to Christ.” Within weeks of that statement, while still in his 20’s, Robert was dead of Malaria before he had a chance to see his vision of winning many Chinese come to pass. Aimee was a pregnant widow and soon a young mother and had to return to the states. But, God’s call on her to preach the gospel continued to beckon her. But, how could she do it? She was a woman and a mother. She fought and fought the call until literally on her deathbed, she at last said yes to the call.
She started out playing the piano and serving table for other preachers, but soon developed her own ministry which eventuated in one of the greatest healing ministries in the history of America. She built one of the first super churches in America, Angeles Temple, in Los Angeles. It seated over 5,000 people and she preached to over 20,000 a week. Many in wheelchairs and on cots were lined up at the altar and many were miraculously healed through Aimee’s prayers. She was on the front page of the LA Times at least three times a week for years. She preached in some of the largest auditoriums in America, built a Bible College, and started the Foursquare Organization and a Missions program that now reaches into over 100 nations of the world. Aimee went to be with Christ in 1944. But, nearly 70 years later, because of her great leadership, over one million souls a year come to Christ through the Foursquare work around the world.
And somewhere in the Hong Kong China area is a cruel, cruel grave. On its tombstone is written these words:
“Here lies Robert Semple” “He led me to Christ” Aimee Semple Mcpherson
One day a trumpet is going to sound. And from that cold, dark grave is going to rise a big, big man and a great leader. And as he looks around, he will not only see many Chinese joining him to meet the Lord in the air, but he will see millions and millions of souls from scores of nations of the earth.
Robert is fulfillment of the truth: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies; it abides along. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” The call to be a great leader, to influence and lead many to Christ, is a call to die: to be such a dedicated servant, that you are willing to die to self, die to sin, die to your ambitions, die even to the comforts and conveniences of living in America. And for some, to even become a martyr for Christ. Death to self, this is what servant hood and true leadership are all about.
As we watch current events on TV, America seems to be approaching its darkest hour. Darkness is soon to cover the earth, as Isa. 60 predicted. But, hallelujah, His light is going to rise upon us. The world will soon be desperate for someone has got to show lost, hopeless people how to live and how to die. Great darkness and great conflict is a call for great leaders.
I challenge each one of you graduates tonight to sign up for a new ministry program: the life-long-learning of leadership. Learn how to Continue to Learn; learn how to Lead others into a life of winning people to Christ; learn how to Make things happen; Learn how to live with failure : Learn How to Hear from God; and learn how to die to self. Develop a servant spirit. Be a great leader. Seek to serve and, unlike on American Idol, you’ll have no competition.