J.D. Schlegel Landscaping was my employer during seminary. The work was grueling as we endured the intense St. Louis heat and humidity, but I made some good friends and learned some important lessons.
My crew focused on cutting grass—large yards in some posh neighborhoods. I even cut Stan Musial’s lawn. “Stan the Man” would flag us down and take time to have a pleasant and encouraging conversation with us. He didn’t have to do that. We were just the help—young hired workers to keep his acreage trimmed and looking good. But Mr. Musial knew what it was like to work hard and make sacrifices. He never forgot how it felt to pay your dues and learn a few things in the school of hard knocks.
Contrast that with some of the children of the homeowners we served. I’ll never forget being treated very poorly by some of the Porsche-driving college kids who lived on the multi-acre estates we cared for.
Without fail, the first generation empathized, but, very often, the second generation was self-absorbed.
It’s a danger we face as church leaders. Our forefathers who established the church we’re privileged to serve did so with extreme sacrifice. Because they loved their Savior and all the people for whom He gave His life, they gave up time, convenience, energy, and resources to bring the Gospel ever farther. Many risked or gave up their lives to see the Kingdom of God be multiplied. The church was a labor of love. These first-generation heroes of faith were stewards of the great gift God had given them. They empathized with fellow servants and new leaders. Together, they fought the good fight of faith and developed a sense of loyalty and respect for one another.
Will we, as “second generation” servant-leaders, fall into the trap of becoming self-absorbed? Will we think more about what we can get than what we can give? Will we nitpick our colleagues or will we give the benefit of the doubt and speak words of encouragement to them? Will we withdraw into woeful tales about an overload of tasks rather than stretch ourselves into new frontiers and relationships? Will we mimic the second-generation residents on my grass-cutting route who treated the “low-life” outsiders carelessly and cruelly or will we cultivate a first-response of kindness founded on the love of Christ for anyone inside or outside the church?
Second generation leaders inherit immense benefits that create the potential for new accomplishments and greater momentum, but the danger of forgetting sacrifice, gratitude and purpose looms large.
What kind of second-generation servant-leaders will we be?
By Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C