There was a knock on the door of our farmhouse. I say "our," but it really belonged to the man who was knocking: our landlord, Mr. Countryman. From the window, I could see Mr. Countryman standing on our step with the usual rectangular carpenter's pencil stuck in the pocket of his pinstriped overalls. Mr. Countryman was a cattleman, carpenter and our landlord. The old farmhouse we rented from him was tucked in a far corner of his property.
When my mother answered the door, Mr. Countryman just came right out with it: "I notice you all do not go to church and would love to invite you to attend mine." It is important to note that we were not church attenders. Prayer was something you did at the halftime of football games if your team was down, Easter was all about colored eggs and chocolate bunnies and to us, Santa Claus was the reason to celebrate Christmas. As a 9-year-old, I do not believe I had ever been in a church. The first Bible I ever owned was given to me a year before, when I was in the third grade, not by a family member or friend, but by Gideons International outside of the entrance to my school. I still have it today: a little green-covered New Testament.
My mother patiently listened to Mr. Countryman and allowed him to finish, but church and God were just not part of the plan for our family. When Mr. Countryman was done making his case, my mother responded in turn with the response I expected, "No, I really do not think I can get up and do that every week." The next words spoken changed my life forever. "Well, I can understand that," Mr. Countryman replied, "but how about your sons coming?"
From that point forward, Mr. Countryman showed up at our door every Sunday morning to pick my brother and me up to take us to Mount Zion Southern Baptist Church. It was Mr. Countryman who bought the little white shirt that I wore as I walked into the Finley River to be baptized. And it was Mr. Countryman who ensured my brother John and I went to church summer camp. He made sure my brother and I not only attended church but were also there for Sunday school and that we understood the lessons and how these applied to our lives.
The day he showed up at our door was not national adopt-an-urchin day. Mr. Countryman was simply living out a personal commitment to his faith. No matter where we moved, and we changed houses about every six months, he or a different member of the congregation showed up on our doorstep to make sure my brother and I were in the pews of Mount Zion.
I think this exemplifies our obligation as leaders to lead and serve even when it isn't glamorous. There was nothing exciting about dragging two poor kids to church every Sunday. There was no banquet held in Mr. Countryman's honor. He received no trophy. In fact, it cost him valuable resources, both time and money—but he believed that living out his purpose was the most important thing he could do.
Do we as leaders serve in this way? Are we willing to lay down our selfish ambitions occasionally to help people who truly need it when there is no resulting return on investment? Though Mr. Countryman did not live to see it, I have grown to be a better man because of his selfless service. In the same way, we as leaders owe the same to our people even if we do not always get to be there to witness the fruits of our efforts. Our job is to buy their development with helium, to pour in high expectations, to supply opportunities and tools, and watch our team soar. Then, we each need to take those around us, give them direction, and create a little wind behind them so that they can move forward. The cost to me is minimal, but the reward to the receiver is unnumbered.
Ron Kitchens is CEO of Southwest Michigan First, which was named one of the best places to work by The Wall Street Journal and Outside Magazine, and author of Uniquely You, releasing from Baker Books on May 21, 2019.
This article was taken from Uniquely You by Ron Kitchens, Baker Books a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2019. Used with permission.
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