Rediscovering a Forgotten Key to Effective Leadership
Even though I haven’t seen him in over 35 years, I’ve found myself thinking about Bill Green lately. After hearing my story about Bill, see if you think I owe him an apology.
Bill Green can best be described as a Bible geek. With thick glasses, unkempt hair, and woefully out-of-style clothes, you might picture him as resembling George McFly in the “Back to the Future” movies.
But Bill really knew the Bible, and I’ve never to this day met anyone as committed to one-on-one discipleship.
I had given my heart to Christ as a senior in high school, and I met Bill just a year or two later. He offered to come to my college dorm and disciple me, and at first I happily agreed. I was hungry to know more of God’s Word, and he was eager to teach anyone who would listen.
Sadly, it turned out that Bill and I only got together for our Bible studies three different times. I remember these distinctly, and I can still recite the three specific teachings. In many ways, they became a valuable part of my spiritual foundation, and I also was deeply impacted by Bill’s incredible passion for teaching the Bible to new believers like me.
So why didn’t Bill and I continue to get together? If I gained so much in only three sessions, just think what a Bible genius I could have been if I had hung in there for several years.
However, I soon decided I was “too busy” to continue being discipled by Bill Green.
Although I’m sure I could have learned more great information from Bill, that’s not the full story. You see, discipleship is not just a matter of passing along Bible facts from one person to another. Jesus puts it in nutshell in Luke 6:40 when He says that every disciple will become like his teacher.
The bottom line was that, even though I admired Bill Green’s knowledge of the Bible, I didn’t want to become like him in his personality, demeanor, and attitudes.
I admit that some of this was simply being turned off by his geekiness and his George McFly grooming style and wardrobe. (Can you imagine how your friends would react if George McFly came to visit you regularly at your college dorm?)
But my brief experience in discipleship with Bill Green also served as a warning that Bible knowledge is only one component of the discipleship process. As the apostle Paul warned, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV). Although I was attracted by Bill’s Bible knowledge, I was very turned off by his life.
So if you’re frustrated today in your attempts to win lost people to Christ or lead believers into a deeper relationship with Him, remember this one indispensable key: People must want what you have. If they don’t want to be like you, you’re wasting your time in trying to get them to respond to your message.
I still feel bad that I wasn’t able to overlook Bill’s social awkwardness and dorky appearance. I could have learned a lot from him.
Yet there’s a hidden leadership principle tucked away in God’s instruction about those who would serve as priests in Old Testament days (Leviticus 21:18). Those who had a mutilated or disfigured face couldn’t serve as leaders. Translating this over to the New Testament, the issue isn’t about outward appearance at all. Rather, it’s about accurately reflecting the image of Christ, which requires much more than just communicating Bible factoids.
If you pride yourself on astute communication of Bible knowledge to your would-be followers, remember this leadership key from Paul: “Not content to just pass on the Message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 MSG). People have to be attracted as much by your LIFE as they’re attracted to your message.
My first year as Resident Counselor at U of Cincinnati was 1967. I was in charge of 12Resident Advisers for a dorm of 600 upper class men. Those were years of sex, drugs and rock music and to a country kid from a village in Illinois I was deeply challenged in how to communicate with my staff and students. I went to an intense encounter group conference and came back with a beard. After that, several students felt comfortable to ask me for help with drugs and other problems. Amazing what happens when we join the culture but retain our values and convictions. Before the beard I must have seemed outside the life experience of my students. The hair did not change my heart but it did change my image.