What Mike Riley Taught Me About Leadership

On February 25, 2017 my friend Mike Riley won his valiant thirty year battle with cancer and went to be with the Lord. I learned so much about life and discipleship from my friend and elder Mike. Among the many things I learned from Mike were a number of lessons about leadership. I can only relate to Mike in terms of our common connection at the church. I don’t know how he functioned in other settings, but I expect others had similar experiences with him in the various groups in which he was involved.

Early every Tuesday morning the elders of our church meet and pray together for the needs of those in our church and community of which we are aware. The empty seat at that table still catches my attention. In the Sundays since he was last able to worship with us I have missed seeing him in his second row seat beside Mignon, his rock, inspiration, and lifetime love. In his roles in public life Mike demonstrated some wonderful habits of leadership that I not only want to remember but to emulate. I can’t say that they originated with Mike, but he demonstrated them with excellence.

*SMILE AND BE FRIENDLY. I can’t think of many more admirable qualities than to be able to smile and bring out the smiles in others. Mike had a ready smile and easy laugh. This served to diffuse any tension in the air and gave everyone permission to relax. Anyone meeting Mike for the first time would quickly feel that they had gained a friend. Truthfully, they had.

*SHARE OUT OF YOUR PAIN. Mike’s decades-long battle with cancer gave him a sharp eye for loving and serving others who had cancer. I don’t know how many of Dr. Amy Givler’s books he gave away to those who were just starting down that road. When he found out some acquaintance had cancer, they got a personal visit from him. I know that those people praised God for his compassion and care by the time he walked out of their door. He became a presence of hope and comfort as he pointed the way to THE source of eternal hope and peace. His pain became an invitation to a fellow journeyman down a difficult road.

*NEVER GIVE UP. Mike was a tenacious believer in following through with the things you really believe in. Mike wasn’t one to ditch an idea because he ran into a tough spot. He was one to think up new approaches and was willing to try another way. Mike didn’t give up on people, even when they struggled. He didn’t give up on his dreams to see Forsythe Church of Christ become a great(er) church. He never gave up on praying for others. He never let his health issues cause him to give up (at least when I was observing… I’m sure he had his moments in private).

*DON’T GET STUCK ON ONE THING. It may have been more about his personality, but Mike was interested in so many different things. He was socially involved in several clubs and organizations over the years. Aside from the fact that he grew up in Monroe, I think most everyone in town knew him because he had served alongside them in some capacity or another. His interests were varied and that put him in contact with many people he otherwise would not have been able to influence.

*LOVE YOUR MINISTER. It was my pleasure to be Mike’s preacher for the last nine years of his life. Like anyone else, I always appreciate encouraging words about my work. I could tell that Mike put some thought into the things he would say about my sermons. It would have been OK for him to say, “that was a good sermon, John”. Instead he has said, “I can tell you put a lot of preparation into that message – you always do.” If he could, Mike always set down what he was doing if I asked to meet with him or called him on the phone. Mike truly made me feel like I was a very important person. He was so good at valuing my opinions and concerns.

Mike, Mignon, and Keith Roberts at Area Wide Singing August 2010

*PAY ATTENTION TO THE TIME. Mike was committed to make sure we started on time at church.  It could be that this was just a habit of his. I appreciated his timeliness because it added to his reputation of dependability. If he told me he was picking me up at a certain time, he would be a few minutes early. If he ran late, he called. It was a matter of being a man of his word and also considerate of others. 

*DEFLECT AND PASS ALONG CREDIT. It wasn’t hard to complement Mike Riley, but he seldom allowed it to settle on him. He would either deflect the complement as too much or he would pass along credit. If you complimented him you would most likely hear him begin to brag on his wonderful wife Mignon and give her the credit. Sometimes he would remember that it was his dad that taught him something important that led to the compliment. If you thanked him for his work in the eldership of our church he would point to the other elders with whom he served and share the love. 

*SHOW UP.  It was crucially important to Mike to show up. If you had a surgery, he showed up (often with Mignon) to pray for you in the prep room before the surgery actually took place. I had never heard of being present in that space before I became the minister at Forsythe. I found out that it is a cold and scary place, just before going under the knife. Of course Mike knew that from his own surgeries. I also remember on a miserable day with rain pouring out of the sky, Mike and Mignon and Ronnie and Billie Teague took the three hour drive to the Lehrton Cemetery in Ruleville, Mississippi and sat with us while our son was buried. We had only known them a few months, but he showed up. He always did.

I’m sure I can think of more over time but these are the ones that are so vivid in my mind. His absence is an enormous part of my life.  I’m certain it is much more so in the lives of his beautiful family. He left a legacy of hope, faith, and love that remains strong in my memories. Those memories challenge me to be a better leader, Christian, and friend. 

Thanks for reading, JD.

 

 

 

When We Met Frank and Linda

I  know that when people hear me start in on Katrina stories they do their best to hide their expression that says “Oh no, not again!” I understand. But I have a reason to revisit this story. 

Katrina hit August 29, 2005. Unforgettable date for anyone who lived there at the time. Our home was flooded but also our church building just a block away. There were several people who worked hard at the church building to clean up. There was no power…it was late August… hot and nasty work. And of course we were thinking about when we might be able to gather as a church again. One day I went out back and there was a red and white tent set up. It was a total surprise to me, and a welcome one. David White at one time had been a deacon at Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport was now a deacon at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville where he and his family lived. David, as I understand it, was doing relief work on the Coast and had the tent set up.

The next Sunday we had folding chairs and had tried to pass the word around as best as we could that we would have a time of worship. No one had cars (they had flooded) and there was no electricity… no cell towers for calls … so we didn’t know who would be there. People from the surrounding neighborhood walked up to the tent for worship. It was quite an experience. Later we stored all kinds of supplies under that tent and people would drive by and tell us what they needed and we would put it in their trunk. 

David wasn’t through helping us and in time arranged for my family to come to Nashville to visit with a missions committee and perhaps to speak to the Brentwood Hills church about what we were doing. That was a rare privilege, as it was impressed on me that they do not usually allow basically unknown guests to get up like that. Thanks to David and the leadership there we were able to share the mission on the Coast. We also enjoyed a wonderful reception the night before. We stayed in the home of another Deacon, Frank Shelton.

(As an aside, it was also on this trip that I met another amazing person, Joe Dudney, which I wrote about HERE.)

Frank and Linda were wonderful hosts. They were very warm and inviting and we felt at home. Frank showed an interest in John Robert and showed him a prized Mustang convertible he had. We took some pictures in it and then Frank took us on a drive through the Lipscomb University campus. It was so much fun and quite a reprieve from the hard work going on back on the Coast. The Sheltons had a condo on Kentucky Lake and told us we could stay there anytime it was available. We did that once, and it was a beautiful time away.

Over the years Frank kept in touch via email and shared with me some of the mission works that were close to his heart. I knew that he was battling lung cancer for the past few years. Last night Frank won his battle and now is with the Lord. I don’t think any of us know exactly how God has things worked out on the other side, but I hope that Frank and John Robert can take a spin in a Mustang again. 

In the rubble of our post-Katrina world there were many bright encouragers. Frank and Linda, and David, shine strongly through those dark days because they loved with the love of the Lord. 

Here are the arrangements for Frank Shelton’s service:
Visitation will be held at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, June 23rd from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 24th from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ on Saturday, June 24th at 2:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to:
Union Health Foundation, Frank and Linda Shelton Scholarship Fund
Union Health Foundation
1606 North 7th Street
Terre Haute, Indiana 47804
OR

Brentwood Hills Church of Christ (memo: in memory of Frank Shelton) for
the Bright Angels Christian Academy in Oduwo, Kenya.
Brentwood Hills Church of Christ
5120 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37220

or by visiting: brentwoodhills.org

There was an Army of Volunteers. I See that Frank and Linda are on this partial list of people who helped us. (LINK)

Thanks for reading. JD

My Commitments in Preaching

Preaching is such an odd experience, even though I’ve been doing it weekly for over thirty years. The sermons I think are really awesome on paper can be turkeys while the sermons I think are really stinky can enjoy a great reception. I chalk it up to the fact that God is at work when His word is being preached. I have no other explanation. Sometimes people thank me for something I said and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything about it. I’ve also said some things in sermons that I did not prepare and I had no idea where they came from. I’ve heard Terry Rush stop his preaching and say something like, “Thank you Lord! Somebody write that down!”  Never try to remove the mystery from preaching.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12 (NRSV)

Even so, I’m not of the mind that preachers should just get up and start talking about whatever comes from the top of their head. Preaching is important, but not because preachers are important. Preaching deserves full attention. I know I’m not alone in this, but I thought I’d share some of my commitments when it comes to preaching. There are probably more, but these come to mind.

STUDY IS ESSENTIAL FOR GOOD PREACHING. Sermon preparation takes time. I have known of preachers who would tear a page out of a sermon outline book and head to the pulpit with it. Sermon preparation in terms of study, reading, and prayer should lead the preacher to wrestle within so that what emerges has touched the heart of the proclaimer first.

CONTENT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFORMANCE. I’m sure that both are important and there’s a place for paying attention to these aspects of preaching. I’ve heard some ‘WOW’ sermons that were devoid of much Scripture and I’ve heard some ‘boring’ sermons that were rich with life-changing truth. It seems to me we ought to do our best to present the message with energy and vigor, but there is a responsibility on the hearer to make every effort to hear a word from the Lord.

 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:1,2

 

LET THE SCRIPTURES LEAD YOUR PREACHING. Nothing is more powerful than the inspired word of God. Not great stories. Not personal testimony. Not amazing quotes. All of these can assist the message, and should. But the power is in the Word. I’ve heard of church members who counted how many Scripture references were in a sermon and felt that it wasn’t very good if there were less than fifty! I prefer to pick a passage and stick with it. I’m not opposed to using some supporting material from other passages, but if you allow a passage to lead your sermon you are much more likely to get to the meat of that passage rather than just tossing out a bunch of verses that may or may not even be related to the subject of your text. Proof texting is not evil, it’s just sloppy. What is the context of your passage? How does it fit into the larger story of Scripture? These are important anchors for sharing the word and will of God.

STRETCH YOUR PREACHING BEYOND FAVORITE PASSAGES. If all the ink is worn out on your page containing Acts 2 or John 14, then it might be time to realize there are 66 outstanding documents bound up together in your volume! One reason I have preached along with the Revised Common Lectionary over the past four years is that it pushes me to preach from passages I might otherwise pass over. You may have the self-discipline to do that on your own. As for me, I appreciate being on a journey through the Scriptures each year that recognizes the high points of the life of Jesus and the Christian calendar.

SEEK TO INCREASE YOUR STOREHOUSE. When it comes to Bible knowledge we all have a storehouse that is probably well-stocked. But that shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. Personally, when I look at my old sermons I thank God at how patient the church has been with me. Growth has to be intentional. I used to preach about some things that are no longer on my palette. It is not that I was unfaithful then … it’s just what I knew then. Now I know more. And I hope that continues into the future.

I DON’T USE SERMONS AS A WEAPON. I’m thinking about people who sit in front of me each week and listen to what I have to share with them. That is such a precious privilege. I do not use my sermons to attack people. I don’t believe God has presented this opportunity to share the Word with His people (and any others who may be present) so that I can cut them down with the Scriptures. I know the Prophets were pretty plain and also direct. Maybe there’s a time for that. But I also know the Prophets were inspired directly by God to deliver those messages. I think it is the right thing to consider that in every pew is a broken heart, a thirsty soul, a person who needs to know the love of Jesus. If there is rebuking or correcting to be done, let the Word do it. I’ve heard some angry sermons by preachers who exalted themselves and it wasn’t pretty. Trying to provoke and correct and even manipulate people with the sermon moment is, to me, an abuse of the pulpit. Issue a challenge! Point them to God who deserves our all! Show examples of those who chose well and chose poorly. But never use the pulpit for your own personal means of telling people off.

BE RESPECTFUL. Be respectful of God and His word. Be respectful of the senior citizens in your audience and be respectful of the younger crowd. Be respectful of your faith-family’s heritage. Be respectful of your elders or church leaders. Be respectful of your wife and children. Be respectful of the struggles your parishoners have gone through.  I’ve heard all of these violated over the years and it’s absolutely painful. I’ve also seen those preachers move every year or two, never able to settle down and live through the journey of life with fellow Christians. It’s never wrong to be kind.

Those are some of my commitments in preaching. I don’t always hit a home run, but I do always do my best to keep these things in mind when I preach. I think they are not necessarily ‘ten steps to preach at a big church’, but they are some thoughts that will help you love your church and be loved by your church.

 

LINK: A post from 2013 with some ruminations about preaching and some similar ideas.

Thanks for reading, JD

New Directions in Preaching

I’ll admit that this is a bit preliminary, but I wanted to ruminate a bit on preaching. Although the actual preaching event takes up very little time on my weekly calendar, the preparation for it takes up a lot of time. About four years ago I wrote some posts (linked below) that considered a decision I made to preach along with the Revised Common Lectionary. 

I don’t know what that has been like on the hearer’s side of things. I can tell you, though, that on the preacher’s side of things it has been an immense blessing. I was led through the Scriptures on four different routes over the past four years. This encouraged me to preach on passages that I might have otherwise ignored or thought of as difficult. Maybe that says something bad about me, but one of the hardest things I’ve faced is choosing which texts I should preach. The RCL removed that burden and pointed me toward preaching through the life of Jesus each year. Terms that are seldom used in churches of Christ became familiar around our place. Advent was one of those terms. We preached through theChristmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter seasons – each one drawn from the life of Jesus or events in the church calendar. This coming Sunday is Pentecost. Acts 2 is the holy grail of churches of Christ, so there’s no question that’s where we’ll be on that day. 

The resources available on these texts each week have been overwhelming. There’s so much more than I could ever read. So, I’m thankful for the RCL and the tour I’ve been on for the past four Years. In late June and July I’ll preach from the Romans texts and then follow up with four lessons from Matthew. 

And then my relationship with the RCL is going on hiatus. That doesn’t mean I’ll never visit it again and make another run through the three years of texts. There’s too much good there to abandon forever. 

But don’t worry. I’m not just going to preach whatever pops into my mind. I think that’s way too limited a resource! No, I’m still interested in making my way through the Scriptures in the calendar year. I’m still interested in the Gospels keeping their place in the center of my lessons (and life).  So what’s next? Thats for another post. 

If you needed a reminder, here are the posts about choosing to follow the RCL:

The Preacher’s Dilemma

The Preacher’s Direction

The Preacher’s Decision

The Preacher’s Debate

HERE is the address to subscribe to audio sermons.

Our church website is HERE… and each week the notes for the sermons are posted.

And while I’m at it you’re welcome to join us on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, and TWITTER.

Thanks for reading, JD.

 

LOST

The last episode of LOST ran on May 23, 2010. I know many hated it, but I loved it…and loved the entire show. It captured the imagination of so many people…including those who made fan videos.  Here are some of my favorite fan videos.

Addicted to LOST

Stop Crying Your Eyes Out

What Hurts the Most

My Immortal

Jack and Kate I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

EVERYTHING you need to know about LOST in 8:15.

There are so many great fan videos out there…a great tribute to an awesome show. I’ll miss LOST. Until I pull out my DVD sets to start all over again!

John

Nine Years Later

Everyone has defining moments in their life. Sometimes they are wonderful. What day did you get married? What was your first car? Sometimes they are marked by disaster. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you when Katrina hit? Sometimes they are marked by loss. When did your son die? That’s our defining moment. Everything is before or after that date. This day.

From the beginning I knew that grief was an unwelcome guest that moved into my heart and would never leave. The loss of John Robert is the subtext of my life. His face flashes before me at the most unexpected times. A memory will arise out of my mind that catches me by surprise. A moment of tears. A moment of laughter. Grief reminds me frequently. I’m still here.

Out at Gulf Coast Bible Camp

The loss of a child is not only a defining moment in one’s own life, but it becomes a kind of life preserver on the waters next to newly bereaved parents who are drowning in their sorrows. Many times people have referred strangers to me to just talk about grief. The loss of a child is the only connecting factor, and the only important one.  All I can really do is sit in the ashes with them and listen and say ‘I know‘ and ‘It won’t always hurt like this‘ and ‘It is ok to cry as much as you want‘… repeating words that were said to me in the early part of our journey. As I see it, if I cannot shed a little light for someone just starting down this dark path, then my experience would be for nothing. John Robert loved his friends and he would do anything for them. I’d like for that spirit to live on as I try to bless others who are thrown into the Great Sadness.

Since this is the ninth anniversary (that word sounds too nice) of his death, I wanted to gather the posts I wrote before. Starting with the one on the day he died. I can’t imagine how I pulled it together long enough to compose that, except that I have found writing to be cathartic … healing. I guess I didn’t write a post about his death in 2013 and 2016. The 2016 post is a reflection of going to the first graduation since John Robert died just a few days before his own.

John Robert Dobbs October 23, 1989 – May 21, 2008

Through It All (2009)

Reflections of a Bereaved Parent (2010)

The End of Our World? (2011)

4 (2012)

Six Years (2014)

Seven (2015)

Graduation and Grief (2016)

HERE is a page of grief resources I update occasionally. Feel free to share it with anyone suffering through a loss.

And as I have shared so many times, HERE is a page where I attempted to tell in a brief way John Robert’s story.

As always, thank you for reading.  And for so many expressions of support, love and prayer. We will always believe that we are where we are at this point because of the prayers of godly people. You are appreciated. JD