Watch an Army squad leader long enough and invariably most will at some point pull out a lime green journal book. Even in this age of Blackberrys, iPhones and electronic “doo-dads”, there is nothing that can compare to that pocket sized notebook. If you take a look inside, you are likely to find pages dedicated totally to the members of his/her squad members. This notebook is guarded tightly but if through some miracle you were able to gain access you would be able to learn the hobbies, names of children and marital status of the troops the squad leader is responsible for. You could also discover the hometowns and other special information about these soldiers.
This little green book holds the secret to great leadership. The successful squad leader knows that in order to truly lead someone you need to know them. While this may be hard for some civilians to understand, in the Armed Forces it is viewed that the soldier, sailor, airman or marine is more than just an employee. That uniformed service member is certainly committed to serving their country during the duty day. But, for the GI he is on duty 24 hours a day. When he goes to a restaurant at the end of the day, he is still a member of the military and expected to act in a way that will not bring discredit upon the US Armed Forces. Therefore, the squad leader needs to know not only what his soldier does during the duty day but he also needs to be aware of what that troop does when he is off duty.
Could it be that a key reason we fail in evangelism is because we have not learned the time-tested lesson of the Army squad leader? Could it be when we drive home and push the button to our garage door opener and enter into our version of the “bat cave” that we do our neighbors a disservice? Come to think of it, I don’t know my neighbors’ children’s names. In fact, I only know her name is Christy because my computer tries to hook up to her password protected wireless from time to time. I have no idea if she is a woman of faith or not. Maybe I need a lime green squad leader book to write down the things that I know about my neighbors so that when given the opportunity I can engage in meaningful conversation that will lead to conversation about Christ.
How much would it mean to you if your neighbor asked about how your children are doing? Would it make you smile the next time you are walking your dog if your neighbor said something to your dog using its name? We all like to feel significant in this life. When I have had dignitaries visit from much higher in the military chain of command I was always very impressed if they knew anything about me. Certainly, they were likely handed a book with staff biographies the night before. However, a sign of a good leader is one that takes the time to truly get to know their people. One wing commander at an Air Force base called everyone “hero” or “shero” because he said he was bad at names. It was a disappointing approach because it was hard to believe the man was sincere in truly caring for people.
For a pastor, it’s incredibly important to learn about your people’s lives. For a person to commit themselves and their family to a pastor’s leadership they want to know the pastor cares for them. But, that is true of Sunday School teachers, bosses, neighbors, major league baseball managers, etc. When a soldier truly feels that he is valued, you can name the hill and tell him to charge it and take it from the enemy. For that soldier, he will not only capture the hill but he may have also taken a few neighboring hills in the process. The same is true for anyone in any station of life. Make your waitress feel special and you will have the best restaurant service ever.
Getting to know people does take time. Jesus poured his life into 12 disciples. We also know that there was an even closer intimacy to 3 of those disciples (Peter, James and John). And, of course John describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (which of course I find interesting that only John describes himself that way) indicating possibly a “best friend” kind of intimacy. Pastor Doug White once likened this relationship Jesus had with his disciples with a soda bottle and garden hose illustration. If you set a soda bottle down in the yard and try to fill it with a garden hose from 50 feet away it will be awkward and you will likely knock the bottle over. But, if you get 10 feet from bottle and try to fill it you will get more water in. But, if you pick the bottle up and insert the hose you will fill it up quickly and efficiently. Maybe we should quit using the 50 feet garden approach with our neighbors and coworkers and truly invest in their lives.