I’ve always been a “lead from the rear” kind of guy.
A firm believer in letting my kids, basketball players, or co-workers learn from their own missed steps off the beaten path.
I don’t have to choose every step for them. I just have to watch from the rear and make sure they’re safe.
But there’s a big difference in the ones that are simply safe and the ones that are scared or hurting…..those needing guidance or encouragement. I suppose I’ve missed a lot of those opportunities by watching over the whole flock without looking closely at individual faces.
Some lessons take a while to sink in. I learned this one while helping with my church’s VBS this past summer.
I had the easiest volunteer job available (crew leader 4th & 5th graders). This is the age where kids are on the borderline of being too old and cool to attend VBS. My job was simply to follow them around to various craft, snack, story, and worship stations/activities and keep them safe (or just inside the church building)……a shepherd of sorts.
On the first night, my group went from opening worship time into the craft room with me “leading from the rear”, just counting heads. I looked casually around the room during crafts to make sure nobody needed help. It seemed that kids ranging from 2nd to 5th grade were placed together for this activity. My own 2nd grade son was in the room, so I mostly walked around the room fist-bumping kids I knew, small-talking with other adults, and giving little notice to the kids I didn’t know.
Something was different on the 2nd night as we entered the craft room and the kids began working on a slightly more challenging project, a bead bracelet.
Before I ever started surveying the room for kids that might be having difficulty with their project, the voice of a single child caught my attention.
My eyes followed the sound of a voice that seemed a bit deep for a 4th or 5th grader. I spotted a boy whose body matched his voice. He was just a bit larger in size than the other kids in his age group and he was seated at a table next to my 2nd grade son Kal.
His loud conversations with Kal told me that he was probably more comfortable talking to Kal than with the kids his age.
I continued to watch and listen as they began their bracelet project. There was something heartwarming and special in the way this boy interacted with my much younger son…..a kindness and innocence that usually disappears by the time boys reach the age of entering middle school.
I could see that he was having trouble threading his beads onto the string bracelet.
So I just pulled up a chair.
The boy’s name was Gabe. I helped him string his beads and finish his bracelet. And we talked. Gabe was starting middle school in a few weeks. He seemed very nervous about it. I assured him that I had three kids who had recently finished at the school he was starting and that they all loved it there. I told him I had coached basketball there and I knew the teachers there were great. But I doubted that I eased his fears.
As my group of kids (14 of them) filed up the church stairs for our closing worship session in the auditorium, I trailed behind them once again. The first kids through the door sparked and enthusiastic question (a joke of a question because of my reserved personality with kids) from my pastor’s wife,
“Who thinks they have the greatest crew leader here tonight?”
Silence……except for Gabe. He shyly raised his hand. And quietly said, “I do.”
I understand now that my actions that night had little impact on his life.
But this special young man found a place in my heart and perhaps served a great purpose in my life.
To follow Jesus means that we are willing to make changes to our sinful, selfish self in order to be more like our Savior.
Jesus was a shepherd. But I’m pretty certain now, because of Gabe, that Jesus was most definitely a “pull up a chair” kind of guy.
Jesus found the person in the crowd that needed Him most, and met them where they were.
If you’re only looking at the crowd as a whole, you’ll never notice that person that needs you most. The one that may truly need your love, kindness, encouragement, gratitude, or prayers.
Leading from the rear has its value. But just being safe isn’t enough.
You can’t tell who needs you if you aren’t willing to look at the faces you’re leading.
I pray that middle school is kind to Gabe. I’m certain that there are people there who will “pull up a chair” if he needs it.
And I’m certain that I’m thankful for lessons learned in my short time with this special young man.