By Jeff Miller, District Superintendent
I was at a District Senior’s Retreat when a gentleman from my previous church came over to show me something. He had been doing some cleanup at the church and ran across some stacks of old pictures. There were pictures of myself in pastoral actions complete with a slimmer look and hair. There was my bride, adorable as ever, as well as two very young girls, of course being my daughters. And then there was Mal Anderson.
Mal was the president of my fan club. Ok, there was no formal organization. He was not elected and there was no ID card to present. But, he was essentially the self-appointed champion of his new, young pastor. I was 36 when I began as senior pastor. I had some years of ministry experience but was now taking wobbly steps into the realm of lead leader. It was new, daunting and challenging. I soon made rookie mistakes. I would sometimes drop the ball or let people down. I had much to learn and expectations were high.
Mal volunteered to be the head elder that year, and for the next two years that followed. He was retired and had a little margin in his life. He chose to use it to be close to this young, unseasoned leader. He would meet with me before elders meetings and board meetings. He wanted to hear my heart and then would lead and influence me in the direction I felt God was leading us to go. He would own my dreams as his own. He did this formally for several years until he sensed I had my legs under me and then he continued to do it informally until he was called home as a ‘good and faithful servant’.
He went with me to visit people. He dropped by my office just to laugh and pray. He ran interference for me in ways I’ll never fully know until glory. He was my Barnabas in public (son of encouragement) and if ever there was a concern it was addressed privately. Even when giving some constructive criticism it was always wrapped up in grace and blessing. He oozed optimism about me and my leadership. It was contagious.
He wasn’t so much an intentional mentor or coach (though I learned so much from him), however he was the sunshine on some occasional cloudy days. He championed me. He was Hur holding up my arms. He was Tonto at my side in every challenge. He was to me as Barnabas was to Paul and as Paul was to Timothy. He was cheering from the sidelines as I ran toward the ribbon. He was Jesus in skin for me as I learned to lead and fulfill the calling God had for me.
Now ask yourself: “Who is the young Christ-follower that I ought to come alongside and champion?” Better yet, ask the Spirit to reveal it to you. There is always someone younger, newer on their faith and service journey than you. If you are the Mal Anderson of the story, then who is the young Jeff Miller you are to ride alongside? Assume the role of president of their fan club.
In a world full of critics and armchair quarterbacks, a true advocate is rarer than finding a huge emerald or large gold nugget out in the wild. But you can choose to be such a person. No degree needed. No appointment necessary. No election to win. Just a smile laced with laughter, a heart of hope and expectation, and the gift of an encouraging presence. You can be both promoter and protector. And in doing so you will be a legacy builder. Be an advocate.