Gap Fillers

By Jeff Miller, District Superintendent

One day my brother and I were roaming the South Carolina countryside in search of adventure and fun together.  Among other things, we stopped to check out historic markers when we came across them.  I know, some of you are thinking, ‘Adventure, reading historically markers, Jeff needs a life’.  To each his own.  We did come across the official UFO Welcome Center (more on that in another article).

In the small town of Camden, we read about a Revolutionary War clash called the Battle of Hobkirk Hill.  It seems the British/Loyalist forces wanted to take the knoll. The American/Patriot troops held the hilltop.  Not only did they hold the strategic advantage of the high ground but they also had the benefit of numbers.  The Continentals on the hilltop were divided into three groups: one on the right side, one on the left, and some of the best troops under the command of Captain William Beatty in the center to hold the hill.

The British troops attacked the hill but were clearly losing in the attempt as the battle went along.  Their progress was halted and it seemed that their efforts were wasted and good personnel were needlessly lost. 

Now I have never shot a muzzleloader but I do understand that they are not highly accurate from long distances.  There is a place for skill but some degree of luck may well play a role in any long-range shot. To the detriment of the Continental forces, in the midst of the skirmish, a sharpshooter managed to hit and kill Captain Beatty.  Almost immediately, the troops in the center of the battle line fell into disarray and began to fall back.  The English forces pushed their advantage and split the patriot troops in the middle.  Soon the battle was over and the Brits stood on the top of Hobkirk Hill.  It was theirs, at least for a brief time.

I pondered that a bit.  Clearly there is much I do not know about the specifics of the Continental troops that were trying to hold the hill.  I do realize that they weren’t trained, crack special forces.  In many cases they were simply militia – farmers and laborers banded together with only minimal training.  But there clearly was organization, hierarchy, strategy and preparation.  They knew the objectives, they knew the plan, and they knew which officers to follow.

So how is it that they fell apart when the leader went down? I fully suspect that the fault lies with the leader.  Had not Captain Beatty prepared his troops for what to do and how to respond if at some point he was out of the picture?  This was warfare, to state the obvious.  People in battle, including officers, do get shot.  Strategies do not always unfold as planned.  Others do need to pick up the banner, the battle, the call of leadership, when someone in charge is down for the count.  How is it that Captain Beatty had not prepared his team for the potentiality of his absence?  In the vacuum of leadership, the followers floundered and fled.  It should not have happened. They were winning. They had the needed people and the advantage of the best turf. 

I suspect that many church leaders have failed in the same way that Captain Beatty failed to prep and train his 1st Maryland Regiment for this eventuality.  There is not a leader on the planet who is immortal (at least this side of heaven).  We will all someday no longer be around to lead our team and ministry.  It might happen years from now.  It might happen on our terms at a time of our choosing.  But it also might happen tomorrow.  It might happen when you least expect it and without you having a chance to add even one more word of instruction. 

Will you have prepared them well?  Will they hold the ground and win the battle (do recall that we are in a spiritual battle with the forces of evil and darkness – you are as much a commander in battle as Beatty was; and the stakes are far higher)?  Or will they flinch and falter?

A leader has not led well if he or she has not prepared the team to thrive in his or her absence.  Have you done your part? Do you have someone to fill the gap if you can no longer stand in that spot?  Does everyone know their role and responsibility if they should have to step up and proceed without you?  The influence of leadership, for good or ill, carries on long after that leader is no longer in the saddle holding a sword and standard.