Our society spends millions of dollars every year on leadership. Leadership books, leadership seminars, leadership courses in colleges and universities. Leadership gurus make millions every year teaching people the “irrefutable” laws of leadership, or the “seven rules of leadership success”. For all of this investment in the leadership development industry, one would think our nation would have more and better leaders. Author Barbara Kellerman suggests we need to teach people to be followers. Instead, I believe we need more servants.
In Scripture, the word “leader” is not actually used. When God chooses someone in the Bible to lead His people, He calls them as “a servant of the Lord.” And, I don’t know anyone who more appropriately bears that name than Jerry Burgess. Jerry was my predecessor, the head of Grace Community School.
The totality of Scripture tells us a servant of the Lord loves God first and foremost, and is obedient to Him. From that love and passion comes a desire and dedication to serve others. Oswald Chambers says it this way: “If I am devoted solely to the cause of humanity, I will soon be exhausted and come to the point where my love will waver and stumble. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity, even though people may treat me like a “doormat.”
Jerry loved the Lord. He still does. His service to our God was absolute. Grace faced its most trying days on Jerry’s watch, in the mid-1980s when the struggling Texas economy forced Grace to close its high school and threatened its existence. People were suggesting it may be the end of the school, fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. Jerry wondered whether he should find another job. But, his commitment to the Lord, to His mission and calling and work in this school, kept Jerry at the helm when it looked lost. Jerry used that time to lead the school to think deeply about what it meant to be a Christian school, what having God’s Word and His truth integrated into every aspect of how Grace did school really meant. He also began to lead the school into building a strong community within, through adding athletics, school events, and opportunities for people to gather. Our core values of educational sanctification and redemptive community really have a lot of their roots in these “dark” days of the school’s history. And, God used these tough times and this humble leader to help it grow…
A servant of the Lord is humble. He realized that, no matter who he is or how successful his work, he is nothing without the Lord’s work in his life. Jerry’s innovations caused the school to experience explosive growth in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. If you started Grace when my kids did, you are one of the parents who remember that, if you wanted your kids in Grace in Fall 2002, you had to show up the eve of the first day of school of Fall 2001 and join many others in spending the night in the parking lot in order to be among the first to have your child’s application considered. As the person who oversaw the admissions office at the time, there was a great deal of temptation to be immodest about this school and its growth. But, Jerry was one of the most humble men I ever knew. He always used to compare himself to the turtle on the fencepost- you knew he didn’t get there without a lot of help. You knew that Jerry meant it, and it helped us all to remember that we were there by God’s grace and through His goodness.
A servant of the Lord humbly develops those around him, and prepares the next generation for leadership. It’s no secret that a young lawyer doesn’t know the first thing about running a development office, let alone running a school. Jerry always used to call me into his office, tell me about the situations he was handling, and ask my opinion on them. I was clueless, thinking that he was simply asking my opinion. I only realized later that he knew his time was drawing near, and he was preparing me to take his place. I think about that quiet, humble way he discipled me every time I meet with a younger guy or gal. He is my role model and my hero.
Next Thursday night at the Lower Campus, we will be having a Homecoming Dinner to honor Jerry Burgess, a true servant of the Lord. I pray you will join us, so that you can meet and pay tribute to this man that has contributed so much to making Grace what it is today. In a way, he’ll hate it. He’s that kind of guy. But, gratefulness is the pathway to godliness, and it will be good for you and for all of us. Please join us.