Matthew 13:57: “And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own household is a prophet without honor.”
Whenever I am invited to a community to facilitate presentations and workshops, I always remind the community I am visiting to look around and see their leaders again. Often I will share, ‘I would love to be invited back, but I assure you that there are some, if not many, right here among us that you know well and see every day, that can facilitate this type of presentation or workshop. But you overlook them because you know them. You know their strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and failures, yet they are doing the work every day and night, just like I do. They have the same amount of experience as I do. They can translate decades of experience to a fantastic training, just like me, but they’re from here, they live here, and you’ve known them your entire life, and that’s exactly how you stopped knowing them. You’ve become blinded by the snapshots you hold in your mind about their downfalls, mistakes, and idiosyncrasies and have forgotten how much they’ve overcome, all the valuable wisdom they posses, and the importance of the work they do. It’s time to see them again. Contrary to popular belief, an “expert” does not have to live one-hundred miles or more away, because chances are, there are some, if not many leaders, that are sitting right next to you. See them again. Honor them again. And don’t forget to include yourself in that seeing and honoring.’
Honestly, I don’t even like using the word leadership, because for me, it’s so overused, and somehow, at least for many, it’s become linked to status, money, titles, and get rich quick schemes, which of course have nothing to do with leadership. True leaders are servants, nothing more, nothing less. Not when it’s convenient, or during “normal business hours,” but wherever and whenever service is needed. And I promise you, because I am blessed to serve in 24/7 youth crisis counseling and youth residential services, I work with true leaders every day and night, who stop at nothing to ensure youth and young adults are safe, fed, clothed, working through their pain, taking steps away from the trauma and walking back towards their God-given destinies. Unless you work with me, you probably don’t know the names of the leaders I am blessed to serve with. Their titles range from residential adviser, prevention specialist, counselor, social worker, director, janitor, groundskeeper, outreach worker, violence interventionist, gang specialist, etc. But none of them care about their titles because they know that their titles are not nearly as important as their testimonies. And in that truly called and anointed position of being a servant, they know the youth and young adults that we are blessed to serve are our leaders, and they treat them that way.
Those I am blessed to serve with are true leaders, and may not be honored as such by some, but I honor them, and the youth we serve certainly know who it is that’s ready and wiling to help in the middle of the night when there is a crisis. You see, when someone is truly in crisis they’re not in need of an “expert,” they’re in need of a willing servant. And you won’t see the leaders I speak of at all the black tie events and fundraisers, not because those things aren’t important, but because they’re facilitating a suicide intervention, sitting in a psychiatric hospital getting a child admitted, sitting in an emergency room waiting for the rape exam to be completed, under a bridge giving youth sleeping bags and food, at the shelter facilitating healing, or they’re sleeping off another shift that lasted nineteen to twenty-four hours, because they don’t go home when it’s time, they go home when the mission at hand is completed.
These leaders may not be honored in terms of recognition by politicians and such, oh but they’re recognized by those they’re called to serve. They’re not interested if someone of so-called prominence recognizes them or what they do. They’re focused on ensuring that the traumatized, marginalized and rejected are being recognized as the sacred blessings, miracles and gifts they are. They’re focused on teaching those who many said are unteachable, and reaching those who many said are unreachable. And guess what? They reach them and teach them, because they understand that as long as adults are willing to learn from the youth, the youth are willing to learn from adults, and that understanding only manifests from a servant’s heart.
Leadership, being a servant isn’t a high standard to achieve. It often begins at a very low place of misfortune, mistakes, loss, pain and tragedy, then in that same low place, on our knees in communion with the Creator of our understanding, a servant is sent to kneel with us, encourage us, and together we rise. And from that experience, another servant, a true leader walks among us, simply giving all that was given to them, understanding both the depths of trauma and the truth of miracles. And this experience brings forth the wellspring of the only necessary qualification of a leader – love.
True leaders are servants, nothing more, nothing less. And like prophets, true leaders, servants, may not always be recognized or honored in their hometown because the labels of “former gang member,” “former addict,” and all of the other past tense stigmas mask the reality of who these leaders are today by those who claim to know them, but really only knew a moment in time of them. There is not one human being in existence, that if we were to live with them or work with them day in and day out, that we wouldn’t soon realize that all the frailties we want to crucify some for, are the same frailties we willingly overlook in others. We choose who we honor as leaders, and we choose who we overlook, including ourselves.
Honor is not something we as human beings receive, honor is something we live. Honor is something that cannot be bestowed or taken by anyone or anything outside of ourselves. So instead of asking you to honor those servants among you, I will simply encourage you to follow their example. And by doing so, everyone is honored and leadership is reframed back to what it truly is – service.