Friday, January 31, 2014
This week we say goodbye to a legend—Don Morgan. I am indebted to him. My ministry has been clearly influenced by Don Morgan. It’s not because I go into a house that is named after him or because I have meetings in that same house with his picture hanging on the wall. I never got to sit under his ministry. I never watched him lead the staff. I never had the opportunity to hear him preach live.
In spite of all that, his influence is there. I was blessed to sit with him in his condo in Rocky Hill, where you quickly learn that you have to earn the trust of his dog, Shelly. It was during those conversations that my admiration grew.
Yet it wasn’t what he said to me that influenced me. His influence is even greater than that. It’s who he was and what he did over his time at First Church that has inspired not only me but countless other pastors as well.
Don did something that only a few people have done. He turned around a church. To an outsider, it might not seem like much, but Don was legendary in this regard. It is very hard and painful to do what Don did.
What Don did doesn’t happen everywhere. Not every church grows like First Church did under Don’s ministry, not even every church that Don served. Obviously, God is behind every turn around, but what makes this so unique is not just the pastor but the church as well. The people of the church have to be willing to follow God’s lead and stretch themselves to walk boldly into God’s glorious yet unknown future. The people of First Church did just that and more—they were willing to follow and partner with Don, their pastor. They trusted his leadership.
Don was a leader. There is no doubt about it. Very few churches have seen a leader like Don. He understood that to be a great leader, he needed a great team. He knew the truth: no leader can do it alone. He did what he wrote: Share the Dream, Build the Team. That team, headlined by his wife, Grace, helped him reach out and care. The team extended the dream of what God wanted to do. It helped transform the church to be what it is today.
Many churches have great teams and great people, but what made Don that special person was his leadership. Henry Blackaby states that leadership is about moving people onto God’s agenda. Don was a visionary. He saw God’s agenda for First Church before others did. He communicated it with passion. Don loved to preach the Gospel, and he did it with an excellence rarely seen.
Don was also bold. I can’t tell you how much I admire his boldness. He saw God’s agenda and he boldly moved people towards it. He made the hard decisions even when they were not popular. He was questioned and criticized, yet he continued to show courage in the midst of tough times. He used all the gifts God gave him to influence the church to say yes to God’s vision.
Ultimately, leadership is primarily about being rather than doing. It is about character and who you are. Don was all of that. He was a great leader because he was a great man of God. He was willing to grow and learn. He was willing to get up when he got knocked down.
Yes Don saw amazing success, but what I admired was what He did when things didn’t go well. Don did get knocked down at times. He did suffer through pain and hurt. Very few would understand the burden that he carried as a pastor. The pain at times can be overwhelming. Some give up because of it. Others lose their fight. It is hard to watch loved ones you pastor die. It’s hard to be blamed for something you didn’t do. It’s excruciating when others question your character or motives. It takes courage to share a tough message. Don did all of that. He carried the responsibility and burden God gave him with a strength that is rare. He trusted in God’s love and goodness and walked forward believing God would give him the strength and grace to do His desires. He surrendered himself to God and said the words of the song, Here I am, Lord:
Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
We need lion-leaders like Don today. We need those who are willing to say yes to God’s agenda and lead with vision and boldness despite the pain.
I am truly honored to have the opportunity to lead the church that he once led with great success. Don, in his humility, might say it another way—both of us have had the privilege of leading a fabulous church following a long line of faithful and inspiring pastors. My hope is that I can be faithful to serve this people and lead it forward for God’s glory.
Don, you have taught me more than you will ever know. I have much more to learn. Thank you for your faithful service.