A Life Well-Lived: Remembering My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell

C. Mervin Russell

This past weekend we celebrated the life of my grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell. Grandpa lived a full life in his 93 years (December 12, 1921 – January 22, 2015).

As I have been reflecting on Grandpa’s life this past week, a friend drew my attention to a verse in Hebrews 13.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith
.”

– Hebrews 13:7

Grandpa Russell was one of the people in my life “who spoke to [me] the word of God.” Based on the verse above, I’m called to “remember” Grandpa, “consider” the outcome of his way of life, and to “imitate” his faith. I’m sure you can think of people in your life who have lived in such a way that you need to remember, consider, and imitate their lives as well.

As I remember the life of Grandpa, there is a lot to consider. Though I will not go into too much detail in this post, here are a few of the highlights.

Pastor, Youth Leader, Evangelist, Pilot

Grandpa was a pastor who served four Free Methodist churches in the Midwest. Grandpa was a youth leader who served as a regional director for the Free Methodist Youth. Grandpa was an evangelist who served as President of World Gospel Crusades and gave leadership to some 22 large scale crusades throughout the world. Grandpa was a pilot who used his skills for missions aviation work as founder and President of Mercy Airlift. As a pilot, grandpa logged over 6,000 hours flying through 23 different countries. His aviation career began in his early days with a Piper J-3 Cub to later days flying relief supplies to places as far as Ethiopia in Mercy Airlift’s DC-3.

A Passion for the People of the World

Grandpa’s love for the Lord and love for people compelled him to travel to over 69 countries in order to share the good news of the gospel and provide relief supplies to those hit by severe natural disasters and famine. He felt called to minister to both the physical and spiritual hunger in people’s lives, and did this faithfully throughout his life. Grandpa became a follower of Jesus in Lakeland, Florida. Shortly after becoming a Christian, as a teenager Grandpa share the good news of Jesus in his hometown by visiting every home in Palatka, Florida. This passion that began in Florida carried him on a journey of sharing the good news of the gospel with people throughout the United States and in as many as 69 countries.

Dr. Charles Mervin Russell lived his life well. It is a joy to remember this life. It is a joy to consider the outcome of his life. And, by God’s grace, I hope to imitate the faith that was alive and well in Grandpa’s many decades of life.

—————————

Interestingly, there is a powerful verse that immediately follows Hebrews 13:7 (the verse shared above).

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
.”

– Hebrews 13:7-8

Because Jesus Christ is… because Jesus is the faithful one who is the same today as He was in the past and will be in the future… we can have confidence that He remains at work today in our lives.

As we consider those who have gone before us, the same God that guided and shepherded them in their lives is able to guide and lead us as well. And so, I remember Grandpa’s life, I consider the outcome of his life, and by God’s grace, I will seek to imitate the faith that was at work in his life as well.

C. Mervin Russell

C. Mervin Russell

20 Quotes from MLK

Martin Luther King, by caboindex, Flickr

Photo Credit: Martin Luther King, by caboindex, Flickr

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and is another opportunity for intentional reflection on Dr. King’s vision of justice and racial reconciliation. In the United States we have a challenging history around racism. From Pre-Civil War slavery, to segregation under Jim Crow Laws, to the ongoing racial tensions felt in our day, it is important to remember from where we have come and where we still need to go.

As a means of remembering well today so we can move forward tomorrow, I offer 20 of my favorite Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 


“Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”


“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”


“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”


“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”


“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”


“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”


“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”


“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”


“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”


“The time is always right to do the right thing.”


“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”


“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”


“I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”


As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, we also want to celebrate his vision of justice and racial reconciliation. May we keep Dr. King’s dream alive in the year ahead as we play our part in working for justice and loving our neighbors.

Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Photo: In the middle of nowhere, Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

FORESIGHT

Larry Spears argues that foresight is one of Robert K. Greenleaf’s core characteristics of servant leaders. Of foresight, Spears notes:

Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easy to identify. One knows it when one sees it. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.”

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE FOCUS OF FORESIGHT

This thread of learning from the past, observing the present, and anticipating the likely consequences of decisions on the future is critical. Focusing on only one of these areas can lead to leadership blind spots. Using and embracing all of them brings holistic perspective to leadership.

Past: The past is full of lessons, but it is not where we live. We must look to the past. We must listen to the past. We musts learn from the past. But, we must not live in the past. We must not only celebrate the past glory days of our organizations and communities.

Present: We must be present in the moment we’ve received, fully engaging the lives and mission we’ve been given as individuals and as organizations. At the same time, we must not be short-sighted and only live for the moment.

Future: Similarly, we must look to the future in light of the lessons of the past and present. We must anticipate and make course corrections based on likely outcomes and anticipated scenarios. But, we must not only look to the future. We can be so future-oriented that we miss the people and opportunities that are right in front of us. We must not live in the future, but rather look to the future for insights that inform the present.

STRATEGIC FORESIGHT

Although all organizational members benefit from looking at the past, present, and future, leaders in particular have this as part of their core job responsibilities. Leaders must learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Foresight is not about looking into a crystal ball to see the future. Foresight is about actively learning. It is about playing out future possibilities and scenarios in our minds based on the past and present knowledge we have of our organizations and world. It is about identifying with clarity what will be the likely future outcomes of decisions we make in the present.

FORESIGHT FOR TODAY

In other words, although foresight is looking to the future, foresight serves the present. Leaders look to likely future possibilities based on diverse possible decisions and scenarios, and then they return to the present to guide present-day decision making in light of this future-looking foresight activity.

As you look at the past, present, and possible futures in your organization, what narrative threads and patterns emerge? What lessons do these threads point to for your community? As you look to the future and anticipate likely outcomes of decisions, what decisions need to be made in the present to serve your organization in light of these desired outcomes?

Engage your leadership with foresight, guiding your present based on lessons from the past and foreseeing likely outcomes in your organizational future.

Tolstoy on Leadership

Leo Tolstoy, Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Leo Tolstoy, Wikipedia

I recently came across again an interesting essay by Tolstoy in The Leaders Companion by Wren. Tolstoy’s treatment of rulers and generals as historys slaves started the journey and caught my attention. The following excerpt of Tolstoy seems to capture the heart of the argument he makes:

In historic events, the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself. every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity.”

Tolstoys Challenge to Leader Autonomy

In terms of my response to this, on the one hand I want to quickly dismiss this as an overly deterministic view of leaders embedded in history. On the other hand, when I sit with this a bit longer, I find it helpful to consider Tolstoy’s challenge to look beyond the leader as individual to the larger system of which the leader is part.

Factors beyond the Leader

There are not only leaders—the “great men” to which Tolstoy refers—there are also followers. On this point of followers Tolstoy writes, “It was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real powershould consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals [the great men], and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes.”

In addition to leaders and followers, as Tolstoy alludes, there are “an infinite number of diverse and complex causes” that make up the organizational, societal, and global contexts within which situations of historic magnitude are carried out. Leaders are not islands unto themselves—they are surrounded by followers and wider systems that influence them whether they recognize this influence or not.

The Limits of Autonomy for Prominent Leaders

Although I do not immediately like the overly deterministic interpretation of history, Tolstoy’s challenge is an important one to consider. His primary argument is that those of higher social standing—and those of more prominent leadership responsibility like the Napoleons and Alexanders of history—have limited personal determination that may be exerted outside of the “predestination and inevitability” of their actions.

Public Leadership in Historical Perspective

This goes against the grain of contemporary notions of leaders setting their own course. However, it is accurate to acknowledge that when a leader has a substantially broad scope of leadership responsibility, there are exponentially more factors that influence the decision making processes of that leader. Many of these factors are outside of the leader’s own personal wishes and determination. As Tolstoy notes, even when leaders appear to “act of their own will,” the reality may often be that leader decisions become involuntary “in an historical sense.”

____________________

What do you think of Tolstoy’s argument about public and historic leaders? Do individuals actually lose some freedom, autonomy, and self-determination when they assume large-scale and global leadership responsibilities? Have you observed this as you read about large-scale and/or historic leadership?