Being a Memorable Leader

I don’t often write extensively about my story, but it seems right to do so this week. One year ago, my father passed away at age 73. Frankly, I could not have written this blog five years ago, before he became a Christian. Now, though, I can write these words while celebrating the last few years of his life—a life dramatically changed by the transforming power of the gospel.

You see, my first memory is being a frightened three-year old as my father destroyed our home in a fit of anger. Now almost fifty years later, I remember that event as if it happened yesterday. I can still show you where the lamp is broken, the picture frames are knocked from the mantle, the chairs are overturned, and the door window is shattered. I also remember where my sister and I hid that day until our mom arrived home. I hated my father that day.

Alcohol was a factor that time, but my father’s anger remained long after he gave up drinking. Many are my memories of his losing control, hollering loudly, throwing something, and then quickly moving beyond the event as if nothing had ever happened. It was strange, actually, how rapidly his rage would erupt and then disappear. For years even as a pastor, I struggled with loving my father as I knew I should.

I do have other memories, of course. I remember his showing me how to bait my fishing hook. To this day, I can hear his voice when I’m playing baseball, “Keep your eye on the ball” and “Stay down when you’re fielding that grounder.” He taught me how to shoot a gun and play pool, both that I do left-handed (as he did) even though I’m predominantly right-handed. I always wanted him to be proud of me, even when I didn’t know how to love him.

There is so much more I wish he’d taught me—so much that I’ve learned (or am still learning) from other men in my life. How to tie a tie. How to love my wife. How to deal with peer pressure. How to say no to pornography. How to live by a budget. How to fix my own car. How to build a bookcase. How to be a godly man.

I try hard to focus on the good memories these days. A few years before he died, my father became a follower of Christ – and we saw the power of the gospel firsthand. My father told us he loved us. He hugged us and told others how proud he was of us. His anger dissipated. He began to read the Bible, almost as a child devouring the stories for the first time. The tough man became the grateful child of God. I suspect it sounds odd, but I learned to call him by the affectionate term “Dad” only after his conversion.

I miss my dad today. And, to be honest, I miss what could have been had he been a Christian as I was growing up. Please don’t hear me wrongly here. I am deeply grateful my dad followed Jesus, and I know I will see him again. I still, however, wonder how life would have been different if my father had prayed with me, taught me about Jesus, challenged me to live faithfully, and walked beside me in faith. My memories can’t go there, though, because I have no such memories.

Here’s my point. We are all memory makers, whether or not we think about that responsibility. The generations after us catch much more than we think, and they often remember more than we wish. Sometimes they don’t like what they see in us even while they want to be like us. They want to be loved, protected, and taught. They need to trust they’re more important than our jobs, our goals, our dreams, and our dollars. They need to know they don’t need an appointment to fit into our calendar. Our children and grandchildren need memories they will want to create for their own children.

Leader, you are a memory maker for somebody. Somebody will have good or bad memories because of the choices you make today.

Good memories don’t just happen. In God’s grace and under His leadership, we create them.

So, leader, if you need to do so today, push away from your desk. Close the computer. Turn off the phone. Cancel an appointment. Go, make good memories with the next generations. I assure you, they won’t forget.

32 Comments

  • Dr. Lawless,

    Thank you for your openness in this post. We need to be reminded that our children are heavily influenced by our actions (not only our words). Also, we need to remember that there are persons,sometimes unknown to us, that look to us as life-models as we model Jesus.

  • Nathaniel Brooks says:

    Dr. Lawless,
    You are so impactful and exciting to listen to and read your soul-stirring memoirs. I too have a father that was similar to yours and I soon will be a dad. One day I hope my father connects with Christ and quit drinking. You memoir is a testimony to many fatherless youth! I still use many of your teachings I learned at SBTS. Be blessed!

  • Jonathon Grant says:

    Thank you for this message. It’s an incredible encouragement, gives me hope and drives me out the door to find my son.

    After years (decades really) of issues with my dad, I had an encounter with him just last week. I told him in plain terms that God requires, and it is my greatest desire that we be reconciled. My dad agreed and we spoke for several hours. Neither of us were interested in “chewing yesterday’s breakfast”. Instead we talked about family, ministry and reaching the lost. We prayed together and then went on our separate ways.

    My dad, like me, is an imperfect follower of Christ, so I know that God is in the middle of this and all other things. Pray for us to have the strength to continue fostering our relationship as we go forward.

  • Thanks Dr. Lawless for sharing your story. So often we live even lead for today with no thought of the generations to come. Early this morning I posted the following about Abraham, “Just think, because Abraham, just one man, was faithful to God he laid the ground work for the first coming of Jesus Christ and the salvation of millions. We must live each day knowing our own life can have a great impact on future generations.”

    Our life has the potential to leave a mark (good or bad) long after we are gone.

  • Michael Sutherin says:

    I felt as if I could have written that. My relationship with my dad was quite similar and this resembled the eulogy I gave at his funeral in April, 2012.

  • Allen Lawless says:

    My favorite memory of our dad was the day he came to my house to,”ask me some questions.” The all day conversation that started with some of the standard questions such as why do good things happen to bad people, and wandered through questions about why did our Uncle Bud care so deeply about helping people and would he be in heaven, finally found its way to dad saying,”I want to do that, I want to be saved now.” The image of that crazy haired, grey haired, and grey bearded man insisting that he be on his knees kneeling by our couch when he asked God for the forgiveness of his sins, will be one that I think I will be able to retell…….as we sit at the Master’s feet in Heaven. When I think of Heaven, I often think of believers sitting around with our Lord telling old war stories…….stories of how He won each victory for us but allowed those who followed to share in His glory.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Amen. We’ll tell stories of a war already won. By the way, I’m glad you’re my brother (literally…).

      • Allen Lawless says:

        Me too. And, as my pastor helps our church focus in on prayer with one of those obligatory sermon *series’* that pastors so greatly impress themselves with, I am thankful today and eternally that the people of Rolling Hills Baptist Church prayed for me yet knew me not. I am way more grateful that God answers the prayers of His children, even when those prayers are for one of His children’s broken, fallen away brothers, who has run from God’s goodness and grace.

  • Charles Frazier says:

    Thanks for sharing about memories, Dr. Lawless.

    I have just returned from a small West KY town, to attend a visitation at a funeral home. I stopped by the cemetery where my grandfather is buried. He did not accept Christ until 6 months before his death. He, too, like your father, was a life void of Christ until the end. I remember the Sunday that my pastor during the invitation walked up to my grandfather and asked if my grandfather wanted to receive Christ. My grandfather responded and became a believer in Christ. As a 6 year old boy that memory has never left. I appreciate my pastor obeying the Lord and reaching out to an unbeliever.

  • Brother Chuck, how wonderful it is to read this. I love your stories, your teachings and the pictures you paint. I remember finding out through the “chain” of others about your father accepting Christ and I remember rejoicing with you.

    I recently was digging through boxes in my garage and found my dad’s old Bible. In it were sermon notes from you. Next to his Bible was the recording of the service and invitation you gave at his funeral. As I listened to that tape (yes, tape!) and as I read through the notes in his Bible, I couldn’t help but be grateful to you for the words of wisdom you spoke and the teachings you gave. They have impacted my life greatly.

    I say this so that you know that you have been a memorable leader in my life. I still reflect on the picture I have of you baptizing me in May of 1992. I still find myself listening to old recorded sermons of yours from 20 years ago. Your teachings have blessed me beyond measure. I love reading things you have written. When I think of influential people in my life, you are one of the fist to come to mind. So, thank you for living your life the way you do and for being one of those leaders who leaves such a positive impact on the lives around you.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      You’ve made my day, Lindsay. Thank you! I remember your dad well. I must say, though, that it’s a little scary to think some of my sermons from 20 years ago are still in existence! 🙂

    • Lisa Lawless says:

      Well said Lindsay! We loved your dad dearly and were grateful to have the opportunity to know him.

  • Gary says:

    A painful story of a lifetime of trauma that left scars still evident in you. Thanks for making lemonade with the fruit you were given. My ministry is one of helping adults heal the broken pieces that still remain long after the parties have passed. Thankfully it is never too late to have a happy childhood. From reading this blog it is evident that many in ministry and their wives still carry unhealed wounds from domestic wars long ago. I will give any of my books on healing free to any family in ministry. gary@sweetenlife.com

  • Steve says:

    Dr. Lawless;
    Just saw this post this AM and am very thankful to know God has greatly used many in ministry whose memories of childhood are less than ideal. Even growing up in a Christian home, there are a lot of issues, dysfunctions, that I still struggle with as a pastor, husband and father. I have often wondered at what age we get the victory and the accuser of the brethren has to find some other area to get at us. Even though I still struggle, I am thankful to see part of Exodus 20:6 being fulfilled in my family where God is “showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” I see my kids as being good kids despite the failings of their father. Praying that God can use me in this phase of my life and ministry and it will extend to generations yet to come. Thanks again.

  • Josh says:

    Chuck,

    Thanks for sharing. I had a father that I was blessed with who did all of the things that you longed for: he was faithful to Jesus, led me spiritually no matter how hard I fought it, was wise and caring, and prayed with our family often. He died last March at 57 of ALS, a terrible illness. Over 300 people were at his celebration service because of his impact.

    On my mind is the idea of legacy. Your lack of that spiritual leader is now your calling, it’s obvious by your vocation and ministry. I believe God uses those hurts, pains, and deprivations to spur in us a healthy, redemptive desire to see those gaps filled in others through the Gospel.

    I have a responsibility to my Dad’s legacy of following Jesus to share what I experienced with other men who need it.

    Jesus fulfilled in you what was lacking in your Dad’s legacy, and He also redeemed your father into a Dad before he died. You now feel that responsibility to share your story with other men too.

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful redemptive story that lives on in us.

    jb

  • Ritchie Price says:

    Love this piece, Chuck! Brings back so many memories of your outstanding sermons. I remember my first visit to Rolling Hills Baptist and I think it was your first time speaking there as they were ‘trying you out’. When we saw this young dude get up there to speak, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. By the end of your message, we were saying….”wow…can that guy preach!”. As you know, we decided to stick around there….now for over 30 years.
    Then, when I read the comments by Allen and Lindsay Ensor, so many Rolling Hills memories come flowing back.
    Thanks for being such a significant memory-maker in my life, Chuck! Those memories are eternal!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.