Monday, July 23, 2018

"Look for the F.A.T. People!"

A mentor's odd sounding advice taken from the example of Jesus

It's pretty interesting to hear "experts" on health now telling us that fat is NOT the enemy when it comes to our health--sugar is! And that's because the sugar manufacturers spent boatloads of money to convince us that sugar was good but that fat was bad--there was no "fat lobby" to fight back. So we cut fat out of our diets and products, from milk (another lobby was fighting for its survival there) to just about everything else--"low fat" and "no fat" became very important, even if made palatable in many cases with lots of added sugars.

Now we are learning that fat isn't necessarily bad (after figuring out that sugar may be sweet but it's not healthy after all--and Mary Poppins' advice about that spoonful has been overdone). There is good fat and bad fat. And some of the fat we thought was bad isn't so bad after all. Just not too much.

Of course, this hasn't made the word "fat" pleasing, even if it helps the taste of some of our foods. We don't like the word as a descriptor--it means overweight to us, and little else. That's too bad, because the word used to mean much more.

It still does in a few contexts (and we're not talking about the more recent emergence of "phat"--I'm not cool enough to parse that). When someone has a "fat" wallet he has lots of money. The "fat" of the land was its bounty and surplus--something that everyone wanted to gain and that Pharaoh gave to Joseph's family (Genesis 45:18). Isaac blessed Jacob with "the fatness of the earth" (Genesis 27:28). And the psalmist complained about hard times of mourning when his body had "no fat" (Psalm 109:24), while times of blessing are marked by "fat" and "rich food" (Psalm 63:5). Even the LORD specifically asked for the fat portions in animal sacrifices throughout Exodus and Leviticus. Even today in cultures where scarcity is common, it is a compliment to one's prosperity and good looks to be called "fat."

For me, one special meaning of the word comes from a mentor who was teaching me how to choose people to train and to lead. He told me frequently, "Look for the FAT people!" He wasn't talking physique, though; he was talking about character. The word was an acrostic for three qualities he thought were essential and tried to emphasize. To be truthful, I can't remember if he came up with the acrostic or if I did, so if you think it's a bad thing, blame me, but it stuck. What are the three qualities? I'm glad you asked, because not only did he teach them to me, but we find them looking at the life of Jesus in his choices.

First, a good candidate for servant leadership (or any responsibility) in ministry must be faithful. Here the focus is faithfulness to what one knows to be right and true. It is faithfulness to the cause, not just personal affection for a teacher. This person is "all in," even if they aren't sure of all the ramifications. This is what makes a good friend, too--who "loves at all times"(Prov. 17:17) and whose occasional wounding of us is still faithful in seeking our good (Prov. 27:6). Gaius is commended by his mentor John, in III John for the "faithful" things he was doing. Faithful is not just believing, it is commitment to that belief.

Jesus chose his twelve, and the faithful eleven chose Judas' replacement, out of those who were with them from the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Acts 1:21-22). Long before they were the twelve, we see Peter and Andrew and James and John and others named as being with Jesus, learning, following, and serving. He was the teacher they were looking for, they believed him, and they stuck with him--admittedly not perfectly and with some glaring failures. But they believed and that belief led to commitment to him. My mentor's encouragement was not to try to build someone's faith and commitment by giving them responsibility, but rather to find people who were marked by faith in Jesus and commitment to the gospel as a start.

Second, someone must be available. The disciples' faithfulness to Jesus and his teaching was matched with availability. When Jesus invited them with the words "Follow me," they came. In fact the first "follow me" got them coming, but that was followed by the second, where Jesus said "I will make you fishers of men." Even after the resurrection, Peter's restoration included the reminder, "follow me" and don't worry about what happens to others. Good servant leadership begins by showing up, and then staying.

Not everyone accepts invitations, like those invited wedding guests who had just married or just bought a field or a team of oxen. Similarly, there are times when people we know are committed believers are not available to serve or lead. It may not even be their choice at the time; circumstances, the Spirit, and even Satan can hinder us from doing work we would choose to do. Availability may be limited for a time. But sadly, there are some believers who never seem able to make themselves available. If someone always needs exceptions to the expectations of ministry commitment, it may be like the man who wanted to wait until his father died to follow Jesus (Matthew 8:21). You may be, as Matthew records, a disciple (follower), but you won't really discover what that means beyond the most limited sense. My mentor encouraged me to probe potential servant leaders to discover if they were willing to be available to do the task required, or to go through the training needed. If not, whether it was what I thought was a good reason or bad, I should move on to candidates who will be available.

The mention of training brings up the third quality I was to look for--servant leaders must be teachable. A disciple of Jesus was, by definition a "learner." Learning requires availability, but some who may be available may not be teachable. They may always have a better idea, or believe that the instructions are just suggestions. Jesus' disciples followed his instructions in ministry, sometimes incredulous (think of getting ready to feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish), and sometimes not understanding what they were doing (their reactions after feeding the five thousand and then the four thousand showed this).

Unlike Jesus, we can't be perfect teachers, and sometimes our learners will have insights that may improve what we do. Servant leaders are always learning. But my mentor's encouragement was to look for people who were ready to learn, often preferring them over those who were convinced they already knew what to do. In some situations, you may know that there are many ways a task could be accomplished, but current conditions and settings make one way favorable and you hope to teach your student that way for this moment. Teachability is a must in the varying circumstances of life.

I haven't always followed this advice, and it usually comes back to bite me. But, I am thankful for these pointers that have served me well in teaching and discipleship. My prayer today is that they might help you, too, as you either look to disciple or train others, or as you consider whether you are the right kind of candidate to serve. Are you faithful--not just "believing" in Jesus but wholly committed to his cause? Are you available--ready to put in the work and the time? Are you teachable--ready to learn, even in those areas you may think you know? Then you are ready to go, and it's time to step up and volunteer! You are the right kind of FAT!