This past Saturday was the funeral for Rev. Stan Buck, an Elder in the Indiana Conference and the founding pastor (in 1987) of the Sonrise United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he served until his death. I had the privilege of serving on the district steering committee for the founding of that congregation, and so my friendship with Stan dates back those 25 years.
The funeral was a great celebration of Stan's life and ministry. He died too young (at age 52) but lived a full life. Due to the onset of his brain tumor, Stan knew that his days were numbered, and he used those days well. Our condolences and support continue for his wife, Kathy, daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchild due on December 12. Our support also must continue for the congregation of Sonrise. As one of our clergy said to me after Stan's funeral, "It was a wonderful celebration of our faith and Stan's life, but it is still a loss." Indeed Stan's death is a huge loss – for all of us.
There are two ways that groups, teams, congregations, and families face such losses, and much of the difference is based upon the way that person has led and prepared for such a loss. In some cases, the loss is so overwhelming that people seem unable to continue after losing their leader. In other cases, the leader has prepared everyone for a new future and they continue in spite of that loss.
It may be a silly comparison, but there are two different sports stories happening right now that illustrate the difference. (I know that "sports" pales in comparison to real life, but I see lessons to be learned). In the one case, the New Orleans Saints are doing miserably as a football team without their coach, Sean Payton, who was suspended for the year due to allegations of "bounties" offered to his players for injuring their opponents. In the other case, the Indianapolis Colts are having a remarkable season, in spite of their sudden loss of Coach Chuck Pagano who is battling cancer. Somehow Coach Payton's style of leadership must have been so focused around himself (he was head coach but called all the offensive plays) that his team seems unable to play well without him. By contrast, Coach Pagano's style of leadership apparently developed a great coaching staff that have stepped into the sudden void and led the team to succeed beyond anyone's expectations. Of course the two situations are also different in that one coach's absence is due to accusations of disgraceful behavior, while the other coach's absence is due to a heroic battle against illness – such a heroic battle that a whole "Chuck Strong" campaign has emerged to raise money for cancer research. Two very different scenarios, but real lessons to be learned.
My sense is that Stan Buck has gathered an excellent staff and lay leadership team at Sonrise Church which will carry one well without him. Rather than seeing their "team" fall apart, I believe that they will rally and build upon the strong foundation laid by their founding pastor. It is still a loss, and certainly there will be many days when Stan will be missed terribly by family, friends, colleagues, and congregation. But his very leadership style prepared people for his absence.
How about the rest of us? It is one thing to be a leader, but it is another whole dimension to lead in such a way that our "loss" (through retirement, moving to a new position, or other changes) results in continued excellence. I have seen far too many leaders whose leadership is built upon their own personality, style, and strengths – to the extent that no one can replace their loss. But I have seen other leaders – including Stan Buck – whose leadership prepared for a continuity of excellence.
It's still a loss, but great leadership prepares the rest of us to continue in spite of the loss.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner,
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church