I will never forget the day that I accepted my first assignment as the superintendent of a large school district in Southern California. A new colleague approached me at my first superintendent’s meeting with a bit of advice that I suspect was well intentioned. He said, ”Art, the bullet has already been fired. All you can do is to prepare for where that bullet will hit before you move on.” The message was simple. Every superintendent gets fired. All you can do is decide over what issue it is for which you are willing to lose your job. I thought the message was pessimistic and I was not prepared to change my understanding of how it was that I was selected for the top position in my district.
There are two Biblical lessons I learned along my career journey that always had the effect of keeping me on course and encouraged.
Lesson #1 – God is the one that placed me where He wants to use me.
The Psalms 1:3 that says:
“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
I believed that God placed me in the exact place I needed to be. And like a tree firmly planted in streams of water, I developed deep roots to withstand the pressures of the currents. Oh, I knew that I would have some setbacks and failures, but God promised that as long as I trusted that it was He who placed me in this stream, at this time and place, I would not be washed away by the push of the currents. I believed that, so long as I did not lose sight for whom I worked, there would be no power on this earth that could prevail over God’s purpose for me, no matter what my title. I rested on that same foundation at every level that I was assigned.
Lesson #2 – I have the full strength of God’s might to help me get the job done.
Ephesians 6:10 says “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”
Unfortunately, it is quite easy to lose sight of this great strength that God makes available to me. I simply need to remember that He was the one that placed me in my position of influence in the first place to do His work. Remembering Ephesians 6:10 allows our roots to grow deep and strong even as the currents around us push without letting up. When God appoints you to a position of influence, whether that be at the classroom or district level, He always provides the power you need to carry out His mission.
Today, I receive calls from time to time from classroom teachers and administrators asking if I could mentor them or help them in some other way. Most, although not all, who ask for my help are followers of Jesus. Many approach the job with great hope for doing great things. Along with that hope, there is always a pinch of fear and uncertainty as to whether they will be good enough for the challenges that come with being designated the leader of a classroom, school or district.
My response, although delivered differently depending on the person asking, is basically the same for each person seeking my advice and sounds something like this. When I was a teacher, I believed God placed me with the particular students I was assigned to make a difference in their lives. When I was a principal, I remember teachers that were looking for life advice and assurances of support and purpose on the job. When I worked my way up to become in charge of human resources, I hired champions for children and counseled troubled employees who needed to understand the calling of an educator. When I became the superintendent, my calling was the same. I worked for the giver of life and the inventor of purpose. I considered everyday an opportunity to shine light on God’s higher calling. I knew that my leaves as mentioned in Psalms 1 would not whither under the heat of the scorching sun as long as I looked to the strength of the saving Son. I knew that my work would bear fruit in its time and place. Finally, I knew that I would prosper because my roots ran deep in streams of water because God nourishes me every step along the way.
There were days that I may have second guessed my successes and setbacks, but I never doubted that whatever prosperity came my way, it was not a product of my cleverness or superiority of effort, but by God’s assignment for me and it was His might that I could depend on to get the job done.
Apparently, if the bullet that was meant for harm was ever fired, it never hit its target since my tenure as a superintendent lasted 17 years with no threats of interruption. The next time you receive advice from well-intentioned colleagues, receive it with grace and in the knowledge that you are specifically placed where God wants you to be. God is well aware of the place you work and of the people that surround you. You are in the midst of the stream and deep roots will ensure that you stand strong for His glory.