Miracles, Marvels, and the Vulnerable Minister

By LeRoy Lawson

The Miracle of Dunkirk
Walter Lord
New York: Open Road Media; for Kindle, 2012

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
Brad Stone
New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2013

The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry
Mandy Smith
Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015

Just about everything I thought I knew about the “evacuation” of Dunkirk (read “retreat”) was wrong. Or at least wildly romanticized. I could picture the thousand-plus boats of all sizes and types crossing the English Channel to rescue soldiers fleeing for their lives from the Nazis. My mind’s eye saw them push up against the northern French coastline, valiant Brits, military and civilian, racing their craft up to the dock, plucking up a few or a few thousand men at a time, and safely transporting them to their homeland. Mission accomplished.

06_FMB_June16_JNOr something like that.

Walter Lord’s The Miracle of Dunkirk tells a much more dramatic, suspenseful, and accurate story. World War II was in its earliest stages when Germany overwhelmed The British Expeditionary Force and France’s retreating troops. Allied lines collapsed; resistance was futile. Delaying tactics were the best they could do. France capitulated. Britain was on the verge of sacrificing its entire contingent on the Continent.

The decision was taken: retreat toward the docks and beaches of Dunkirk. A tough call, and very tough to execute. So many factors went into the making of the miracle: Adolf Hitler helped it succeed by holding back the German forces (historians are still second-guessing him), Hermann Goering helped it by persuading Hitler his Luftwaffe (air force) could thwart the evacuation by air power alone (they couldn’t), the weather helped it by providing an unusually calm sea and delivering much needed fogs (not always, but almost often enough), and hundreds of individual acts of heroism and sacrifice from the military brass, the enlisted men, and the civilian recruits, came to the rescue.

Altogether, they were a proud bunch. Take 1st Lt. Ian Cox, for example. He surveyed the sea filled with vessels of every kind and suddenly burst into the famous words from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “And Gentlemen in England, now abed, Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.” To this day Brits boast of their Dunkirk miracle.

Yet Winston Churchill, in a speech worthy of Shakespeare himself, warned his countrymen, “Wars are not won by evacuations.” He originally thought, pessimistically, that perhaps 30,000 men might be saved. In the end, 338,000 were rescued and deposited on England’s shore (and another 4,000 on France’s). There were losses, to be sure: 2,472 guns lost, 63,879 vehicles abandoned. But “the 224,686 rescued [British] troops were irreplaceable.”

Walter Lord leans heavily on the reports of eyewitnesses. They were there. They fought. They fled. They suffered. They despaired. They were saved. They lived to tell about it, and the result as recorded here is spellbinding.

A Spellbinding Tale

Yes, I read a lot. Feeding my habit has turned me into an Amazon.com junkie. I order most of my books online. I read them on Amazon’s Kindle (the cheapest one sold). Or I listen to downloaded books on my smartphone from Audible.com (which belongs to Amazon.com). My wife shops at Amazon Prime, because she can get free shipping. Sometimes she lets me order things on her account. She’s an enabler.

It should not surprise you, then, that The Everything Store was a must-read for me. Brad Stone spins a spellbinding tale of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder: of his dream of starting an online bookstore, of his bigger dream of turning it into a store that sells everything, of his even bigger dream of turning the everything store into a cloud-computing platform that has carried Amazon’s services and technological/marketing clout to Amazonian heights. Bezos and company spearheaded a revolution in retail comparable to what Henry Ford started by marrying his Tin Lizzie to the assembly line.

Like many other rags to riches stories, this one proceeds by contradictions. Bezos is brilliant; he is also a gambler who repeatedly bets the farm. He’s a visionary leader who creates, among so many successes, workplace chaos, panic in the business office, heartburn on Wall Street (year after year without a profit), dismay and anger among the competitors, and suspense for the readers of this volume. The Everything Store reads like a mystery novel at times, only without a doubt about who the bad guy is. He’s the same as the good guy.

Bezos is complex, driven by an outsized ego and fierce determination to be the best and the baddest. He’s not above skirting the rules to win his game. His mantra, which places customer satisfaction above every other value, costs him friends on his payroll and in the marketplace. As the company grows, so do the lawsuits. Beginning as a darling among consumers who loved the low prices and speedy deliveries, Amazon.com has come in recent years to be seen as a business behemoth more to be feared than trusted.

Still, people like me buy books—and a whole lot more—from the “everything store.” Bezos must be doing something right. Brad Stone tells that part of the story, also.

A Woman’s Heart

Mandy Smith’s The Vulnerable Pastor is the book I have been waiting for. A woman minister wrote it. A woman minister who serves as the preaching pastor of one of our churches (Christian churches/churches of Christ). Most of our congregations would not invite a woman to lead. I teach courses in preaching. My students are both male and female. I routinely hear excellent sermons from these students. Sometimes the best ones are preached by women.

Women who feel God has called them to preach, women who exhibit all the necessary gifts for answering this call, women nurtured by our churches and taught by our colleges and seminaries—but who cannot offer their gifts in the very churches that led them to prepare to preach in the first place.

Now along comes Mandy Smith. Her title is pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she’s the preacher in that innovative congregation. She has a great deal to teach—to teach even us men. I have been waiting for her book.

But even though I, too, am a preacher, this isn’t a book I could write. Her subject is the vulnerable pastor. I am one of those, all right. In fact, I once wrote a book called A Strength Not My Own, which expanded on my life’s verse, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). I could share the platform with Mrs. Smith in a conference on weak, vulnerable leadership. I think, though, the saints assembled there would prefer listening to her. I tend to pontificate. She doesn’t.

The fact is, I write like a man, left-brained, goal-oriented, trying to appear sure-footed, uncomfortable with too much emotion. She writes as a woman, artistic, right-brained, sensitive. She is comfortable in her own skin and unafraid to expose her doubts, fears, hesitancies, limitations. Still she has sought to find her own way to be useful to God and God’s people. Sought and found. As I read I thought of all the leadership retreats and seminars and workshops I’ve led in which I have majored on the how-tos and wherefores of moving a church forward (as brought to you by one who has been there and done that and therefore you should listen to him!).

My way is not her way. She teaches, instead, how to find rest in the Lord, how to let God and not your ego or drivenness or insecurities take charge—that is, how to be a vulnerable, flawed human among other humans, to be open to the Spirit’s leading when unsure of your own, to point to the Messiah without trying to take his place—to lead a church while also not neglecting her other jobs as wife and mother. She doesn’t boast of success in any of these demanding callings; instead she takes us through her daily schedule (literally) and points out why she can’t really brag about anything—except her love of and reliance on the Lord.

Her illustrations are a woman’s illustrations (not many football or fishing stories here); her heart is a woman’s heart.

This man is glad she leads from it.

LeRoy Lawson serves as international consultant with CMF International.

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