Many people have helped form me into the person I am. They have believed in, guided, and influenced me. Challenged me to step out of my comfort zone into scary places where I had to be vulnerable. In these places, I learned a lot about myself, leadership and following God’s path even if I’d have rather played it safe. One of those influencers was Pastor Perry Hanley. Today, I see lessons he taught me and how they influenced me and how I interact with and influence others.
Perry would often come into the Christian bookstore where his wife and I worked to pick up things for the church that he pastored nearby. One day he stopped by my workspace and asked me if I would be interested in applying for the children’s ministry position at his church. This conversation started me on the course that has led me to where I am today and along the path God was laying out for me. Perry used to say that given our history, it was amazing that he even had this conversation with me at all. You see, the first time I met Perry was the very definition of awkward. His church at the time was partnered with mine for a mission experience. He and his wife stayed at my house and quickly we learned that my oldest brother’s girlfriend (now wife) was Perry’s ex-girlfriend. I was not very tactful at the time, and when I learned of this connection, I believe my words to him were “Oh! You’re THAT Perry!”
In spite of that he did have that conversation with me and we worked together for over a year. During that time, he would challenge me to do some things that I had never dreamed of doing. Like prepare a sermon and preach it – from the stage – on a Sunday Morning – in front of everyone. He had me licensed as a lay minister. He encouraged and supported me when I dropped out of college to pursue ministry full time, resulting in me becoming a missionary. I had some bumps along the way; ineffective youth group lessons, holes in the wall caused by the middle school youth group, and other things that could have discouraged me from continuing. Each time, there was Perry, encouraging me, laughing with me, going to bat for me and helping me pick myself up, learn from the mistakes and move forward. About a year later, God led him to another church in another town but these lessons I learned from him in that brief time influenced me.
1- If God is in it, go with it. Countless times I heard him say something like “It doesn’t make sense to do this, but God is telling me to, so let’s go”. The first time I heard this was during those early conversations about working with him. He said, it didn’t make sense to relive our awkward history, but I know I am supposed to. I have seen and sensed this same thing many times in my life. When I find myself faced with a choice, and one choice seems safe, and the other a little crazy, God often leads me to the less safe choice. I ask myself – do I really have the strength to go against God? The answer is no.
2- Perfection not required – Pastor Perry was a great mentor, mostly because he was not perfect. He wore his imperfection plainly and it showed in him as humility that was easy to follow. Perry did not seem prideful. Instead, he believed that God doesn’t need our ability but rather our availability. Being ready to follow God wherever He leads, even if it makes us vulnerable, is okay – in fact, it is beneficial.
3- Potential over Credentials – I believe that the most important thing I can do for someone is to show them that I value them. Pastor Perry taught me this. He really valued others. He saw their potential ahead of their credentials. He saw in me a raw product that God could use him to refine and he accepted the challenge. And not just once, but constantly in our relationship, he would identify potential, call it out, challenge it to blossom, give it a place to grow and cheer it on along the way. Perry taught me that it isn’t our credentials that make us fit to take on a task; it is the potential God has equipped us with. I carry this lesson with me in my own leadership experiences.
I am from a small town in a small province in Eastern Canada. The church that Pastor Perry led was not a mega church, no one was knocking down our doors for a reality TV show. It was messy and it was imperfect. In all that Perry led in a way that has influenced me greatly and because of that his influence is multiplied.
Perry, thanks for stepping out and following God, for seeing my potential and choosing to believe in me in spite of my many imperfections.