Sunday, September 1, 2013

Running the Zoo

I love the work of Theodore Geisel.  Dr. Seuss, as he is better known, wrote a large collection of wonderful children’s books, many of which are quite instructive for adults as well.  One of his most whimsical books is If I Ran the Zoo, a story about what a young boy would do if he managed the local zoo.

As one would anticipate by the title, the book contains the ideas that the main character would pursue given the authority.  We learn that young Gerald McGrew would spend his time seeking and acquiring a large collection of the most outlandish animals imaginable, much to the acclaim of zoo visitors.

With all due respect to Mr. Geisel, I respectfully disagree with the premise of his book.  You see, there are many days when I feel like I am running a small zoo.  Two cats, a puppy, and frequent doggie guests can easily make our home look—and sound—like a zoo.  At those times, when I am running the zoo, the last thing on my mind is collecting exotic specimens in order to impress visitors.  I am too busy filling food bowls, changing water, scooping litter boxes, collecting dog poop, engaging in and monitoring play, brushing coats, cleaning eyes and ears, administering medicine, and brushing teeth (yes, dogs and cats benefit from having their teeth brushed regularly).  And, let’s not forget visits to the vet, bathing (dogs only on this one!) and laundering pet bedding.

I believe that my experience in “running a zoo” is a helpful illustration of Biblical leadership.  Christ, as our Lord and Savior, Master and Model, is the quintessential example of the servant leader.  The Biblical model of leadership is not about being the boss or impressing onlookers, but about meeting needs and empowering those under us to be who God created them to be.  This is true even for my pets.  Unless I meet their needs, they will not be able to be good pets.  Cesar Milan, the “dog whisperer,” insists on the importance of encouraging a puppy to have lots of opportunities to engage in “dog behavior” in order to become a “well-balanced” dog and satisfying companion.

September is the “back to school” season, the time when we turn from the more relaxed attitude of summer to focus on the work before us.  As we do so, I believe it would be helpful to bear in mind that most of us are, in some way, shape, or form, a leader.  As leaders, we have the incredible privilege of following our Master’s example.  By the power of His Holy Spirit, we can grow to be servant leaders who humbly meet needs and empower those “under” and around us to fulfill God’s purposes for them.  It seems to me that such a focus is far more satisfying than acquiring a “Mulligatawny” or a “Thwerll” in order to garner admiration.

A final comment: Theodore Geisel knew quite a bit about leadership and leaders.  For an excellent and encouraging example, you might want to read, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.