I have a special connection with Garth Brooks. Not only do we share the same home state of Oklahoma, but also he and I graduated from high school the same year and not far from each other. Many of my friends have “Garth” stories, including me.
The first time I was introduced to Garth’s music was during the time I was the marketing director for a financial institution in Oklahoma City. One of the events that I coordinated was an annual meeting, and it was my responsibility to find the entertainment. One of our board members was friends with the Brooks family and gave me a cassette tape (you read that right) of Garth’s first album. He suggested Garth might be a good entertainer for our event.
After listening to his music, we decided to extend an invitation. I was beyond generous in comparison to other entertainers we had booked in the past—a whopping $5,000 to secure Garth and his band. We booked him, and a month later Garth topped the country music charts for the first time. As you can imagine, the event went down in history as the best evening of entertainment the company has ever had.
I love telling that story and how unbelievable it now seems. But recently, I watched a documentary of Garth and found it completely fascinating. I remember so much of what has happened in his life, including his rise to fame, his early retirement, and his uncanny ability to entertain audiences like no one else. When Garth plays, he does much more. He entertains.
And while ministry leaders aren’t entertainers, there are certainly a few things I’ve observed about the life of Garth and what we can do to be better leaders where God has called us. One of our LifeWay trainers, Courtney Veasey, and I had a couple of conversations about what we can learn as we lead and would love to share them with you in today’s article.
1. Garth leads with sincerity, intensity, and focus. In the documentary, he says, “The way you shake a man’s hand determines at that spot how sincerely you want to be there; how much you actually want to be there in that moment.” In other words, leaders focus on people with a sincere desire to get to know them. Look them in the eye. Show them how much you value them and how much God values them.
2. Garth gives credit to his dad for saying, “Be part of something bigger than you can be by yourself.” In ministry, all of us should desire to work with others and see God do things we can never do on our own. Garth has been playing with some of the same people for more than thirty years. There is consistency and a love of working together that compels people to follow him. If you want to see God do big things, don’t do it by yourself. Include others and give them credit when it is appropriate.
3. Garth loves his fans. He says, “You can’t call them fans; you call them blessings.” We don’t use the people we shepherd, but we treat them with respect. I saw Garth do this on the evening of the concert I booked. Despite not feeling 100 percent, he signed autographs and spoke to his fans until the last one was gone. He didn’t regret it either. In the documentary, Garth said, “Play, sign autographs, ride down the road, play again, etc. This kept happening, and we were the luckiest guys on the planet.” I can say I witnessed this very thing. People weren’t an inconvenience, but a blessing.
And the reason he kept doing it was because he knew his success wasn’t built on his talent alone, but through the backing of others. Remember, any success you have in ministry is the result of God doing the work and others coming alongside you. He said, “You don’t belong to yourself. When you step out on stage, you belong to them.” We need to remember we belong to the One who created us and give Him honor and praise. If you get the spotlight, turn it back to the Source of light.
4. You literally never know who’s listening, and what impact that person might have on your life. On Garth’s first trip to Nashville, he was quickly disillusioned, rejected, and headed straight back to Oklahoma. When he returned and sang at The Bluebird Café, Lynn Shultz was there to see someone else but got to see Garth perform live. Garth’s life was never the same. In ministry, every person you meet is an important connection in your leadership journey. They might be a mentor, a future employer, or possibly your next best friend. Trust in God’s connections and how He uses people to propel your leadership opportunities.
5. Become a part of the community before you have a voice in the community. If you want to be a leader in your church, first evaluate where you are serving. Are you willing to get to know others first before you jump into leadership? Sometimes this process can take years as you build trust with others and are given small opportunities one at a time. Don’t focus on the destination, but take each step and understand it all works together for God’s good and purpose in your life.
Finally, Garth made a comment leaders should remember. He said, “You can smell the roses while running with them in your hand.” Are you running hard as a leader and forgetting to enjoy where God has placed you? You don’t have to “stop” and smell the good things along the way. Instead, keep running and spread the fragrance all around a lost world that desperately needs the hope of the gospel just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for LifeWay Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church.You can hear Kelly at LifeWay’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.