Aspen Glow

The aspen tree’s limbs reach out far 
and wide. So too must an effective
leader’s influence to those he or
she mentors.

One of the largest organisms on planet earth is an aspen tree. Found throughout the United States, aspen trees shimmer in the spring and summer, turn a splendorous gold in the autumn and shed their leaves in the winter cold. One aspen tree in Utah (USA) weighs over six thousand tons (that’s twelve million pounds!). How can an aspen be so large and yet live on average only one hundred years? The answer is because an aspen tree is actually a limb that grows both into the air and into the soil, sending its roots both deep and wide. Thus, it gives birth to another limb. Over and over again goes the process. One such aspen has birthed more than forty thousand other limbs, each appearing to be its own tree. When we see such an aspen on a mountainside it looks to be a large grove of trees. In actuality it is only one aspen tree. The original limb dies almost unseen amidst its children, while the limbs it births go on for thousands of years.

Of course there is a leadership lesson here. We are best at being leaders when we freely give ourselves to birthing and nourishing other leaders. Such leaders care little about who gets the credit for ministry success, as long as the kingdom grows. They market neither their own name nor their achievements; rather, they gather limbs all around them until soon they blend into the glorious beauty of God’s larger work. In today’s leadership literature we call such leaders “mentors.” A dear mentor in my life, Dr. Leighton Ford, taught me of the aspen through his words and deeds. I am grateful for him and credit him for the analogy.

Mel Lorentzen had a
kingdom vision.

As a result, I see aspens emerging throughout the kingdom Church worldwide. Today, I am especially grateful for one aspen-leader I met nearly ten years ago. Dr. Mel Lorentzen was a distinguished professor of literature at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois, USA). Mel had many talents; he could write, teach, preach and organize ministry with astonishing effect. He served as one of the first leaders of the Billy Graham Center, where I now act as director. In fact, he led much of the work behind the scenes to build the Center’s impressive structure. He also started the Institute for Strategic Evangelism, a vanguard department of the Center’s ministries. Mel’s leadership was spread richly and broadly in many ventures close to home and in far away places.

However, I did not know Mel in any of those roles. Rather, I met him when he was “retired.” Re-fired is a better word. He was full of energy. I especially remember how his eyes twinkled when he spoke either personally or in a public setting. His mind was fully engaged, his passion for Christ and his kingdom undiminished. What I most valued, however, were the personal times together either in my office or over lunch at the community center where he lived. He listened deeply to my musings about life and ministry. He was probably quite amused by me and my sometimes silly rantings. He tenderly spoke into my life, gave careful and thoughtful advice regarding the Billy Graham Center and deepened my love of literature and the arts. I loved Jesus and life more because of Mel. I miss him. Heaven is richer since he left us, but we are, I am afraid, lessened.

And yet Mel is still with us. You see, he was an aspen. His memories, his teachings and even some of his carefully saved wealth lives on. I was filled with gratitude and yet not surprised when part of his estate was given to the Billy Graham Center nearly a year ago. If you are reading these words in Lausanne World Pulse (LWP) you may give thanks to God for Mel, because his gift is providing you with several months of inspiration, instruction and interconnection. Each monthly issue of LWP costs nearly $9,000USD to produce. And yet anyone around the world can read it for free. Everyone reading LWP is blessed through the giant aspen that was Mel and others like him.

Ponder the aspen and its maker. Go and do likewise.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.