With the resource of the Internet and other media outlets, there is no shortage of materials about Christian leadership. Instead of writing another article about this topic, I thought it might be helpful to write about a man who modeled what it means to be a strong Christian leader. We can learn a lot from his life and his legacy.
This past summer, my wife and I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for Ken Tanis at Delaware County Christian School (DC). We were among hundreds of people that came out to celebrate Ken’s life and his impact on the community. Ken was the Head of School at DC for 22 years but his tenure in Christian education spanned almost 50 years. Personally, my wife and I knew Ken as a friend of the family for almost 25 years and we even lived next door to him for a bit.
The memorial service was beautiful and a sincere tribute to a man who walked with his Savior for almost 80 years. It was fitting to remember, and appropriate to honor and celebrate a man like Ken as he would have naturally given the glory and credit to his Savior and Lord.
Throughout the service, Ken’s children, grandchildren and former colleague Steve Dill, shared about the man that Ken was. There was consistency in what was shared and three characteristics were mentioned again and again – humility, encouragement and compassion.
Ken was a humble, servant leader. There was not a task that was beneath him or things he would not do to help others or to serve the school community. Stories were shared of Ken painting faculty’s houses and sanding their floors, rebounding shots for a basketball player after everyone had left campus, stacking chairs, sweeping floors, picking up trash, leading and taking part in volunteer work crews, to mention a few.
Ken had the gift of encouragement. His daughter shared that one of his greatest tools were the blank notecards in his desk drawer. Ken handwrote many, many cards over the years. He wrote notes for many reasons: to thank people for coming and speaking in chapel, to celebrate a job well done by a faculty member, to pass along an encouraging word to his children and grandchildren, and to bless those he was consistently praying for. Even after suffering a stroke, when writing was difficult, it was said that he would keep his phone directory and phone near by to encourage someone who came on his mind and for whom he had been praying.
Maybe the most powerful characteristic that was mentioned about Ken was that of compassion for others. This was not something that he embodied alone but was true of his family as a whole. Story after story was shared, about how Ken and his wife would open their home to people in need. Not only were the Tanis’ sacrificial in housing those who were struggling in short term situations they demonstrated compassion by welcoming foster children into their home.
While I had the privilege of knowing Ken Tanis personally, I am confident that there are many others who like Ken, exemplify these traits of humility, encouragement and compassion. These types of leaders are the ones that parents want to entrust their children to, students want to be around, and employees want to work for.
On a recent school visit, for our work with Charter Oak, I had the privilege of observing a head of school that also modeled these traits. As we toured the school he picked up tiny pieces of trash in the hallway, opened the door every time a student or staff member approached and had a willingness to understand how others were doing. While he was busy and had a very challenging upcoming meeting with a parent, he never appeared to be in a hurry. He was thoughtful in his interactions with us and he did not need to be the center of attention. He was confident in the direction of the school and was not trying to impress. As we were finishing our time together, his focus was on how he could pray for us.
In our work with Christian schools it truly is a blessing to interact with many leaders who are humble, encouraging and compassionate in their role. Whether you knew Ken Tanis or not, his life should serve as a great example for leaders in Christian schools or any other profession for that matter. Ken’s love for the Lord and his relationship with his Savior drove the way he led. What a great encouragement for us all.