George Theis – What Godly Leadership Looks Like

Today we remember a great leader, father and friend, George Theis.

George died physically last Thursday, but he is more alive today than any of us here on earth. George accepted Jesus as His Savior while a teenager in his local church. Though he grew up knowing about Jesus, He didn’t trust Him until he was a teen in his youth group. George eventually became a missionary serving in Brazil and then the worldwide servant-leader of Word of Life – the youth organization I am proud to serve with.

I had the honour of travelling with George while a college student and knew him for 20 years of my life. I was a part of a team that was picked to travel and be discipled by the Directors of Word of Life. That gave me access to George that very few people in our organization had. During my year of seeing George in multiple scenarios it gave me an inside glimpse of what made this man who he is. And though there are plenty of other people in life that can speak to greater depths than I about George Theis, I feel compelled to share the things that I personally believe made George Theis an exceptional leader.

  1. Trust. George created a team of guys called the ‘Impact Team’. We were all young, cocky, feisty and needed exceptional guidance. Probably just the type of guys that George wanted to invest into. George taught us how to do certain things, but then launched us to go out and do it on our own. It still amazes me how George trusted us with as much ministry as he did. But it wasn’t done frivolously. George was always quick to pull us back or take us off the platform if needed. George trusted – but with guidance and wisdom.
  2. Time. George was the worldwide Executive Director of our youth ministry (now in 67 countries), but there were times where George would single us out to drive with him in his car so that he could spend time with us. Or sometimes he would take us out for lunch individually. In fact, I can’t remember a single time where George wouldn’t take the time to talk about an issue of concern. Joan (George’s wife) is the same way. I remember bringing my current wife to Joan while we were dating for her approval. If she didn’t pass the ‘Joan Test’ I wouldn’t marry her. George and Joan took the time to impact people, regardless of their position.
  3. Transparency. George, though he was the leader of a global youth ministry, wasn’t afraid to talk about his own personal struggles and victories, and the things that made his marriage strong. He was surprisingly transparent at times (but never without appropriateness and discretion). This made George real to us – he wasn’t just a man who spoke to thousands on a stage, he was a real person with real struggles who had to develop a biblical game plan to be a man of God and have a Christ honouring marriage. George was willing to be selflessly transparent.
  4. Humour. George was a fun guy to be around. Sure – there were times when it wasn’t ‘the time’, but there were plenty of down times around George that allowed for some great laughs and memories. A couple of examples: one time I was trash talking with George about my basketball ability vs. his. He challenged me to a game of one-on-one. It was a riot – not because one of us beat the other, but because of all the ‘talk’ that happened between baskets. On another occasion while we were at George and Joan’s for ice cream, George was telling me to be careful how I talked or he would have to take me ‘down’. So I told George that he was probably a little too old for that. Within a couple of seconds I was thrown into a lazy boy which toppled over and George was over me saying “What do you think of that, Foreman?”. 13 of my friends watched this all take place and were laughing right along with us. George loved to laugh and could take it as much as he could give it.
  5. Resolve. George was the first man to lead Word of Life after our Founders (Jack Wyrtzen and Harry Bollback). That would take an incredible amount of fortitude, poise and prayer – thankfully George possessed all three. George had a backbone, publically was calm and collected, and we knew the source of George’s strength was connected to his time in the Word and prayer.  George was a gifted teacher of the Word in many ways, but primarily because he would use simple teaching techniques to help you remember what he was teaching. I still remember to this day his acronym for remembering how to resist temptation and also his outline for the chapters from the book of James.  George’s desire was simple: serve Christ and honour Him. George’s resolve and tenacity made him a leader – it was evidenced because people followed.

Thank you George for your many years of faithfulness to your Lord, Joan, your children and all of us that had the opportunity to learn from you and co-labour with you.  May the Lord raise up more ‘Georges’ to remind this generation that “if your life doesn’t count for God, it doesn’t count at all.”

What was it about George’s life that impacted you?  What characteristics of godly leadership are important to you?

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