My church leader, Graham Jakeman, died suddenly earlier in the summer aged 44. His vision, faith and unique leadership helped start and sustain Jubilee Church since it began in September 2003.
Graham was stubborn. I am used to being able to convince and influence people through my words and arguments, but I don’t think I ever changed his mind about anything. At times this was immensely frustrating, but it also meant that Graham was as solid as a rock – he was not ‘tossed around easily by the waves‘. His views were only changed slowly by those who proved over many years their commitment to God’s love and wisdom. He listened carefully to what God was calling him to do and then stuck by it through thick and thin. And thick. And thin.
Happy in himself
He was peculiarly happy in his own skin. Unlike most of us, he didn’t feel the need like to justify his actions or seek approval from others for his beliefs. He just was. On one of the last Sundays he preached he stood in front of us and said “Church, I don’t need you. Even if you all left tomorrow it wouldn’t change anything for me, because I’m doing what the Father has shown me to do.” Of course the irony is that it’s him that left us.
If you asked him for advice on something he would listen, then think for a few seconds, and then tell you what he thought. He didn’t take decision making responsibility away from you and he didn’t make it about him and his experiences. You asked for advice, he gave it. No frills. Although, he did learn to say some of the harder stuff ‘with flowers’ as he put it.
‘He believed in me’
Graham’s greatest gift was seeing the good things that God had put inside of people and pulling them out, often before the person in question realised what was there themselves. At his funeral a stream of people stood up to speak and said the same thing: ‘Graham believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself’. He had a particular heart for those with a gift for prophecy – often misunderstood and damaged by churches afraid of leaders who naturally led from a gift other than teacher or pastor.
In the last two years of Graham’s life he was happier than I’d ever seen him. After the slog of ‘building’ a church (and looking after some enthusiastic, but headstrong twenty-somethings, ahem JC) Graham and the church learned the hard way that we couldn’t do things through our own work. It wasn’t about programmes, or delineating strict in-out theological lines, but about realising that we are the Sons and Daughters of a God that really does ‘renew our minds’ and hearts each day and gives us good things to share with each other and the world around. The weight of leadership lifted off Graham’s shoulders and he was free to lead us in practicing and knowing the joy that God brings.
Graham has died, but he has left us with so much. We think of his wife and two children each day. And we go on to live out the things that he has put inside us – the resolute honesty and determination, asking God to show us the gifts He has given others; and the Joy of knowing the approval and love of our Father God is all we need. That’s not to say that we’ll try and step into the gap left by trying to ‘be Graham’. That place has already been taken.
Graham Jakeman – Rest in Joy. 1968-2012