It was a lesson he learned from his father. When Rudolph Guiliani was a boy, his father taught him the importance of going to funerals and wakes. Hs father never missed a single funeral in his life, he always showed up. Young Rudy accompanied his dad and he saw how much it meant to friends and neighbors that they were there. ‘My father defined himself by helping people when they need him the most’, Guiliani remembers in his book Leadership. His father taught him: weddings are discretionary, funerals mandatory.

“Everybody likes weddings. Funerals are difficult. That’s why one’s needed, and that’s why it means more when one shows up. The fun events – weddings, parties, fancy dinners – all these are wonderful. And they’re important; a leader ought to join with people in enjoying those rewards for hard work and sacrifice. But when the chips are down – when someone you care about is struggling for answers or burying a loved one – that’s when the measure of a leader is taken.”

It was a lesson he wouldn’t forget. Right up till September 11 2001, Guiliani as mayor attended every funeral of people who had died in the line of fire in New York City. And even amidst the complete chaos after 9/11, Guiliani ordered that a city representative be present at each and every funeral of firemen, police officers, and others who died in the rescue efforts.


I read Guiliani’s book Leadership (which I really recommend for anyone interested in leadership, solid advice and loads of personal experiences in leadership) when I was working as a manager in a hospital and volunteering in youth ministry. The principle of being there for your people, especially in times of need was one that struck a chord in me.

I applied it when the daughter of one of my employees became terminally ill. Against formal hospital regulations, I granted her leave of absence to be with her daughter till the very end. Her daughter died in her arms a few weeks later. When the funeral came, I closed our outpatient ward so the whole team could attend the funeral. It meant the world to my employee, who told me that our presence had made her realize she didn’t have to go through this alone.

It’s easy to share in joy with your leaders and volunteers in youth ministry. I’ve been at baby showers, weddings, engagements and birthday parties and I’ve enjoyed them immensely. It’s good and Biblical to share the joyous moments in our lives. It’s good, but not necessary.

It’s far more important to be there when the hard times come. I’ve had leaders and volunteers who had miscarriages, who had marital problems, struggles with their teenage kids, who lost their jobs, who had parents or brothers and sisters die. That’s when they need others, when they needed me. Not to be their counselor, their problem solver or their marriage therapist. They just needed me to be there, to show that I cared.

Weddings are discretionary, funerals mandatory.

Are you there for your leaders, your volunteers and even your youth when the tough times come? Even when those tough times take a while? Are you willing to be present in their lives?

You don’t have to have the answers. You don’t have to say anything profound. You don’t have to have anything to offer. You just need to be there, to show that you care.

Weddings are discretionary, funerals mandatory.