I am grateful for seminaries and for the example of the dedicated scholars who invested in my education. At the same time, while I do believe in leadership, I don’t believe in the “sole” leadership model I was taught in seminary. One person is not God’s sole instrument in a community.
I didn’t take the following classes in seminary, but I have paid far more (in a non-monetary sense) for not having taken them than I paid (in a monetary sense) for the classes that earned me my degree. (Note: I paid A LOT of money for my degree.)
Most people can be taught to be leaders. There is no end to the books written on the subject. But Godly following is what really takes a lifetime to master. Jesus’ first words to his first disciples, and, I believe, to us, are a simple invitation to follow. And then, as we walk behind Him, he teaches us leaders what to look like in His manifesto on the mountain.
(It will be helpful to first quickly read the beatitudes, which I am copying as a footnote for your convenience. This my translation, I have simply reversed the reward and then the requirement.)
As a leader, you must learn to follow those who already grasp the kingdom (the poor in spirit or the broken), those who have found joy in deep pain (those who mourn, suffer, the depressed and psychotic), those who are rulers of earth (the unnoticed, the unimportant, the meek), those have been pardoned (who have taken no revenge, who feel the pain of the hurting), those who are truly content, not with things but with purpose (because they burn with passion to give justice and mercy to all), those who are the God see-ers (the naive, the simple-minded, the pure), those whose last name is IAMGOD’S (the middle-children of alcoholics, the ones in the gap, the ones who know when someone is left out or sad before anyone else, the ones who long for peace on earth), and those who are the heaven-tenants (the ones who are misunderstood, the ones no one likes, the victims of abuse, the persecuted).
I learned to be “other” than of these requirements.
If you have to lead, hold hands with someone.
My friend was a mountain explorer in his early days. He told me the secret to surviving the razor edge of a mountain at 23,000 feet is to be roped to a partner. If your partner falls and plummets to the east, you heave yourself to the west. It is the tension that will save you. If you lead alone, or as the chief executive officer, the one who can fire everyone else, you will battle arrogance and power. You may survive it, but it will be your constant thorn. But if you find friends that are your equals, if you submit some of your power to others, then as a team you have far less risk of giving in to power plays.
Remember, as much as Jesus made you good at something, He made you bad at far more things. On purpose He created you to need others so you would not climb alone.
He invented the co-lead everything. It is His DNA to be inseparable from community. There is no power struggle in the Trinity. There is a perfect tension of strength and unique identity.
My co-pastors and I have lived this truth out for seven years as part of The Refuge, and it has sustained us. But in all of these years I have yet to convince one church or organization to make the same, simple shift.
I spent most of my ministry career wanting to be a good communicator. I learned the “tricks of the trade” like inductive, deductive, narrative, persuasive and even comedic preaching. These were the tools I developed to live out my calling.
What I did not know is that people don’t always need a good answer as much as they need a good question. It is actually reassuring for them that I don’t always know how it works and that knowing and trusting are often worlds apart.
Try to be honest about what you don’t get, or don’t like, or don’t believe. Admit, that you come across more certain than you really are, and in fact, you cannot possibly believe everything you preach with the gusto and enthusiasm you appear to have.
Leave some white space. Allowing questions from your audience will automatically make you more human and a much better communicator. Again, a great question is always more instructive than a great answer especially if it occurs in real time from someone who is actually hearing you speak.
This is the foundation of all ministry and leadership. Do you know how to be a good friend?
I did not. I knew how to inspire people, not walk alongside them. This has by far been the most painful learning curve. I have left piles of hurt people in my wake simply because I did not how to do more than give them good ideas. I abandoned people. I ran when I began to be loved and not admired. No one taught me how to be a friend and I continued to relate to people exactly as I did in junior high school. Needless to say I did not have many friends then.
I think we need good leaders and pastors. I think we need each other. I am curious to what you might add to the curriculum. Maybe together we can begin to see a new way.
The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-10
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.