Leading in the Right(ish) Direction

There are times I’m quite directionally challenged, and not when you’d most likely expect it. I don’t go to Oak Park Mall very often, but you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to navigate – after all, it’s a pretty straight line from East to West. I can go in a store, come back out and walk quite a long way before realizing I’m headed the same direction from which I came, rather than forward toward the end where I haven’t been. I don’t quite understand the complexity of how that happens. I have a friend who lives in a large apartment complex. Her apartment is at the end of a hallway that runs straight – no curves, no little apartment door cul-de-sacs, no left and right turns to be had – simply a straight hallway with the elevator a bit closer to one end than the other. One evening, completely free of any libations, I came out of the elevator, walked to the end of the hall and confidently knocked on the door of an apartment that I believed belonged to the person I knew. The door was opened by a young woman standing there who had no recognizable characteristics to me. I quite irrationally asked if my friend lived there, and the young woman smiled the tolerant/intolerant smile of a young adult speaking to a less-than-young adult and said that no, no one by that name lived there and I probably wanted the other end of the hall. I was tempted to ask if she had a church home but then decided that sharing that I was the pastor of a church to which I was inviting her might be more of a deterrent than a magnet in this situation.

Understand that I can find my way anywhere on any back road within a 150-200 mile radius west of Salina. I can even find my way around this city in my head having lived in Kansas City, MO off Independence Ave. and Truman Rd. during seminary, then north of the river, then in south Overland Park while I served at Asbury, then in Baldwin City where I came to know my way around Lawrence, and then in west Olathe and now Shawnee. I can pretty much get close enough to anywhere to find a specific address. BUT I CAN’T FIND MY WAY IN AN EFFICIENT MANNER THROUGH ANY KIND OF BUILDING THAT IS A STRAIGHT LINE?! If that makes you nervous about my leadership, I totally understand, and yet…maybe “straight line” leadership is not the only way of leading. Hmmmmm.

Did you know that was where I was headed?!!? *snort* Sorry, I’m sort of on vacation so I’m…a little off the map – I know, right? I just can’t stop myself!

Anyway, I think the balance between the poetic and the objective, the empirical and the subjective, the utilitarian and the beautiful is the dynamic that keeps us moving together, albeit in different ways, toward fulfilling the vision and purpose God has for us not only as individuals but as communities, even the body politic. One of the greatest challenges we are facing in this particular chapter of our Republic is that balance of leadership defined differently depending on who, where, and how you find yourself experiencing the world. Understand differences are SO NOT a bad thing! The question is how we reach across and/or through those differences for one another’s hand so that we both become stronger together in the midst of our particularities. Some believe that to be impossible. I refuse to believe that, I simply refuse. See, even when I walk out of that store where you can sit in massage chairs, or that one that only sells clothes in black and white, or that other one where you can purchase a Micky and Minnie shirt, and I head seemingly backwards, there’s always time to recognize that and turn around. I think in theological terms that’s called grace. And maybe that detour takes extra time you don’t think you have, and maybe it causes a bit of frustration and embarrassment, but maybe you also see a few more people, notice a few more things you missed the first time you walked past, and maybe when you realize you don’t always have the all the answers to the correct way forward it creates a spirit of openness to hearing someone else’s ideas on direction. I dunno, just a thought.

So here’s a definition of leadership, written by Kathleen M. Trotter, that I came across in 1989 and I still find the words timeless in their wisdom. I also hope you’ll watch the YouTube piece on knowing your “why”!

Written by Kathleen M. Trotter
(ISSN 0891-8767)

As a child, I admired, even envied, those who were leaders. My dad was a leader in our church. He was respected. People listened to him and acted on his perceptions. Our pastor was a leader in the community. When there was a problem, Rev. Jim was consulted. At that time public officials were leaders, held in esteem and expected to give exemplary direction to the rest of us who followed, trusting their judgment.

From this childhood perspective, I imagined that the position of leader would satisfy all inner desires to feel needed and loved. I believed that surely leaders must always feel happy and satisfied and supported. I aspired to be a leader.

As an adult, I have been a leader now and then, and I see the role from a different perspective. I now understand why Moses’ response to God’s request to lead the people of Israel was, “Who, me?” I have a glimmer of insight into Jesus’ agony in the garden when he asked God if there was any other way, and finally consented to be used in whatever way was necessary to fulfill God’s plan.

Being a leader is more than managing a set of tasks or acting as a figurehead. A leader consistently sees beyond the is to the ought, and is able to take people there. A leader is able to visualize a different and better future. A leader speaks the truth and motivates people to act on their highest values. A leader builds a bridge between the seen and the unseen.

Being a leader is frightening. It demands risk-taking. If I choose to be a leader, it means that I must share the insights and intuitions that are uniquely mine. It means I must speak up when I sense that established perceptions no longer meet the needs of this time and place. It requires that I attempt to create new words, new meanings, new orders, new behaviors that will lift us all to a higher level of awareness and interaction. It means that I must risk being wrong, misunderstood, causing discomfort.

Being a leader usually brings respect, if it is earned. But it does not necessarily assure popularity. In fact, influential leaders are often opposed, rejected, and undermined by those who are threatened by new ideas and directions. Being a leader is often lonely.

To be a leader in the community of God demands that we are motivated by love and service, not power. Servant leaders share information and ideas freely and empower others to succeed and receive credit. Servant leaders are able and willing to play any role that is needed – chairperson or committee worker, director or supporter, spokesperson or group member. Servant leaders understand that there are many right ways to do right things. They keep their attention on the larger vision, and resist the urge to control every little detail.

Servant leadership is a calling from God. Only through the practice of the spiritual disciplines can we maintain the strength and balance necessary to be servant leaders. Grounded in scripture, meditation, and prayer, we will be lifted up and we will be humbled. We will be given vision and made aware of our blindness. We will be strengthened to carry the burdens of the world and befriended when we walk alone.

As an adult, I still aspire to be a leader, no longer out of the childish desire to satisfy egotistical needs but in response to God’s call, made in the flesh-and-blood person of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, I, too, can say, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”