Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part three)

What does it take to be a courageous leader, particularly amidst a culture that, for decades, has been steeped in cowardice? Can a pastor, denominational exec, or church leader actually turn the tide of emotional and spiritual regression before the Church loses what’s left of its traction in American society?

We’re examining courageous leadership, convinced that God has you reading this blog that you might begin to practice a way of being in your life, your business, your marriage, your family, your congregation, and your community for such a time as this.

To review, courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge.  It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life. The past two weeks, we’ve explored what it means to be a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence.  Now, we’ll turn to a second insight from Friedman— another one that Jesus modeled for us.

Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny. Most pastors struggle here: living as if they were responsible for the emotional being and destiny of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other people — and then participating in life as if their own well-being and destiny were dependent on others: the Bishop, their elder board, the denomination, local economic trends, or some abusive control-freak in some position of leadership.

How might pastors and congregations accelerate their progress toward maturity were pastors to make this single, profound shift.

Let’s break it down.

Step one is to disconnect from the generations-long ministerial malpractice of taking responsibility for others. You and your members can’t both be responsible for their well-being and destiny. If you take responsibility for them, they won’t.  If you don’t, and you stand with them as if they were responsible before God for their own being and destiny then maybe – just maybe – they will.

How many parents of adult children have lamented their 20-something’s dependence and irresponsibility—until the parents cut off the financial flow?

Facing, for the first time, the very real possibility of starvation and homelessness, most of those chronically-immature sons and daughters find a way to get out of bed, land a job, and step into responsible adult lives.  But, the over-responsible parents had to cut down the safety net first. And, to do so, they had to grow their capacity to tolerate the squawks and tantrums of the overly-dependent ones. [For more on this topic, see The Responsibility Riddle, blog #4 in this Series.]

In Mt 23:37 Jesus mourns for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Offered comfort, protection, and rescue– they said “no”.  And, Jesus is clear: their choice didn’t diminish him or the value of his offer of redemption.  And, he was also clear that they would get to live-out the results of their decision.

So too, pastor, with you. You are not your church.  They are not an extension of you.  You don’t think of yourself as an extension of your spouse, boss, siblings, or district superintendent, do you?  So, why enmesh with your congregation as if who you are is determined by their choices and deportment?

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, asserts that leaders can bypass burnout by avoiding the trap of taking responsibility for others and their problems.  Imagine life without the double-bind of being burdened by a false responsibility for the choices and decisions of others.

Do yourself a favor: re-read Ephesians, I & II Timothy, and Rev 2:1-7 then answer this:

a) Did Paul make himself responsible for Timothy’s being and destiny?

b) Was Timothy responsible for the being & destiny of the church at Ephesus?

If not, who was??

What does the Scripture teach?

Step two is to take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny. Notice how Jesus presences himself when instructing the disciples about his betrayal [Mk 14:18-25].  You don’t see him coming apart at the seams, an emotional wreck, begging Judas to reconsider.  Instead, he uses the impending calamity to instruct them about fidelity, sacrifice, and the cost of discipleship.

At his arrest, Jesus is fully in control of his emotions and reactions.  He does not personalize Judas’ betrayal: “Oh Judas, how could you??!!”  He doesn’t negotiate: “Hey fellas, what if I agree to stop teaching in the Temple—would that be OK with you??”  Nor does he play the victim: “Doggone it you guys.  If you’d stayed awake and prayed like I asked you, none of this would’ve happened!!” [Mk 14:43-50]

Brought before the Sanhedrin [Mk 14:53-64], Jesus does not tantrum, collapse in an ocean of tears, call down fire, nor even expose his accusers’ hypocrisy.  The only response recorded by Mark is his unmistakably clear admission that yes, he is the Christ, and that they will one day see him sitting at the Father’s right hand.

See, Jesus lived as if his being and destiny were securely and completely in his Father’s hands. Clear about his calling to serve humankind as he fulfilled the Father’s will [Mk 10:45], Jesus’ being and destiny was undeterred by the autonomous choices made by the autonomous human beings all around him: Pilate, Peter, Judas, the false accusers before the Sanhedrin, and on and on.

Engaging his life in this way, Jesus catalyzed the maturing of the followers to whom he turned over the Church after his crucifixion.

And today, he’s turned that Church over to you, and me.