Leadership Courage Series #15
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part six)
We’re examining what may be a unique kind of leadership—and I’m advocating that such leadership is compulsory if the Church is to provide the redemptive influence in American society that she was given, by Jesus, to bring. For fourteen segments, you’ve considered the regressive and infantile culture that I assert has become normative in the Church. For the last five, you’ve been invited to reinvent yourself as a distinctly courageous leader.
Last time, we began to consider a fourth leadership characteristic: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come. You were invited to recognize that, like Jesus, every leader is an exemplar.
It can be no other way.
A leader is not simply someone who gets things done or who gets other people to behave in desirable ways. A leader is different. She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way. This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge. It can better be described in terms of being. A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive. It provokes maturity in those she influences. The differences are palpable.
One difference is the way a leader is in the midst of sabotage and backlash. Fuller Professor Dr. J. Robert Clinton has identified Leadership Backlash to be one of the most common methods God uses to develop leadership character. Backlash occurs when once-enthusiastic followers turn against their leader in the face of unexpected difficulties. In A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman elaborates: “Mutiny and sabotage came…from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.” It is the leader’s person and posture amidst this collegial sabotage that is so stunningly effective.
A courageous leader recognizes how common backlash and sabotage is, and that both are the product of evacuated courage in those disheartened by difficulty. The leader interprets backlash as an opportunity to model a way of leading that inspires confidence [from the Latin, literally “with trust”] toward God, and to deepen the maturity and faithfulness of colleagues and followers. Further, this kind of leader chooses to interpret the opposition as provision from Heaven.
Consider Jesus. In John 6:66 we read that many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Immediately, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks: Don’t you want to go away as well? He saw the departure of the many as an opportunity to test the resolve of the leaders closest to him.
Embracing the reality of God’s sovereignty and apprehending the security of God’s unconditional love, she leans into the resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
Just a few verses later, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him begin to applaud his brilliance, he says: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…” Humility.
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes nor its failures. He has a part. His colleagues have a part. The system has a part. And, factors beyond anyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals. Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16: 13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I love the King James Version’s ancient rendering, which, I believe, has nothing to do with gender: “Quit ye like men.”