Leadership Courage Series # 44

Go first!

Leaders go.

They take action.

They leap.

Managers, strategists, futurists, idea practitioners, educators, and visionaries can all get by without going—and particularly without going first.  Leaders, however cannot.

Leaders lead.  It’s just what they do.  That what Jesus did.  The apostles, too.

Somehow, as Christianity has passed from generation to generation the profile, role, and expectations of the local pastor has morphed—radically.

I work with pastors. Lots of them. These pastors can exegete the biblical text, minister the sacraments, craft and deliver a sermon, counsel, comfort the hurting, and coordinate the dozens of moving parts that go into a weekend service.  All these things they do well.  Seminary prepared them.  Others modeled how it’s done.  And they are busy, busy, busy with ministerial commitments of all kinds.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be working.  Offering a pretty wonderful worship experience, a variety of ways for friendships to flourish, and reasonably good religious education and entertainment options are not provoking the kinds of life-change we intend.  Christianity in the US is not growing.  Our influence in society is waning, too.

Remember Tom Skerritt’s character in A River Runs Through It? That brand of pastoral ministry just won’t do—not in this day.  The “Reverend Maclean” of today has to be a leader and one who draws, develops and deploys leaders who advance the Kingdom of God in the community outside the local church.  To lead like this takes risk.  And, risk involves pain.

My friend and mentor Ennio Salucci says that fundamentally, there are two types of pain in life: the pain of sacrifice and the pain of regret.

To go first, with all your chips in play, trusting Jesus to rescue you as you attempt God-honoring exploits … this is to experience the pain of sacrifice.

To sacrifice the comfort and safety of what’s familiar for the danger and uncertainty of the unprecedented.  To live the life God’s given you — with your whole heart engaged — is to be fully alive, awake, and influential.

To pull back from this to settle for what’s safe, easy, and predictable— is the short route to the pain of regret.  You know people in their later years who are going through the motions… asleep to the amazing life God’s made them for.

Think about the movie Rudy.  The conversation between Daniel Ruettiger Sr. and his son: “Chasing a stupid dream …causes nothing but you and everyone around you heartache…” his father intones, half-awake.  You see the pain of regret all over this man’s visage.

As American society becomes increasingly anxious and intolerant of difficulty and challenge, the Church can leap into the fray—led by pastors who have grounded themselves in the fidelity and goodness of God, who’ve learned to govern their emotional reactivity, and who are willing to lead by going first.

Will you?