Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Soft Touch

If you were going to be caught in your worst failure, who would you want to catch you?

For myself, I'd want someone who would treat me as gently as Jesus treated the woman at the well. I think His interaction in that particular situation models how Believers are called to live, and how spiritual leadership should be exercised. Funny enough this has significant spill-over into the practicalities of everyday leadership as well.

One of my current struggles revolves around being gentler, more soft-spoken, perhaps even tactful if the planets happen to align properly. In the midst of my becoming, wouldn't you know I come face to face with an environment in which a delicate touch and mild manner are at the same time both necessary and onerous. Fortunately, this post isn't really about my current situation, my sincere apologies for the tangent.. [Editors note: no llama's were harmed in the writing of this post.]

A common thread I find in both the secular and spiritual environments is "How does leadership function in a relationship-driven environment?". When taken specifically from a spiritual perspective this is often linked with the notion of Relational Christianity. In this context alone, the question brings to light two significant issues with our perception of church and organized religion. Since I'm not really writing about secular leadership (prior tangential paragraph excluded) let's stick with the spiritual aspects.

First, this question clearly shows how we are so dependent on the leadership of men and women that we lose our ability to function without it. This is quite tragic actually. You see, if our dependency isn’t in Christ we will never discover the power and simplicity of being truly faithful.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, I'm not suggesting that if you subscribe to a leadership doctrine or an organized religion that you are somehow not a Believer. I am simply implying that to be a living richly, sold-out, on-fire, at-peace, on-your-feet, free-to-dance, all-you-have-to-do-is-fall, God-Follower...you can't really afford to get to wrapped up in an organization structure per se.

The second issue brought to light with this question is how our perception of leadership is so imbedded in managing or controlling institutions that we cannot recognize it without titles or positions.

The protest at this point usually involves the leadership evidenced in the early church. I am by no means contesting this point. Leaders must exist, leadership must always be exercised. This point is well and truly conceded. My dissent requires asking the question, "What kind of leaders were they?".

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:42-45

We read here clearly how Jesus warned His disciples that in God’s reality leadership serves a vastly different function than it does in the world. The crux of this difference is because spiritual leadership is not based on management. Take a walk through Barnes and Nobles and see how many books on Christian leadership today are supposedly adapted to the business world. This alone should make us stop and question how the popular view of leadership has been tainted.

The Gospel portrait of leadership doesn’t portray leadership as the power to command, but instead it is the passion to serve others. My own views on leadership have matured over the years away from viewing leadership as power, influence, or even giftedness. Thinking on my own life I came to realize that those who have helped me most to grow, didn’t hold positions of power at all. They simply loved me enough to point out the way to God’s heart and then let me decide if I wanted to follow it. In my walk today I notice how it is those who have been most transformed with a Godly character who disregard the power of the Religion I once thought so essential to furthering the kingdom. It is these Faithful who reject anything that doesn’t reflect the child-like freedom to walk together in right relationship with the Father.

Considering my own walk and reviewing the life experiences of those I respect, a subtle truth emerges. Those who most effectively function in leadership don’t need titles, salaries or positions of authority. On the contrary, those things only distract from a true calling. Those who have been called to effective leadership know there is an inherent conflict between spiritual authority and institutional power.

Today people qualify for leadership in our religious institutions based on their educational background or eloquence. They are hired for Biblical knowledge or for their ability to draw a crowd. We recruit for positions from those who can manage a vision or motivate people to help achieve the organizational goals. If they draw a salary from a religious organization, if they have a title, we believe them to be leaders even if their lives don’t reflect a walk with Christ. We now have an entire industry of seminaries and educational programs to "prepare" people to lead our Religions.

The Gospel describes leadership as being evidenced by a transformed life. A life lived in daily, right, relationship with Christ. Leadership in the early church had nothing to do with what gifts a person possessed or lacked. It mattered only that their character had been transformed in a visible way. They began to treat others with truth and tenderness, just as Jesus did.

As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. -- 1 John 2:27

This in no way downplays the importance of wise counsel and teaching. The crucial perspective is to realize the fleetingness of it. The role of a leader is only temporary, helping as needed, then returning to the permanent role as brother or sister.

But you are not to be called "Rabbi", for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "father", for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "teacher", for you have one Teacher, the Christ.The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. -- Matthew 23: 8-12

This doesn't leave much to interpretation does it? That is one of the things I love most about Scripture. When put so simply, it becomes obvious what leadership is not. It can be less obvious what leadership is.

The best piece of advice I've ever distilled usually comes out when talking about being successful in life in general. As is often the case, that same piece of advice is what I have found to be crucial to spiritual leadership as well.

Be Deliberate, Be Articulate, and Be Transparent.

When you are about your business of life, it should be clear what you are doing, why you are doing it, and you should be able to communicate clearly about it. If you are doing something you can't or don't want to talk about publicly, you probably shouldn't be doing it. If you can't explain why you are doing something, or your intentions aren't obvious, then there is a good chance you need to reconsider your motivations. Of course there is place for discretion, and everyone doesn't need to be all up in your business, but in general I've found those three little words to be a handy measure of whether my Walk and my Talk are lining up.

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