Sunday, December 14, 2008

Leadership & High Anxiety

As we near the time which observes the birth of the Son of God, I rejoice. At the same time, on occasion I’m flummoxed. Jesus just plain didn’t give us a lot of clarity on important things. Yes, we know he is the savior of the world, he certainly modeled and taught extraordinary love. On the other hand Jesus did not leave us with the 10 steps to abundant living or the top 5 practices that will guarantee happiness. Buddha made it easy, follow the Noble Eightfold Path and find enlightenment. Mohammed was clearer still – practice the Five Pillars of Islam. Granted, the good news of salvation through faith in Christ as a gift from God leading to a life of love is about as simple as it gets. But in this simplicity is the real difficulty. It’s ambiguous (in fact, this is a real complaint by Muslims against Christianity – too easy to interpret the faith in too many different ways).

In reality, however, Jesus is the ultimate model of excellent leadership. There is a temptation in times of high anxiety and stress (as had been first century Palestine and 21st century America – and really just about every era and place if you study history) to look to the guru with the clear, simple idea that saves the day. The leader people want is she who can promise a fix, quick is better, simple is best, to whatever ails us. The leader people need is she who can distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges, and provide the framework in which people learn to face hard realities, adapting their behaviors and attitudes for greater health.

There are two basic situations that require two different kinds of leadership. First, a technical problem requires technical leadership. Some situations have a technical solution, and clear leadership with 3 easy steps is exactly the kind of response that is necessary. My car is broken (situation), what must be done? The mechanic (in this situation, the leader of choice) will diagnose the problem (spark plugs need to be replaced) and fix it (replace the spark plugs). Most of the situations Jesus dealt with, and with which those who pastor churches or lead board and committees deal with, are not merely technical problems.

Second, an adaptive problem requires adaptive leadership. Sometimes, identifying the problem is not simple (why is my church declining?) for even the most expert of leaders, nor is identifying the solution (is it prayer, evangelism, worship style, discipleship, demographic??). It is maladaptive and unhelpful for leaders to provide easy answers. It is equally unhelpful for those seeking to be led to expect all the answers to flow from the point guru (or senior pastor). In adaptive leadership, the leader and those being led must covenant together to learn how to identify the real problems and their solutions. In a technical situation, the leader with the know-how should provide the easy solution, but in an adaptive situation the leader must assist those being led to grow and learn together how best to change under the circumstances.

Jesus said, “Come follow me,” and “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” That was an adaptive invitation. God invites us into the God-life which provides no easy answers, but an invitation to continual growth, continual learning, continual facing of our own weaknesses and submitting them continually to the abundant grace of God. Indeed, how amazing it is that the God-Man would be born of woman, and by virtue of this entry into our lives, need to grow in stature and wisdom.

Leaders of the North Central Conference – resist the temptation to jump to easy conclusions about what you and the church you lead must be and do. Above all, resist the temptation, and it is very strong, to need to appear like the man or woman who has all the answers. Instead, keep focused on the Jesus-way, and do the harder and more honest work of keeping your congregation and community focused on the real-life challenges that lie ahead, while providing the environment of mutual love and respect that allows for learning, failing, risking, succeeding, failing and learning some more.

It’s not the 8-fold path or 5-pillars, or 3 things to fix your church forever way of thinking. But perhaps is more authentically the Jesus way of leading.

Your servant,
Superintendent Mark

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