I was talking with a friend today about his leadership style. Rather, he was revealing to me that his leadership style lacks a few key components that he has recently become more aware of. He said, “Someone asked me recently, ‘why do you have to do everything yourself, instead of letting other people take the lead sometimes?’ ” I found this rather shocking to hear from this person because I’ve always perceived his leadership as balanced with good delegation, accompaniment and collaboration with others. But his perspective, as a leader, is that he has control issues.
So what’s the trick to good leadership that balances healthy strong leading by example and healthy delegation that empowers others? Some food for thought:
Empowering others to lead out of their skill set is both freeing and beneficial – I learned a while ago, by trial and error, that people want to do what people want to do. Sounds too simple to be true, but in a culture of “opt in/opt out” technology, more and more people are choosing to get involved with the things that interest them and neglecting the things that are cumbersome or to laborious without reward. To a degree, we need to learn to pay attention to peoples’ interests and learn to empower some to take a risk and lead in an area of interest.
In youth ministry, this looks a little something like this conversation I had with a kid, “Hey Reid, this youth room looks a little… um, sorry, but it looks dated and old. Can you like, paint it or something?” My response was to ask what that student enjoyed, or what they would like to see in the room to make them feel more excited about coming to youth group weekly. They mentioned an interest in photography, so I empowered them to take pictures for the youth group and we could post them in the room, or find some other kids to help them spruce up the room a little. With that kid’s leadership, we ended up doing a cost effect youth room overhaul and it turned out great, other kids liked it, and I gave all the credit to that kid for her initiation on the project.
There’s a fine balance between delegating, empowering and control – “… but I have control issues!!”
I think we all have control issues. This comes right from the first breath we take and continues through childhood, adolescence and even marriage and vocation. It’s important to become aware of our ‘control issues’ and in order to lead well, we let that awareness build into tactics of learning to let go of the outcome on a project, empowering others and collaboration. One of the mantras I hear from my own soul daily, and from some colleagues in ministry is, “I’m the only one who knows how to do things around here, and if I don’t do it, it’s not going to come out right.”
I wonder if Jesus thought these things about the disciples. What a bunch of misfits; Peter – loudmouth, James & John – anger issues and intolerant, Judas – thief, double-crosser & betrayer, Matthew – old miser, Mark – punk little kid… Why didn’t Jesus have control issues with these guys? I’m amazed at Jesus’ humility he showed to them time and time again, and he remained so patient. Even in the encounter with the boy with an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-32), the 12 can’t get rid of the evil spirit, so the father brings the boy to Jesus and says, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they couldn’t.” Jesus ministers to the man and his boy, “saw that a crowd was running to the scene” (v.25), continues to minister, then takes the 12 inside. They asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon, and Jesus kindly instructs them about prayer. He continues to teach them (v.30-31), but doesn’t humiliate them or belittle them. He empowers them through an example of leading, and then later would give them another time to try on their own. I love it.
What if they screw it up? –
This is our most common fear in lack of delegation. We don’t want to “look bad” in front of others as we let someone learn, do we? We are so concerned about how we look to “the crowd” that we rarely let others lead. What I’ve learned from others before me is that “screwing up” is part of learning. Thank God for the men and women in my life who have let me take a leadership role, messed the whole thing up, and humbly taken me by the hand and asked me what I might have learned by it. Life and leadership is more than trying to “look good” in front of others. In the end, people are going to remember your heart, your humility and your confidence as a leader, maybe more than any words you ever spoke, or ways you made sure no one ever screwed up around you. Let’s learn together.
Going fishing with my Dad taught me to limit my catches to 12 fish in a day, based on fishing license limits, except when we lived in Alaska. There was no limit to fish then. One of the tricks to limiting fish, is learning to release. Keeping the bigger fish means letting smaller ones go. When you catch a fish, you pull it into the boat, u decide whether the size is too small, and if so gently release it back to the water for it to continue to grow.
“Catch & Release” has value in our life too. In an age of Twitter, FB ‘friending’ and social networking, one begins to think that accumulation of status and friendship is a goal or a status. Is that the goal God has for us today? Could it be that God brings people into our lives for a purpose, and releases people out of our lives for another purpose? One friend of mine talks about “shepherding souls” as a God-given way for us to care for people along life’s journey until they move out of our lives. She says, “When someone moves out of her life, it is best to bless them and release them physically, emotionally and spiritually, so that they can become the person God is designing them to become.”
How do you release someone? I imagine there are healthy ways to release people to become what God has designed and unhealthy ways, which result in not letting go. Some unhealthy indicators might include a feeling of jealousy for the other person’s new situation. When you cannot get their new living situation out of your head, or wish it were your new life, then maybe you haven’t released them. Bitterness or lack of forgiveness is another indicator of not releasing someone. If you can’t forgive them, you have not released them.
What are some healthy ways to release people to be who God’s called them to be? Possibly here are some steps you can use to release others to grow:
~ Forgive them. If there’s anything that remains a hurt in your life from unresolved pain, it’s nearly impossible to let someone go. Forgiving means coming to resolution about an issue together or reconciling your portion of the issue so that you might release that person in your heart. “Above all else guard your heart; for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). You have a part to play in forgiving someone so that you can release them from a ‘bondage’ they unwittingly hold over you. When you forgive, you release them from a grip in your life.
~ Give them permission. One of the ways I’ve found that helps me release others to greater potential is granting permission to grow. One of the worst things clingy friends have done to me in the past is attempted to control my growth by not granting me permission to explore, to fail, or to go in a direction away from them. I feel that the same needs to happen in others’ lives. If I am to release someone to grow, I need to stop assuming they will respond the way I would like them to, or grow in the direction I presume for them. I can’t control anyone.
~ Pray for them. Scripture tells us to pray for one another. Even the Apostle Paul writes, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:4-5) You can partner with others in the spreading of the gospel by praying for them and releasing them to another ministry in their location. Prayer is a wonderful venue of ‘releasing’ someone into God’s care.
God is the master fisherman. It is His intention that we all grow, mature and flourish as we were designed. It is not my role to play the fisherman in others’ lives, catching them for my benefit. I need to release people to thrive in the freedom God has granted us by His grace. May you come to find a “releasing” skill growing in you as we mature in Christ together.
A former student from our youth group, now in seminary recently interviewed me for a leadership class. “What, or who influenced your call into ministry?” Without a breath, or a second of reflection, I blurted out, “My parents and my youth pastor.”
I grew up a missionary kid in Central and South America and watched my parents minister God’s grace in settings and that many kids never get to experience growing up. I saw my dad pray healing over people and observed many who gave their life to Christ as I experienced childhood. It was part of my DNA to experience the grace of Jesus expressed in and around people.
My youth pastors in JH & HS helped give me an expression of deeper faith as I learned how to articulate my faith story for peers through high school. I can honestly say I heard the voice of God call me into full time vocational ministry at 18 years old when I was giving a quick talk at youth group about growing up in Ecuador and giving my heart to Jesus when I lived in the missionary Nate Saint’s house. When kids told me later that they prayed to accept Jesus into their life because of what I had said that night, I was hooked. God grabbed me and I heard a call to go to Christian college and study pastoral ministry.
Not every kid is called like this. Every call is completely different, some are pulled out of a life of drugs or porn or addiction to adrenaline and God uses that as a platform for sharing in His Kingdom. Some have a heart wrenching painful story of parent’s abuse, or a divorce or a shameful past that God has forgiven. I used to want a testimony that was cool like that. Many of our high school youth talk about wanting a cooler story that God can use to bring others to Christ.
When one thinks of “call” it seems like it should be an audible voice of God that strikes at the heart and compels one to transformation action and lifelong service. In some cases it is, but not all. Some calls are resisted like Jonah, or argued like Moses. Some are compelling like Saul/Paul, or agreeable like James, John, or Andrew. Some callings are even sought out like Nicodemus, or Zacchaeus. No call is the same. God is too creative for that.
The important thing to understand here is “your” calling. What is God asking you to do and be for His Kingdom? Mostly, Jesus asked people to follow. That’s all. Just be faithful and follow Jesus and he would take care of the how and the where. For some, God asked them to simply say, “yes”, like Mary and Joseph parenting the Messiah, or the lame man, “Would you like to be well?” Even for others, Jesus asked them what they wanted, “I want to see,” replied the blind man.
One of my favorite “callings” into immediate ministry is the woman at the well. “Go get your husband.” “I don’t have a husband.” “You’re right, you’ve had 5…” “And the woman ran to her home town and told the people to come hear the man who told her everything she had ever done.” That’s a calling to evangelism and ministry like I’ve never seen.
Big or small, fancy or plain, it doesn’t matter the format. What does matter is the response. What if Mary said, “No, I’m only 14”? Or Peter said, “Um, no, I’d rather gut fish”? Or what if Jesus himself said, “Wait, uh, Father not your will be done, but mine’s a better plan”? What then?
Think about it, God’s call isn’t some mysterious ethereal life-altering trajectory into menial servitude and drudgery. It’s a simple “yes” to small moments. Stepping into decisions led by faith from the God who is bigger than your plans and might just see the future a little clearer than you can, is what God’s calling is all about.
Interviewer asks, “What, or who was it that first influenced YOUR call into ministry?” What’s your answer? How do you respond to God’s calling in your life?
I moved a lot as a kid. I was never in the same home for more than 5 years at a time until I turned 40, just last year. You’d think transition would be a skill one perfects through repetition, like practicing wheelies on a bike, skateboard kick-flips or throwing to second base first for that routine double-play, but it’s not something to perfect… or even become good at.
I think of it more like that butterfly feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before going up to speak or sing on stage, that moment of release on the zip line or rappelling backwards off of a formidable cliff face. It’s awkward no matter how many times one does it. I never met a military kid or missionary kid who enjoyed transitioning every 18 months. It’s hard on a kid, and difficult for adults too.
So, our lead pastor took another call and is leaving tomorrow. He speaks his last sermon in the morning and we have a farewell celebration after church. It’s difficult for me and for our church, even though we’re not the ones moving away this time. These are some things to remember in transition:
- Recognize your emotions, good or bad, they are real.
I used to apologize for getting emotional in public, or in a meeting. My pastor has guided me in expressing emotions honestly and giving credit to God for designing me this way. It’s never something to deny or shove down into your heart. Emotions are a gift from God for moments in time, where words are hard to come by. I have tears running down my face as I write this, thinking of the loss I feel in my pastor moving on. It is a harsh reality for me to let go of the man who has shaped my ‘best years’ in ministry so far and has become my friend and mentor in the process. Almost 7 years with one pastor is a record for me, and it’s a sad season as I grieve that God called my pastor to move out of state.
- Make the most of ‘normal’ as you see it.
God’s call on your life may or may not be to live out a “rock star” lifestyle. Maybe you have been called into a position of status, or you may have more facebook friends than the average person, but you’re still normal. Maybe, like the rest of us, you’re just a person trying to figure out how to balance life, ministry, marriage, kids, and school. In fact, that’s who we all are, anyway. God has a terrific calling for us to live His Upside-down Kingdom perspective within our very normal world of alarm clocks, driving kids to school, baseball practice, ballet, the mall and banana pancakes on the weekends. I think for 6 months now, since knowing about our pastor’s transition, I’ve been jealous. Yep, jealous that God didn’t call me to move somewhere and get to start over again with a clean slate. Jealous that I’m not the one getting the farewell fanfare and gift bags in my office. But the longer I process this change, the more I see that God has a plan for me and for you, not like any plan for any other person you encounter. My jealousy comes from the sinful side of my near-sighted perspective in wanting things my way. I was always the kid moving, getting to start over, getting away from normal. God has given us the gift of normal in every situation, and it’s our task to find Christ in the common life and shine the greatest glory on Jesus as we hit the alarm snooze or re-fuel the tank for more carpools.
- The “Missional lifestyle” was God’s idea.
I don’t recall that moving was ever my choice as a kid. I remember dad saying many times when he’d come home from work, “OK kids, we get to move again. It’s time to start saying goodbye to friends this week, and pack your things.” It reminds me of God’s Missional lifestyle all through the scriptures. Beginning with Adam and Eve’s unwanted move out of Paradise, Noah’s float out of town, Abraham’s call to “leave your father and mother and go where I (God) tell you, Moses’ resistant whining near the burning bush, Joshua’s battalion of armies taking over cities for God as they wandered, Jonah’s plunge into darkness, Mary & Joseph’s escape into Egypt and Jesus’ himself submitting to the Father’s plan for Jesus immanent suffering and death. God isn’t finished with His mission. His Son, raised from the dead, ushered God’s Kingdom into purpose, and transitioned the Holy Spirit as our ever present guide in time of trouble and hardship. The Holy Spirit of God is the proverbial Missionary living in and among us as we journey this road to Christ in the common. We journey as the bride of Christ, the lovely Church of God’s people, not to a location on this planet, but to a destination with God one day – to the great City of God and His people, gathered for eternity. Transition was God’s idea.
Even though transition hurts and emotions run high/low, you’ll make it through this change. God promises each one of us that “He is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us,” … no matter where God takes us in this life. One of the most memorable remarks I received from my pastor in an Annual Spring Performance and Inspirational Review Experience (ASPIRE is what I used to call it), came from the question he posed to me near the end of our hour together. He said, “How do you measure success in ministry?” I fumbled through some responses about numbers of kids coming to youth group, or being good at speaking, or having less hate mail this year than last, and he just listened and smiled. I asked him back, “Well, how do you measure success in ministry?” He confidently said one word, “Faithfulness.” He went on to tell me that God didn’t call anyone to grow a church to a significant size, or to do miracles near a hospital bedside, or even become the most twitter-followed pastor in the world, as if any of that matters to God. My pastor said, “God called everyone to be faithful, and if you can say that you walked with God and grew closer to His heart at the end of any given day, then you have remained faithful to His call in your life. Ministry numbers come and go, people change, you’ll get plenty of hate mail, but ignoring all that, if you remain faithful to Jesus, He will be the success in your ministry.”
“Transition is easy,” what a lie. Moving and change is never easy, I can be the first to tell you so. It even hurts to be the one staying and seeing my lead pastor leave. As I host the farewell celebration tomorrow for our pastor, I have to remember a few things: emotions are real, this is a normal part of life, and God’s Missional idea comes with a promise that Jesus will never leave us, nor forsake us. I’m believing that promise tonight.