I am bombarded with invitations to buy leadership books, attend leadership conferences and to be challenged to have my “leadership style turned on its head”. I don’t pay much attention to them, though I used to.
My reticence about taking up these invites comes from the motivation they work from. They invite me to be transformed from an average leader to a big player (and I suspect others in loftier places are invited to learn how to keep on top). Periodically, I take samples from the church leadership gurus of the moment and so much of what I encounter sounds like this scene from the film Mystery Men.
Why are the Mystery Men taking formulaic advice from a man in a mask? They are a group who want to be superheroes who can clean up their city, get the kudos and maybe even the girl. The catch is that they are rubbish at what they do and as they become aware of their lack of competence they edge towards returning to their bland unfullfilling lives.
The appeal of leadership training comes from the fact that most of us feel like a mystery man. The irony is that the more we learn the secrets and systems of leadership the more we feel rubbish about our own ministries. The real leaders are Coca Cola and I was the stuff you buy at Aldi.
I’m not alone in this feeling of falling short. If I was, the leadership industry would have no millionaires. Their millions are made from making lesser mortals look at the heroic saying, “that’s not me, I must be doing something wrong” or even worse “I want to be just like them, how do I get there?”.
In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy we meet a failed, shamed leader in Theoden. He’s allowed himself to fall under the spell of Wormtongue who gives him bad counsel that aids his enemies and who turns Theoden into a feeble deteriorating old man with a petty backwater for a kingdom. When he is restored by the heroes of the piece, he feels shame at what he allowed himself to become and his decision making is cursed by an under confidence that he can still lead and whether the battle is still worth fighting. We might say he’s lost his mojo and he knows it.
This lack of confidence continues up to the point when he will have to make a decision on which the fate of the world hinges. He is called to what will be the battle at the end of the world. The only reason to go is to die fighting instead of on bended knee. There is no real hope of victory. At this moment the question is, “Will you go“. After a pause pregnant with expectation, he says, “Yes”. The moment is powerful because without his yes, as we discover, all would have been lost.
On reflection my leadership can be defined as saying yes to good things and no to what is harmful or less fruitful. There are great things happening in both of my churches, not because I am doing them or I thought of them. They are things being done by people who were given permission to follow their passion and their vocation. These are people who without affirmation and encouragement might have said, “it will never happen”.
Coming to terms with a post based on boosting other people up, I now realise some valuable truths about what leadership in ministry is about:
- It isn’t about me. My ministry is not about gaining followers or growing my parish or being adored. It is about bringing people into the presence of God. God is the one who does all the work that matters.
- Leadership ideas are not immediately transferable to every context. The stars of the leadership industry rarely admit this or take into consideration the neighbourhood, the type of situations you lead in, the types and numbers of people, their life experiences and expectations.
- Just because someone is a great success doesn’t mean they are a great leader. It is easy to tell people what to do, particularly if their job is on the line. It is much harder to get people to follow you to a destination neither of you are sure you are going to reach.
My mentors are the ones who never hold seminars, they don’t write books and if I told them I see them as mentors and guides, they would smirk and change the subject. That’s why I won’t name them here. They are flesh and blood men and women who get on with the task of leading churches, first from their relationship with God, second from who they truly are (warts and all) and then from information and theory about how they might practice leadership.
Good leaders don’t have slogans or mottos. They bear fruit. They are people who believe that they have been given a gift to give to other people. They are people content to say yes or no.
So thanks to you who have taught me through your successes and failures and for encouraging me when I feel I’m not cutting it. Thank you for leading me well. Thanks for letting me be part of a band of ordinary people doing the best with what they have rather than feeling part of a band of failed, unfulfilled wannabes. Thank you for letting me be myself.