Leadership is on my mind in a big way these days. I seem to have been called into a place of unsought leadership, and I’m making my way cautiously, carefully, reluctant, and willing to embrace whatever comes. The book at my side just now is Dan Allender’s Leading With a Limp. Dan Allender is the president of Mars Hill Graduate School here in Seattle. I heard Dan speak a couple of years ago at a Willow Creek Arts Conference, and as I listened to him, tears began to run down my face as he accurately named my life, my frustration, and my disappointment. I don’t really remember the particulars, but I knew that he named my brokenness as an artist and a leader. I picked up his book, not knowing how important it would be just now.
That leadership is difficult is nothing new. Fraught with perilous decision-making, there is no way to escape the tension between truth-telling and the temptation to just manage chaos, everybody getting along in the status quo. And there are times when, for many good reasons, complete stories can’t be known–much less told–and in the end, there is no way out of the confusion of a transition, and we are reduced to throwing up our hands, giving up the need to have clarity, and deciding whether or not leadership–both with God and his limping, chosen leaders–can be trusted.
When we’re wounded, blame is easy to assign, depending on where you stand in whatever events you face. But Allender reminds me that blame always sits best on our own shoulders, knowing in our hearts that the chief of sinners is us–not the other guy. Allender reminds me that when I hear the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, I need to realize that I am not the innocent child who sees the truth, nor I am simply one of the complicit crowd–I am the guy walking around naked thinking I’ve got royal robes. How free we would be if we all understood how clearly naked we are, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, intellectually…as complete human beings.
Again, it’s not about guilt and groveling, although that’s appropriate sometimes. It’s about understanding our commonness, our shared humanity, our shared sin, our shared propensity to foul up. Allender asserts that leaders must both embrace and reveal this central truth in order to live with strength among the people they care for–those they lead and shepherd. In God’s kingdom, this “inversion” is the ruling paradigm. We expect leaders to be strong, whereas what God needs is for leaders to acknowledge and live in full light of their weakness. Weakness is strength. Not pretended weakness, not a humble stance because that’s what’s required, but because weakness and humility (Allender says real humility in leadership comes mostly through humiliation and failure) are in fact, facts.
I used to think I knew stuff. Now I am really clear that I know way less than I thought. But what I’m learning is that all the talk about God being sufficient and trustworthy is not just talk at all, but the stuff of which the kingdom roads are paved.
Paul says (Romans 12) that in “sober judgment” we need to see ourselves as we are. In terms of the old story of the foolish king, these days, I’m happy to acknowledge that any clothes I’ve got are strictly from the wardrobe that God provides. Due to my own hardheadedness, I’ve probably turned them into mostly rags, but the faith is that repair work is ongoing, and who knows what will be the final revealed fashion statement of His Kingdom work in me.
Mangled metaphor, I know, but you get the point.
Praying on down the road…