Shortly after I became a mother someone very close to me in my life thought they could parent my children better than I could, it wasn’t anything personal against me, (took be a long time to figure that out) it’s just that she thought she was the best at mothering, ever.
I would get so upset, she would change the rules for my young children, rules and schedules that worked for my family and my household. I’m not talking about a visit to grandma’s where cookies before dinner were okay, I mean implementing strict household rules in my household. I mean sitting at my dinner table while I answer a question to my daughter and having myself interrupted for her to give her instruction to my daughter.
I would sit in my therapist’s office and cry in anger.
I realized, with my therapist help, that she thought there was not enough discipline in my household, so she was going to fill the role. And who disciplines? The parents, or the leaders. So with the help of my therapist I learned a phrase. One to “keep in my back pocket.” I let the little stuff go, but when I needed to I would pull it out. “I got this.” I would hold my hand up calmly and methodically and say, “I got this, thank you though.”
It has proved helpful in so many ways.
Years ago when I was working on my pastoral identity (an ongoing process) I painted a picture for my spiritual director of how I worked as a leader. (this BTW is not a perfect analogy)
I come along when the church is in a rut. There’s a leadership (non violent) fox hole (or bunker) with no one or very few people in it and a lot of people standing starring in. I come in and fill it. Sometimes with dirt (things that don’t need to be replaced) or dig out space (for new things) as I have the gifts and the ability to do almost everything in the church bunker. It took a while in my first call learn that I couldn’t do that for very long, without it being soul crushing. So I started pulling people in with me, supporting them and teaching them to take over roles, not just anyone, but the people called, using their gifts. When the bunker was full or someone got tired or toxic we learned to replace or shift them and have a steady stream of people in and out, moving around, and eventually I am no longer needed and am lifted out, off to find a new bunker.
The most important thing for your ego as a leader, admit that all those people that came to replace you, may not do it better than you, but it’s better that they are doing it.
Do you get that? Because it’s kind of beautiful when it works. John 14:12 says that once he is gone, we will do all the things that Jesus has done, and more.
We are not Jesus, but we are better together. This is proven over and over in every leadership book. If I do it all myself (for longer than a short period of time), then when I get out of the bunker, there is still a void. And voids, my friends, is where destruction happens.
There is a catch or two- 1) you MUST be called to THIS bunker at THIS time, it’s the Esther moment. The other problem with this is that sometimes someone or a group of people jump in the bunker and say, “it’s time for you to get out now.” This person/group are the ones who want to be the ones to fill the void, they think there’s glory in it, or just simply don’t understand the process.
When creating a healthy system from a leadership void you almost have to overstay your welcome in the bunker. At my last church I overstayed by about 2 years. I needed to for family reasons and it gave them a sense of security in a rough time. I used to think this was a bad thing for all of us, but now I realize that it was the best thing.
Things aren’t perfect there and some may even be mad at me for “abandoning” them, but I needed to leave the bunker so they could see what they were made of, they knew how to run that church and they hired a pastor who did the things they needed him to do, and ONLY the things they need him for. In other words they said, “We got this!”
If I left earlier then the confidence wouldn’t have been there. God is pretty wise sometimes…
However, my heart breaks for the moments of mutiny. I have been working with several young pastors who really relate to this analogy, and I’ve been there. Either they seal a lid on you leaving you stranded and alone, or they force you out without understanding that important last step, “overstaying”. Because overstaying is where you pretending to be holding on to the seat, but really, they’re riding the bike all on their own without training wheels.
It’s about confidence. Without the last step of perceived overstaying, they never gain the confidence ride freely, to look back and say, “I got this, thanks though.” As you wave them into their future.