I Got This

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.”

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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.

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We cannot please everyone. We know this. But sometimes it’s even our job to piss someone off, gently, but piss them off nonetheless, stand up for what’s right. We expect, anticipate fallout. It’s good. It means that a hard situation is being wrestled over, but at least it’s out in the open.

We can handle this, we feel in control of this. But it’s the completely unexpected, the unknown, the X factor that has us all flummoxed. Years ago I was standing at the door on Christmas Eve, shaking hands as people walked out. I served a small church in upstate New York. It was the kind of church where all the kids “came home” on Christmas and there was not a seat to be found.

I was burnt out, I was tired, and I forgot to recruit someone to do the lights for the candlelight/Silent Night portion of the service. I asked a session member, he was also the plant committee chair, he had also been a member since his youth. He should know how to do this, I would not need to micromanage.

I was wrong.

The lights didn’t go down all the way, and something just didn’t “feel right”. It was not my fault, it wasn’t even this guy’s fault. But on the way out the door the daughter a parishioner who I see a few times a year walked out without saying hello. “Where’s [insert name here]”. At that time she storms back in and exclaims that was the worst Christmas Eve Service she’d ever been part of!

Well…

It didn’t matter what it was or how it was or why it was. All that I heard was negative feedback. All I heard was someone was upset. All I heard is that I’d ruined Christmas. As if I had all that power. Or someone had given me that authority.

The truth is, I let her ruin my Christmas. I spent all Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day filled with anxiety.

Anxiety continues to get the best of us. Over the last few weeks I have seen a reasonable group of people tear apart decision after decision many people have made (including themselves as a body). There is no going back, but we do it because we hope we can find the mistake. We pray we can pinpoint the person and the thing that created the angst.

Truth is, that’s rarely the case.

Even if we could go back and anticipate everyone’s reaction and what everyone wanted and what everyone was thinking it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

On that Christmas my sermon could have been better, the lights could have worked great, and every single thing would have gone perfectly. That woman still would have had the worst Christmas. Because the anxiety she was feeling was not about any of it.

But it’s going to come out somewhere, and it happened to be me.

My mistake was letting it affect me. Yet, how could I not? It’s just who I am. What I didn’t do (what I constantly strive not to do) is continue the cycle and push the anxiety on other people.

I did nothing wrong and going back and changing anything wouldn’t change the outcome but this situation/circumstance/life is hard and we don’t like hard. Surely it’s someone’s fault. Surely someone is to blame.

As leaders we find ourselves in this position a lot, we are even taught that it’s the measure of us doing ministry right. I’m still learning not to harbor the anger I get from receiving so many people’s anxiety. I am still learning not to be disappointed in myself or someone else for not being appropriate with their anxiety. For it is a dangerous weapon.

Anxiety (and fear and the like) is a silent killer of relationships and it should be handled with thick rubber gloves. I look forward to the day that the CDC finds a vaccine for it, eradicates it, and sticks it in their vault next to Polio and Small Pox.

Until then, breathe, sometimes things are just difficult and we don’t need to go around blaming everyone else for that feeling. It doesn’t have to be your fault, but it’s not necessarily mine either, sometimes life’s just a little difficult.

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Leadership is for Wimps

“Leadership is for wimps.” This was part of a text conversation I had a few mornings ago. Tripp Hudgins, Jeff Richards and I were talking about leadership. The glory of it all… HA! “Leadership is for wimps,” Tripp replies.

This is the opposite of what we are told and taught. However, that doesn’t make it less true.

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Jesus came to turn everything on it’s head. The last shall be first, etc. Was Jesus a leader? Yes. Was he a wimp? No. But he wasn’t in the leadership roles of the day. Next week I will read the story of the passion where Pontius Pilate will wash his hands of the death of Jesus. He found nothing wrong with this man, Jesus had broken no law according to Pilate, yet he washes his hands rather than stand up to the religious leaders and the crowd that are demanding Jesus’s head. Wimp.

Leadership the way it has been established in our systems is for wimps, the faint of heart, cowards. People who do not have enough gumption of their own to stand up for justice that they hide behind systems, offices, and titles. This system is set up for leadership to use and abuse power, hide behind power. When you give someone power enough to make decisions on behalf of someone else without needing or requesting their input it is easier than not to get drunk on the “authority” that has been given.

Throughout the story of Jesus he is watched, closely, by leadership. According to Matthew at his birth the Leadership was terrified of him they slaughtered all male children under the age of 2. He is questioned and attempted to be tricked time and time again throughout his ministry. I can hear the priests behind locked doors asking “how can we trust him when he isn’t one of us?” Wimps.

Finally, they can’t control him and it drives them so crazy they move into intimidation and bribery. After his arrest he is passed from up the ladder of leadership, each one not wanting to be the one who is responsible for an innocent man’s life, yet not risking anything to stop it. Wimps, passing the buck.

In the questioning of Jesus by Pilate Jesus says that his authority is of Heaven, not of earth. He is a leader the way God calls us to be. We refer to it as “Servant Leadership.” Matthew 20:28 Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many.

Servant leadership is a model of giving away power and authority you have been given. Using your gifts and skills for the betterment of the world, empowering others, leading others to power so they too can give it away. There are many, many problems with this in our world. First, empowering others is true power, power in community, power to stand up for one another and say stop, enough. If you hurt one of us, you hurt us all. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we pray together. And it terrifies wimps.

Second, when you use your leadership to give power away and create community you often times lead by example. There’s a lot of grunt work involved, there’s a lot of moments where you take a punch because your job is to stand between systemic power and those whom they are hurting. You live with a target on your back as the one who created an uprising.

But this kind of leadership is strength. It is the strength of faith, of community, and the reign of God on earth. This type of leadership is what allows movements and communities to keep going long after one leader is gone. We may be betrayed for it, we may be flogged for it, we may even be killed for it. But I’d rather die in servant leadership than be a wimp.

The disciples (not just the 12 but all the followers of Jesus) took too long to learn this lesson. They didn’t really learn until after the resurrection. Fear overtook them when their time came to stand up. We can learn from this, we can ratify their mistake. We can stand empowered today as servant leaders, in communities of other servant leaders, each according to their own gifts, united in strength.

Thanks be to God. Amen.