Leading into a mission that matters

Make a statement with your life that’s consistent with your heart, that gives voice to what you really feel is important.  We don’t have a lot of opportunities, most of us, to take stands – that are seen, anyway, that are visible.  But my feeling is that you take it, whether it’s seen or not, whether it’s recognized or not, whether it’s cheered or jeered.  You do it because it’s in you to do it, and because by doing it you’re being true to who you are. - John Robbins

I recently started reading a really thought provoking book on leadership called The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.  I’m still early on in the book but already I’ve been challenged by many of its ideas on effective, transformative leadership.  Having spent the last eight years of my life working in full time church ministry, I find myself asking big questions these days about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  I’ve never thought of myself as an exemplary leader by any stretch.  I have had the luxury of being surrounded by some incredible men and women who have modeled this sort of leadership and I have become adept at mimicking them.  As I think about some of these individuals who’ve influenced and shaped me in my own leadership over the years, I am reminded of something Kouzes and Posner write in their book:

…leadership begins with something that grabs hold of you and won’t let go.  This is where leaders must go to find their voice.  To find your voice, you have to explore your inner territory.  You have to take a journey into those places in your heart and soul where you bury your treasures, so that you can carefully examine them and eventually bring them out for display.

The difficult work of searching one’s self is a universal trait shared by every great leader I’ve ever known.  I wanted to follow these individuals because I knew they’d been through the mess of sifting through ulterior motives, selfish ambitions, and pressure to cave in to the status quo.  I trusted that they’d thoroughly explored their inner territories, armed with integrity and brutal honesty.  And they’d come out on the other side convicted of their core beliefs and values.  They’d come out of the mess refined with a fixed vision and mission.  These are the sorts of leaders I admire and trust.  This is the sort of leader I want to be.

A while back, I heard Andy Stanley say, “Leadership is stewardship.  It is given and it can be taken away.”  I heard him say this only once, about five years ago and it’s still ringing loud and clear in my head.  I agree completely.  Leaders aren’t born or manufactured in some factory run by John Maxwell.  Leaders are appointed.  They are appointed by the collective yearning of those who would follow, fueled by a desperation for a mission that matters.  If we are to steward our leadership well, we must satisfy the yearning for meaningful mission with integrity.  We must do the hard work of digging deep into our own self, until we get to that place where our treasures are buried.  It is from this place we must lead.  Anything else is a compromise.

I don’t think there is an environment where this matters more significantly than in the church.  Leadership in the church is a unique gift because it is a calling to lead broken humanity toward the restorative and transformative reality of God’s kingdom.  It is a paradox because the leaders are just as broken as those being led.  And it is within this paradox that the words of John Robbins carry such great weight: Make a statement with your life that’s consistent with your heart… take [a] stand… whether it’s seen or not… recognized or not… You do it because it’s in you to do it, and because by doing it you’re being true to who you are.  Leading other people into the reality of God’s kingdom is as much about our own journey as it is about theirs.  So lead well.  Lead honestly, with integrity.  Choose to take a stand and entrench yourself there.  Search your own heart and pour it out on those looking to you for guidance.  Give them a mission that matters to you.       


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