Over the years I’ve become more of a defender. I started off as fleet-footed winger, quite quick for a small white kid, before I graduated to playing as a striker. Striker is where the glory is: scoring goals. But the longer I’ve played football the further back in the team I’ve gone - from attacking midfielder, to defensive midfielder, to the shortest centre back you’ve ever played against.
Though one thing that has not receded is my influence on a game, particularly my contributions to the goals. In my youth I was the one putting it in the back of the net but now I have become ‘The Originator’. My team scores because I blocked a shot or made a tackle or didn’t screw up a 10 yard pass. Yes, someone else actually scores them, but essentially they are my goals and without me there would be no goals scored and dozens conceded. Without me every game would be lost 98-0.
Delusional, isn’t it?
Much is made of leadership in the church today. Books, seminars, podcasts and conferences all devoted to making better leaders. There is a constant defining of what makes a good leader (risk taking, vision casting, the ability to ignore criticism, perseverance, fearlessness, more risk taking) and how a good leader is measured (success, success, success). All in endlessly tweetable soundbites.
Successful leaders propagate the critical importance of good leadership to success in the same way that thirtysomething defenders insist that slide tackles lead directly to goals.
I would suggest that these emphases are, at best, not the whole the picture and at worst, a dangerous distraction.
Of course I’m not saying leadership is irrelevant, or we shouldn’t become better leaders, but when everything is viewed through the prism of leadership our understanding of the work of God through the Holy Spirit can quickly dwindle. We are left viewing every success as a result of our good leadership and not because of our faithful God. We become consumed with our own self importance.
One way this can be seen is to look at the Church Leadership conversation and its emphasis on perseverance. There is a constant charge to push through and not give up and never say die. But there is little room for perseverance’s big sister, patience. Frankly, patience isn’t very sexy. When success is viewed as a result of our perseverance it makes us feel a lot better than when we view it as a consequence of our patience, which seems far too passive and reliant on God to make anyone impressed with our efforts.
Another way to see this paradigm at work is by the continual encouragement towards risk taking. Everything is framed as glorious success or glorious failure. If you succeed it is because of your fearlessness and if you fail then good-one-old-chum-you-stuck-your-neck-out-there. Either way it is glorious for the risk taker. This is a world where simple obedience is always trumped by dramatic gestures of courage.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the qualities I look for in a leader and that I seek to have in myself when I lead. Once I’ve got those nailed then I’ll worry more about how many risks I’m taking or how much vision I’m casting.
Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 12 when he tells us that no one person is more important (or ‘key’ or ‘strategic’) than any other. Our leadership discourse suggests we believe otherwise. We must let go of this sense of self importance. Without me the team may never score, but in the Kingdom of God that is true for every single player on the pitch.