Day: April 29, 2011

leadership and the sovereignty of God — illustrated

I’m aware that the suggestion I made in my last past — Christian leadership shouldn’t be played off against prayerful trust in God’s sovereign work — lacked specificity on the positive side.

I’ve had a bunch of stuff to say about distinctively Christian leadership before. None of which I mean to set aside.

But I thought it’d be worth illustrating what I mean when I suggest that leadership shouldn’t be played off against God’s sovereignty.

Let me draw an example from my own experience:

I was once involved in leadership in a congregation that met in a fairly traditional, ‘churchy’ building.

In my zeal to see my fairly non-traditional friends be able to engage, I put to the congregation a proposal that we move out of the ‘churchy’ space into the more bland and generic hall.*

To prepare the ground, I prayed and ‘preached up’ what I understood to be the biblical doctrine of church — that it’s more about people than place, that it’s about building each other up and being accessible to the outsider, etc.

Then a congregational meeting was called. I outlined my proposal and the reasons for it. People asked some questions. We put it to a vote…

My proposal was voted down. Resoundingly.

I walked away reeling: ‘How could these people not want what I wanted for my friends?’.

And I began entertaining dark thoughts in which I was cast as one of Israel’s much-misunderstood prophets — speaking truth out of season only to fall on deaf ears.

Was this an issue of people’s hardness of heart? Did they prefer their own comfort in familiar surroundings to active engagement in God’s mission in which we put the outsider first? Was this primarily a spiritual issue?

Or did it have more to do with my failure to hear the congregation’s concerns? My failure to consult widely enough? My attempt to impose my preferences under the veil of ‘heeding biblical truth’? Was this primarily a leadership issue?

In God’s kindness, I saved by a trusted, wiser friend who took the time to help me process what had happened.

She affirmed my heart for my friends. And she helped me see that it may not have been entirely spiritual hardness that fuelled the congregation’s resistance to my proposal.

In the end, I had to pray and study the Scriptures more diligently. At the same time, I could have done with a bit more relational wisdom and experience with leadership and change management.

It was a matter of both trusting God’s sovereignty and having my head screwed on better as a leader. Both/and. Not either/or.

*I doubt I would propose a course of action like this now.
On the one hand, my proposal reflected a fairly disembodied, Platonic understanding of church. Yes, church is primarily about the people. But no, the space in which we meet — which amount to a kind of ‘home’ for our spiritual family — is not insignificant.
Aesthetics matter. That’s part of what it means to be embodied creatures.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d ever asked my friends if they’d have been put off by a ‘churchy’ building. They could just as easily have been put off by meeting in a space that didn’t match any of their expectations about church: ‘Is this legit? Who are these people? And what’s with the uncomfortable plastic chairs?’
Either way, I’m not longer convinced guessing about what would or wouldn’t put barriers in my friends’ way is the wisest approach.