I firmly believe that my spiritual life should be developed out of love rather than duty or fear. Jesus, while teaching about how to obey the physical demands of the Law, pointed toward the spiritual, inner motivations from which all actions flow:
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-40)
Based on these words of Jesus God does seem to call us to living out love in our every approach to life. This includes leadership, for love is the foundation for ministry, it embraces “being” as the means to righteous doing. And because of love, I dare not forsake my own spiritual growth for from it comes the only way to lead; I can only take a disciple as far as I have been on the journey myself.
My philosophy of pastoral leadership is to constantly examine and prune my life so that it will bear the most fruit for God. I will not have much to offer in regard to leadership, if the example by which I lead will only bear the “fruits” of burnout, exhaustion, and a lack of self-care. Intentionally setting apart time for retreats, for taking better care of my body, and withdrawing for a while rather than always engaging, are all a part of maintaining a reflective and growing leadership foundation.
We often think about love as though it makes us weaker, not stronger. I am so inspired by explorer Earnest Shackleton boldness in risking so much for the sake of bringing everyone home safe. His family motto, Fortitudine vincimus “By endurance we conquer” is one I have adopted as my own. I have been through much and endured many trials, and without Jesus to guide me this once drove me to both a calculating ruthlessness and insulating solitude. But strangely in Jesus’ sacrifice of the cross as well as Shackleton’s example of ruthlessness applied for the sake of the love and for the safety of his men inspires me to want to do the same for others. This is not a path of taking the easier softer way, it is a path filled with humility and sometimes humiliation, but at the core these are truly difficult and challenging expressions of love.
As a tenacious and strategically minded person, I appreciated how explorer Earnest Shackleton was unflinching willing to do whatever needed to be done to bring his men home safe from their failed exploration, I was impressed as well by the selflessness he showed. It is mind boggling to ponder surviving 18 months in Antarctica, camping on a frozen ocean and their risky journey to get to land. This all was followed up by a lifeboat ride through breaking up ice floes, and an 800-mile shot in a raft to bring back a rescue party. These were desperate circumstances with extremely low odds, along with an unforgiving lack of margin for error.
As I continue to grow as a leader, I am coming to realize Shackleton’s brand of shared tenacity and confidence that he showed can at times alienate others. Many people try to avoid the leg of their journey into the unknown. Leadership has been an experience for me not unlike trying to pilot an iceberg, I have long since come to simply be happy when the iceberg is floating the right direction, rather than dwelling too much on how fast this thing is moving, and other metrics such as that.
To grow as a leader requires me to “think” more emotionally, and to be more aware of the emotional status of others, to be emotionally aware of my own journey, and to be as open as I can to influence the good, and as closed off as I can so as not to let negativity quench the morale of others. But if we are too connected, we won’t challenge each other or create change; and if we are too oppositional, we won’t be connected enough to see our similarities. And surely, in either extreme, it will also make it harder for them to see Jesus’ likeness. I think this points out how differentiation can work in community, where there is unity but without the expectation of uniformity.
To grow as a leader, I need to continue to develop a watchful eye for God’s vision, to continue to pour over it and share it, and to help others try it on and see how it fits. To hone down that vision to its essence and keep revisiting how the vision of the church connects to reality. This is essential to continuing the path of growth in effectiveness and skillbuilding. As a perfectionist with oftentimes unrealistic expectations, rather than become paralyzed by all that is not going the way of greatness, I believe I need to celebrate the greatness I do see, challenge those elements that are close to greatness to keep chasing after it, and humbly listen to those who care enough to help me along the way, even when they say things that are hard to hear.
I admit, the farther I come on this journey, the further away it seems I am from any end that may come. I admit, I make plenty of mistakes along the way, and I still have so much more to learn. But every now and then it is good to look back and see hopefully, that things are also changing for the better. I saw a post by a pastor’s group I am in, which read “Most young pastors want to change the world, until they almost get fired for changing the bulletin.” I use this quote, not as an indictment of tradition in the church or how we in our humanness all struggle with change.
To me, there is another aspect to it, and that is maturity calls us to a third way between the foolishness of idealism—and the ways it can distort our reality—and how some superficial changes may not truly be worth their gains when weighed against all the losses. As Jesus said, we must count the cost of our choices as we make our plans. This does not point us to being ruled by fear, or even merely reduced to a statement about wisdom. To me it is pointing us in one direction, and that is the costly direction of love that is striving for greatness. Leadership, and especially spiritual leadership, is a costly thing to choose. That is why it’s a calling, not a career. There will be a cost, but also so much to gain.