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Courageous Leadership

By Steve Shive, Bridge Interim Synod Leader and Stated Clerk

 

I love the call stories in Scripture and those in our everyday lives.  They are so real, and so unexpected.  They begin with in strange places – like deserts and with burning bushes.  They ask us to step it up and to get out of our comfort zones and be courageous. 

 

Most leaders don’t start out courageous. Moses didn’t. David didn’t. Isaiah didn’t. Daniel didn’t. Paul didn’t. All of the above honed courage during crisis—including leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr.

 

It’s not that they were smarter or more creative. They simply saw the severity of the situation and took a step of faith.  They simply stepped into the unknown and influenced others to do the same.

 

Courageous Leaders Take People on an Unknown Place

With Moses, leadership was for him like being a travel agent. He heard God vaguely describe the journey.  He didn’t even know what the destinations along the way were. He was going to ask the Israelites to go somewhere he had never been. It is not my usual style.  It is usually not a good practice to lead people where we have not personally been.

And yet, isn’t that what God is calling us as leaders in the church to do now.  Aren’t we being called to take the people on a journey to discovery how to be the church in a way that it has never been before.

 

Courageous Leaders Step Out of their Fear and Live into their Call. 

Moses the runaway murderer was hiding in the wilderness in the safety of shepherding this father-in-law’s sheep.  He was playing it safe.  Meanwhile his kinfolks – God’s kind of people- were suffering…slaving it…brickmaking, it, barely eating…not really living.  God said enough.  God spoke to Moses in the bush that didn’t stop burning…. just like the Israelites’ bodies in the sun’s fiery furnace and the stoves’ red-hot coals.  God called to Moses. He said, “I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their suffering. And I have come down to deliver them form the Egyptians …I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.  So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” It didn’t stop there.

 

And then Moses offered all the excuses he could muster up:

Who am I?

Who are you God?

What if the people will not listen to me?

I’m not good with words.

Please send someone else. 

 

After a little of God’s convincing…. Moses stepped it up, stepped out of his comfort zone, out of his fear and trembling and began to live into his calling. 


Dr King, said well, "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

 

If ever there is a time to be fearful, it is now.  You know the current day narrative.  I don’t need to repeat its challenges, its hardship, and yet, our calling is in the midst of that chaos.

 

Last week I read Sue Krummel's article in the Presbyterian Outlook, "No one wants to rock the lifeboat." She says,


In many places, those who are left in the pews and at the decision-making tables or Zoom screens often choose the path of least resistance, trying to keep the peace. They work at finding a compromise that will keep everyone happy — trying not to rock the boat. But compromise as a way to appease people is a fiction. The definition of a compromise is that everyone has to give up something. Everyone leaves the negotiation disappointed. Usually, it is also the “scariest” person who comes closest to getting their way — you know, the person who threatens to leave the church, withhold their money or tell tales. We give in because we do not want to rock the lifeboat.

Think about the purpose of a lifeboat. It is not a world unto itself. It is there for a short time to preserve life. It is to keep the lost mariner alive until the Coast Guard lowers the rope ladder. It is the place you are shown at the beginning of the cruise that you hope to never have to use, not the place you expect to live the rest of your life.


Are we stuck in our lifeboats, doing everything we can to keep them from rocking? In so doing, are we making them into something they were never intended to be? I have seen congregations that keep doing the same things according to the same calendar year after year. These rituals once served them well but do not speak to our current moment. I have seen presbyteries that accommodate people who are unwilling to adopt modern modes of communication instead of helping them to become fluent in a way that will help them across their lives. I have seen bullies in congregations and presbyteries who have been given power and will end up killing the organization of which they are a part.


How can we get out of these lifeboats and move on to what God has in store for the future? I wonder if we can identify the traditions and people who hold us back by asking “Why?” …Why do we insist upon continuing to keep the presbytery boundaries created in the 1970s when there is a different configuration that could better support congregational leaders and share the good news in this region?


We need to keep asking “Why?” like a four-year-old until we get to the center of the fear and grief that may be driving our decisions. Only then can we build back up our hope. Only then can we climb the rope ladder out of the lifeboat. We can do more than worry about rocking the boat — God means for us to live fully.”


I don’t think God is calling us to sit in the lifeboat and not rock it.   I think it is time for us to step up and hear and heed God’s call to courageous leadership.  I have previously quoted Marshall Goldsmith, one of the premier executive and leadership coaches in the world.  He says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Will we have the courage to lead in a new way for a new day?  Will we?


You may say, “Steve, you are retiring soon. What the hell.”  I am retiring and I am not planning to live in a lifeboat for the next years of my life. 

 

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