Last Sunday at our Annual Meeting we called a fresh, hopeful, gifted group of lay leaders to guide us into a new year. Servant leadership in the church differs from leading in other places. Adam Copeland, faculty at Concordia College, remembers a story putting all this in perspective.
“Around the time of desegregation, black congregations were sending delegations to visit white congregations as a witness to the need for integration….Some elders at a certain white church heard about the upcoming visit from blacks and hastily called a meeting. How could they keep the visitors away? many elders wondered. After listening to the debate, the pastor finally spoke up. ‘You elders can do what you want, but the instant one of our brothers and sisters is shown anything but the finest hospitality, I will be leaving the pulpit. And I won’t be coming back.’”
That defines leadership in a way we seldom see in our time. Rather than consult a leadership coach, pause for “a view from the balcony”, or poll key members as a focus group, he stepped out in faith. He knew the African-American visit would cause unrest, probably conflict within his church. But rather than worry about their little boat getting rocked, he charted a course in a far-flung voyage. What qualified him to do so? They described him as a prayerful, faithful man.
Here is the point: before we lead, we must know ourselves as followers. And the one we follow isn’t a leadership seminar guru. Such as these stress the “how” of leadership at the expense of the grander “why” of leadership. To get at the greater “why” of leadership, we who lead must first follow. That’s right, we who speak must first listen; we who act, first look to Jesus. FCC needs leaders with passion for Christ’s gospel, with dog-eared Bibles, leaders who follow Jesus.
In Matthew 4, when Jesus called his fisherman followers alongside the Sea of Galilee, he didn’t say, “Here are my long-term objectives in bullet-points. Talk through my proposal with your stakeholders at your conclave and let me know if your analysis suggests the mission is scalable.” No, it’s a simple story, sparing in details, a testament to one bringing the power of God’s reign.
If our goal is to preserve the church as institution and ignore our core mission, we are probably hiding in what is too safe and easy. Are we aware that we are part of a movement across time and space? We get to help write the next chapter in God’s reconciliation of heaven and earth. “Make no little plans.” wrote Daniel Burnham, architect of the Flatiron Building, “They have no magic to stir humanity’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…” God calls us today to move beyond mere institutional caretaking to rally a movement that touches hearts, especially God’s heart. Of course, as soon as I say, “think big”, let me also add, “be willing to start small”, like Jesus with meek, humble fishermen.
If you can see it, if you know it’s right, if it warms God’s heart, heed that instinctive spontaneity. Of course, there are many silly things not worth getting in trouble over. But if you are a leader, people will criticize you, and you will get into trouble. Get in trouble for the right things. Dr. M. L. King, Jr. once challenged, “A leader is not a seeker of consensus, but a molder of consensus.”