Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church. I’ve been thinking:
- Who or what makes us who we need to be for the congregations and communities we serve?
- What makes any one of us effective in our leadership?
Over the years of my ministry, I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I have clarity about who I am and why I do what I do. I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I trust who God has created me to be. Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.¹
How do you and I become self-differentiated leaders? What helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?
Jonathan Saks, in his book Lessons in Leadership, writes,
“The great leaders know their own limits. They do not try to do it all themselves. They build teams. They create space for people who are strong where they are weak. They understand the importance of checks and balances and the separation of powers. They surround themselves with people who are different from them. They understand the danger of concentrating all power in a single individual. But learning your limits, knowing there are things you cannot do – even things you cannot be – can be a painful experience. Sometimes it involves an emotional crisis.”
According to Saks, effective leaders are honest with themselves. They have the courage to say yes to who they are and no to who they are not. Even in the midst of pain and conflict, they emerge less conflicted and more focused than before.
Biblical Examples of Self Differentiation
Saks uses examples of people like:
- Lot, a Hebrew and not a citizen of Sodom. Lot leaves Sodom with difficulty. He has invested his whole future in a new identity for himself and his family. Lot is paralyzed by ambivalence. He is torn with inner conflict. Yet, he leaves Sodom. (Genesis 19:16ff)
- Abraham’s steward is given the responsibility of finding a suitable mate for Isaac. The steward is ambivalent. He hesitates because he is conflicted between loyalty to Abraham and his personal ambition. Loyalty won but not without a deep struggle. (Genesis 24:12ff)
- Joseph is living in a new and strange land. He is seduced by Potipher’s wife. He refuses her advances. But he has great inner conflict. He struggles with who he is. Why not do what the Egyptians do? He struggles with is identity, “Am I an Egyptian or a Jew?” (Genesis 39:7ff)
Effective leadership, according to Saks, grows out of our struggle in the midst of a conflict of values. So, in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church, what helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?
At baptisms in our local churches, we hear the words, “remember your baptism and be thankful.” We are saying, remember who you are and whose we are.
In baptism, we acknowledge that we are claimed by God, initiated into the Christian community, and called to ministry. In Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, the words are, “you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
As effective leaders, we remember that we are God’s beloved and that we are part of God’s plan and purpose. So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember who and whose you are.
In the church, when participating in Holy Communion, we hear the words, “do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, remember why you do what you do.
The word “remembrance” means to “wake up, to open your eyes, to call to mind or action.” In Holy Communion, we wake up to why we do what we do.
Who Do You Need to Be?
As effective leaders, we must wake up to why we do what we do. So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember why you are in this ministry as a follower of Jesus.
I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church. I believe we need to be leaders of authenticity and integrity. We need to be courageous, more dependent upon character and charisma. We need to be strong from the inside out and have the capacity to model and share God’s love in difficult situations.
Together, we need to be missional leaders who can and will lead our congregations to engage our communities, neighborhoods, and cities in love of God in the midst of stress and anxiety. In short, we need to be self-differentiated leaders who know who we are in relationship with Jesus, our congregations, and our communities.
As Jesus followers, be who you are. Even if leading is painful, stand firm in faith and move forward with grace.
- Edwin Friedman, Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve