How are you doing? How are you holding up while leading through these days of fear and uncertainty? I thought of you recently during a conversation about courageous leadership.
The conversation was with a guest on LeaderCast. While telling of his experiences of courageous leaders he said, “It takes courage to follow Jesus.” Wow. I know that to be true, but I have not heard it articulated regarding leadership.
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
So, I began to think, it takes courage to love your neighbor as yourself.
It takes courage to love the people with whom you disagree much less love your enemy. It takes courage to pray for those who hurt you as well as to be reconciled with them. It takes courage to turn the other cheek, forgive as you have been forgiven, and to serve with care and compassion. It takes courage to lead in times of fear and uncertainty.
I confess, sometimes I would rather not think about courageous leadership, especially when I fall so short of my own expectations. When I stop and think about it, I have had enough of my life being turned upside down. I would rather live life peacefully, without a lot of noise and turmoil. But, while writing this blog, I began to ask myself why I am resistant to stepping up and leading with courage?
With the statement of “It takes courage to follow Jesus” ringing in my ears, I discovered that more times than I want to admit, I’m afraid to follow. My fear is not rooted in a lack of belief. It is rooted in the uncertainty of following without knowing all that it means to follow. What are the risks? What are the pitfalls? What does it mean to say/sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” How does following Jesus make me look as a leader?
Early in my ministry, I read a statement by Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia. He wrote, “Fear is the polio of the soul. It paralyzes us from living by faith.” He talked about a healthy fear. It is the fear that allows us, as human beings, to survive. Healthy fear is a built-in, automatic, and dependable system that alerts us to the presence of danger. On the other hand, there is an unhealthy fear, the fear that paralyzes us. It is the fear that is based upon assumption and projected onto reality. There are times we are confronted with real threats, but most of the time you and I create our own fears.
The Middle of the Night
When I was in seminary, my wife and I lived in a neighborhood just south of Atlanta. Although crime was rising in the city, we felt safe in the community in which we lived, until about four o’clock one Sunday morning.
We were awakened by a loud knocking at our back door. When I realized I was not dreaming, a sense of terror swept over me. Kim, my wife, said in a frightened voice, “someone is banging on the door?” I remember thinking, “Who in the world could this be in the middle of the night? Is someone trying to break in? Are we going to be robbed? Killed?” In my terror, all kinds of possibilities flashed through my mind. Should Kim and I try to escape by climbing out a window? Should we barricade ourselves in the bathroom and hope that the lock on the door keeps us safe?
Finally, I grabbed my baseball bat, told Kim to call the police, and managed to creep to the door. With my heart pounding as hard as I can remember, I forced myself to push aside the curtain covering the window on the door. There, to my relief as much as my fear was my next-door neighbor. He was sitting on the step outside the door, holding his chest.
I opened the door. My neighbor was having a heart attack. Because his family was gone for the weekend, his only hope for help was to come to me, his neighbor.
The fear I had experienced from the moment I awakened until I finally opened the door was entirely my own making. It was what I had done to an event, rather than what the event had done to me.
Think of a time you let the unknown send you into a panic. A time when instead of “going to the door” and directly confronting reality, you let your anxiety and imagination take over. Did you imagine the worst and react, not to what was really there, but to the terrible things you created in your mind?
Genesis and Fear
According to Genesis, one of the reasons our world is in such a mess is rooted in the mishandling of fear. The first man and woman are seen as living in an unbroken harmony with reality. Then a serpent appears and proceeds to give “a knock at the door.”
The serpent stirs up a sense of anxiety by insinuating that they do not know what they are doing, that they are not okay as they are, and that they are only a fraction of what they can be. Then the serpent identifies God as the problem. He lays the blame squarely on the Creator, claiming God has lied to them about the forbidden fruit. Then, in the midst of the anxiety, the serpent explains that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but their eyes will be open, they will be able to determine right and wrong for themselves, and they will become gods in their own right.
It was their first experience with the anxiety that grows out of uncertainty. What would have happened if they had responded differently? What would have happened if they had faced their fear and taken their uncertainty straight to the reality in question? Would they have seen the positive joy that is the source of everything and not be afraid anymore?
The tragedy is that they did not answer the door. Instead of finding out for themselves about God’s true nature, they jumped to a conclusion about God that had no basis in fact, and they proceeded to act self-destructively.
The Key to Courageous Leadership
So, what does this have to do with courageous leadership? Who you are is how you lead. Let’s go back to “It takes courage to follow Jesus.” Here is the key to courageous leadership.
You have been created to lead at this time in history. Whether you like or want it, God has gifted you to live in this time and to love the people entrusted to your care. The greatest gift God has given you is the gift of faith. Your leadership depends upon your desire to trust who God is and who God has created you to be. The ultimate source of your existence is working for your good. While there will be painful and harmful things that happen, nothing has the power to separate you from the God who created you and who loves you.
I know it goes without saying, but you and I know this God in and through Jesus. Over and against all the confusion, anxiety, and fear of the day, God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history, walking our streets, living in our neighborhoods, caring for all people, loving even the unlovable. The leadership question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Are you willing to take this action of God seriously enough to let God do God’s work in you? It takes courage to trust and to follow.
It Takes Courage
It takes courage to get in touch with your true thoughts and feelings, but until you do, you will not realize how big a part fear plays in your living and in your leadership. It takes courage to follow Jesus.
Maybe you can look at it this way: Fear of failing can paralyze you, but you can look at failure as a learning experience. Failure only stops you if you let it. Fear of facing unwanted situations can paralyze you, but you can face what is before you with the confidence that you are not alone and that the situation is resolvable. Fear of relationships can paralyze you, but you can risk being vulnerable and empathic, knowing that you are loved and accepted.
Who you are is how you lead. Knowing what you know about God in and through Jesus, you do not have to be paralyzed by fear. The knock at the door just might be Jesus. When you answer the knock, I pray you will, by God’s grace, have the courage to follow him.
Take time this week to reflect upon why you think and feel the way you do. What one fear is paralyzing you? How will you face that fear this week?
Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
This week on LeaderCast, Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Bishop Cal Holloway as we discussion of the essential callings of Christ-centered leaders. Listen to Episode 196 here, Being Among the People. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.
And, remember, who you are is how you lead.