Are you ready for a little hope?
2020 has been a tough year.
More than any other time in recent history, people are looking for any morsel of hope. It is the one thing that lifts our spirits and keeps us going despite our difficulties. It looks beyond life’s hardships to a better and brighter tomorrow. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, tomorrow’s light will shine. It is seeing a future that we can live into if we keep moving forward adjusting and adapting as we go. We are all looking for a little hope and all we need leaders like you to dispense that hope.
What is Hope?
The word “hope” comes from an old English word that means to “leap forward with expectation.” It is more than a wish or an optimistic thought. It is a real genuine feeling of possibility. It has substance when there is a clear vision and a defined direction. Maintaining and dispensing hope has to do with being able to evaluate and understand the present context, recover from discouragement, and hold onto the vision of what can be.
From that perspective, hope is essential to leadership. To imagine and present a better future requires hope. To recognize the potential in people and processes and work to develop that potential requires hope. If you feel hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior in the present. But when you believe your actions matter and that you can change or influence the future, you interact and engage with people differently. That difference in behavior and belief is experienced in and through effective leadership.
Hope is Essential to Leadership
That is why hope is essential to leadership. Hope and leadership are in an interdependent relationship. This relationship shows up in a couple of ways. We either see a preferred outcome and sit back waiting for things to happen or we see a preferred outcome and we work to make it become a reality. We either wish things were different or we do something to make things different.
Joseph, Mary, and Hope
Let me illustrate by using a story from Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph was engaged to Mary. The engagement was like a marriage. It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.
It is during their engagement that Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing?
1. He could proceed with a passive hope.
This is called “wishful thinking.” With passive hope you can still see a better future, you just don’t believe you can influence people or processes that make that future a reality. Joseph could have proceeded by:
He could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?”
Could you blame him? We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say? Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends.
Making it About Himself
He could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.”
In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement would also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.
He could do what the Bible says to do. You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes everything clear. You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22)
That is passive hope. It is when you desire something to happen but feel you don’t have any control over making it happen. So, you wait for someone or something else to make things better. Passive hope ignores current reality. You just wish things were different and hope for them to go back to normal. There is little or no courageous leadership, because you seek out programs or people as quick fixes to problems. There is a lot of activity with passive hope but very little action to change things or to make them better.
2. He could proceed with active hope.
He could become an active participant in his future. He didn’t wait for someone else to act. He knew who he was and where he was going, so he began to navigate the obstacles in the way so he could reach his goal. He had a clear view and understanding of reality
He and Mary were engaged to be married. They are legally bound to one another and Mary is pregnant.
Active hope is anchored in reality.
It knows its context. It understands the current situation. It is able to face reality, name it, and acknowledge what is happening.
He had a clear vision of a goal
He decides to be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life. He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he decides to be a person of grace. He will be loving and kind. He says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” So, instead of calling off the engagement, he takes responsibility for the situation and sets his sight on being Mary’s husband.
This active hope pictures a better and preferred future and begins to move toward that vision. So, a second aspect of active hope is to fix your eyes on a goal and move toward that goal.
He set out to achieve his goal.
Not knowing exactly what is going to happen, instead of passively trying to get out of the agreed relationship, he actively steps into it. He marries Mary and together they raise the baby. I can only imagine that there were obstacles and barriers with his decision. But Joseph moved forward.
Active hope is aligned with the future it wants to happen. It does not require optimism or positive thinking. But it does require a desire to navigate the obstacles when there is a gap between reality and the desired future. Active hope chooses to move toward the goal even in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and fear. This is often called courageous leadership.
He takes the initiative to make decisions and to act
He becomes vulnerable. He steps out in courage. He decides to care for Mary and the baby. He feeds the baby and cares for Mary. He decides to be who God created him to be, a person of grace.
Active hope adapts to the changing contexts and makes necessary adjustments along the way. With eyes upon the goal, active hope moves forward in courage.
Aligned with the future, active hope produces energy to make things happen. It invites you to act and to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist today.
Active Hope and Leadership
That is why active hope and leadership are so tightly related. If you lead without a firm grip on reality, or without a sharp vision of what you want the future to look like, then your actions won’t matter. Your behaviors won’t align with a better future. Leadership is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters. When you align your actions with your goal, you not only practice leadership, you dispense hope.
Today, you can choose your response to your current situation. You can choose to be who God created you to be and lead the people entrusted to your care into a better future. That is what active hope is.
So, what do you want your future or the future of your church to look like? What is one thing you will do to step into the future you see for yourself and for your congregation? What obstacles are in the way? What will you do to keep yourself focused as you navigate the obstacles? To address these questions is to lead with hope.
Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.
Are you ready for a little hope? Decide to take another step in becoming the leader God has created you to be!