One element of the ministry that I have been called to which I particularly enjoy is the chance to travel to different churches and minister to their congregations and leadership teams. I love to share the good news with all different types of people, and it is an honor to pour into pastors and leaders facing all different types of contexts and issues. As we head into Fall 2021, I’ve noticed a general sense of tiredness that many pastors and leaders are trying to press past.
With the delta variant hitting full-force, for the first time in a long time (in the US at least), COVID cases have been looking worse again. As we head towards the winter, we are all bracing ourselves for the possibility of things continuing to close up and become more uncomfortable. The general sense of “we’re getting through this” seems to be mostly gone and the lack of any sense about how long this whole COVID season will last seems to be hanging heavy in the air. The question simmering beneath the surface seems to be: How do we find the strength to keep going, let alone keep leading?
Facets of Leadership
People begin to look to us as leaders for all different kinds of reasons, and I think understanding these different reasons and which ones to lean towards at different moments of our leadership can be very helpful. In times like the present, we may need to change how much investment we put into which kind to be able to lead effectively forwards. Let’s look at a few of these reasons:
Leader as Inspirer/Motivator
At times as leaders we call people up to the action they are struggling to take. They need inspiration or motivation to take the steps that will improve their lives or situation and as a leader, we inject the energy or enthusiasm needed for people to decide differently. With this type of leadership, people can accomplish more than they otherwise could because the leader helps keep their tank full.
Leader as Problem Solver
Other times as leaders we help people solve problems they couldn’t solve on their own. We help them see the road forwards in a situation where they feel stuck, or we tackle a problem larger than they would be able to. This type of leadership helps people be more resourceful than they otherwise would be and not get held up by problems that may otherwise hold them back.
Leader as Higher Achiever
Sometimes as leaders we become a model because we can outperform others. We act as a kind of example of someone who “has their life together” or who is “larger than life” to others. This type of leadership often can help others achieve more in their lives by bringing our achievement momentum into their lives by virtue of our leadership.
Leader as People Developer
Leadership can also look like people development. We can pour into others: helping them come in touch with who they are and how to continue to grow into their skills and abilities, and how to navigate around their weaknesses. As we help others grow, they naturally look to us as a guide and with a sense of gratitude for the ways we helped them move forward.
Leader as Deeper Person
Sometimes leadership happens because others are in tune with a sense of depth they perceive in the leader. They don’t necessarily follow the leader for what that leader can do, but rather who they are. This is leadership through being, and it happens not because of what the leader can do differently than others, but because the leader’s personhood itself engenders respect.
Our Current Context
The current context is acting as a war of attrition on church leadership. Leaders are getting worn out and weary, and we have no idea at what point we will feel a sense of lasting relief. Given that fact, one of the important questions we need to be thinking about at this point is conserving our energy. The enemy is working to burn us out, one by one.
As I reflect on that reality, it looks clear to me that not all facets of leadership require equal amounts of energy and effort. Higher achieving and problem solving is an attempt to directly attack the issues at hand: given we don’t even have a specific problem to solve, leading through these means right now is a likely road to exhaustion. Leader as inspirer or people developer is probably less wearing, but at this point, such general fatigue is setting in that it feels like these functions also take tremendous energy and have diminishing returns.
Frankly, leadership capital based on doing is going to require a herculean effort in this season. Nearly everyone is worn out and any leadership that is based on the effort that goes into leading though doing is going to drain our energy reserves even faster. It seems to me that this is not a moment where leadership based on doing is wise: rather this is the moment where leadership based on being serves us far better. We don’t have to do better to lead, we can be better. We can be more grounded, more whole, more established in Jesus, and free of the anxieties of the world around us. As people see that, they are deeply drawn because what we all need right now is to believe that we can exist through this crisis without losing the best parts of ourselves.
In my opinion, many Christian leaders underestimate the power of this type of being-based authority. It results in a far, far better sense of inspired commitment than leadership capital generated out of some kind of competency. Best of all, this type of leadership doesn’t require exerting effort towards others at all! In fact, one of the most powerful aspects of this type of leadership is that we can hardly even care at all whether anyone is following us! (This type of stance is paradoxically nearly irresistible for others to not follow.)
Sometimes leadership training will make statements like, “the first step to leading others is learning to lead yourself”. I totally agree with this sentiment, but sometimes I think the framing inherent in this isn’t the most helpful. It’s not like we learn to lead ourselves and then we move on to leading others; rather I think a more accurate statement might read something like, “the better part of leading others happens through leading yourself.” Leading ourselves isn’t a prerequisite so much as it is much of the essence itself.
Imagine you stopped trying to lead others and just leaned in to have a lot of fun leading yourself this season. What would others think when they encountered you, full of life and vibrancy spiritually, emotionally and mentally? What might stir in others’ hearts when they saw a concrete example that it is possible to thrive and even enjoy this season? What might they step towards without you even saying a word or pointing anything out on purpose?
These thoughts might seem naively simple, but I would press you slightly if that’s your first thought. I’m not talking about being incrementally more solid in our being. 5% better is not at all what I’m talking about; I’m saying what if we were so much more grounded in our being that the other person can’t even draw a line from where they are to what they see in us? What if we were walking 3-5x more grounded than most of the others around us (to the extent these things can be measured, please understand I’m just trying to paint a picture with things that can’t be quantified here)? In my experience, that type of experience is profoundly category-breaking on the other side of the relationship. The work is done by the sheer confrontation of another’s level of being that disrupts and challenges us in the most attractive possible way. People wind up thinking thoughts like, wait, it’s possible to be like that? I had no idea. Wow, what would it be like to be able to experience that in yourself? That is so deeply good and right in a way I didn’t even know could happen.
For me, this approach is making all the difference. I’m presently leading in a church context that can at times be very difficult, but I have no desire to out-competency this situation: rather I’m going to out-being the situation, and as I do, it triggers profound change, without any kind of intense sense of effort at all.
You might try it out. Or not…I honestly don’t really care.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman