In seminary I remember reading a text called “By What Authority Do We Teach?” I don’t tend to be all that worried about authority when it comes to my opinions of scripture and theology, but I think it’s important for a pastoral leader to contemplate both the authority projected onto us by others and the sources (not to mention the Source) from which the strength comes that allows us to live into that authority authentically, clearly and cleanly
I think it’s safe to say that among pastors, chaplains, religious and other caregivers who operate from a spiritual perspective, we bring both our strengths and our weaknesses to our work. I think one of the keys to being effective in leadership is recognizing them and trying to avoid, well, avoidance of the weaknesses. What do we need to be whole as leaders?
We had a wonderful conversation about Moses and Paul at Bible Study Wednesday night. Moses had the special quality of being open to God, but he didn’t have natural leadership skills. More to the point, he was afraid to lead. YHWH encouraged him along the way by providing him with assistant. In this week’s lectionary passage from Exodus 33, Moses asks for God’s direct help. He’s been asked to lead people who get into trouble awfully easily. It wasn’t long ago that they gave up on him while he was off picking up the Ten Commandments, and the next thing you knew they were staging Dance Party around the Golden Calf Bonfire. They behave a bit like older babies, the ones who don’t know yet that you’ll come back again after you leave the room. They have separation anxiety. They need to *know* they are not alone.
Moses asks YHWH for more than a sign. He asks to see God’s glory. He makes the point that it’s all very well for God to say, “You are my people,” but without some visible sign, no one is going to know it. Moses says, “You know, if you’re with us, that’s great, but if you’re not, don’t send us out there wandering around again. Let us stay put here.”
I bet we’ve all found ourselves in that position in a relationship. We want—we need—to tell the other person to fish or cut bait. And for Moses, whose sense of himself as a leader was uneasy at best, an answer was necessary.
It’s funny. You’d think the burning bush and the voice of God would have been sufficient, wouldn’t you? But Moses wants more. Moses needs more. And apparently Moses is important enough to God’s plan for Israel that God will give him what he asks.
Paul, on the other hand, was a leader of men right from the beginning. He thoroughly enjoyed winning friends and influencing people—and persecuting them, as well. He had the skill set God needed, except for the persecuting, so God knocked him to his knees and blinded him and gave him a new name—Saul died and was resurrected as Paul. Now he had the belief to go along with the skill set.
What do you have? And what do you lack? Are you aware enough of the lack to ask God for help with it?
This week a parishioner approached me to talk about why her family hasn’t been in church for the past few months. I was really grateful because while I didn’t count their absence as unusual in the summer, so much time had bone by that I worried there was something important I didn’t know. As it turns out, her husband was distressed by the UCC General Synod’s vote in favor Marriage Equality. She has encouraged him to come and talk with me, but owing to his relationship with his father, “he has issues about confrontations with authority figures.”
I have to work very hard to imagine myself on the power side of that equation. I’m short and round and soft and utterly approachable—or that’s how I see myself, anyway. For most of my life, people have come and poured their hearts out to me whether I liked it or not! But now someone I would like to talk to, someone whose concerns I would like to address or at least hear, categorizes me with the authority figures who intimidated him.
So this is news to me. Is this why Mr. Crusty didn’t talk to me about his dissatisfaction? It’s dangerous to be so unconscious of this new characteristic in my ministry, because it’s about more than how effectively I run a meeting. It’s about people’s hearts, the very part no one ever hesitated to bring to me before.