Learning to Lead from Grace
In aviation, a flameout is when the fire goes out in the combustion chamber of an engine. This can happen for a number of reasons: lack of fuel, insufficient oxygen, foreign object damage, inclement weather, and a number of other reasons. But the result is the same: leading to a sudden loss of power, thrust, and momentum. Indeed, it can lead to a not-so-pleasant landing (i.e., a crash) if nothing is done.
I realized recently that I hadn’t spent enough time examining my own ministry engine.
I tend to lead from my strengths in my ministry. I emphasize the things that I do well, and try to hide or downplay the things that I don’t. There are a number of things that I am good at in ministry:
I am a great listener, especially one-on-one.
I am good at pastoral care and the ministry of presence, simply being available to people who need it.
I am a hard worker and a “doer.” If something needs to be accomplished, I quickly find solutions and get things done.
I am a team player and enjoy working with a competent, godly ministry staff.
I am a good teacher, finding ways to help people not just learn new information but also apply it to their lives.
I preach well and help people connect the text to their daily lives.
I am pretty intellectual, have a number of degrees, and look pretty accomplished.
(Man, that sounds boastful!) But we live in a world that values success and achievement, and churches are no exception. We talk about our churches in terms of numbers and budgets because that is a quantifiable way to measure aptitude and success. Success is what matters. In my life and ministry I want to be successful. So I work harder and longer to achieve a “lasting” result. I emphasize my strengths in order to hide where I might be deficient.
And it slowly eats me alive and steals my joy.
For the first few years of ministry you can get by on your own abilities and what you’ve learned in seminary. You have a lot of knowledge, a ton of background, and some great ideas. You have seemingly unlimited energy, enthusiasm, and excitement for the work. There are so many good things to do that you often postpone personal devotional time. You throw yourself into another area of ministry because your kids are young and they won’t really notice; “I’ll make it up to them later,” you tell yourself. You become jealous of what others accomplish in ministry because it means that they are “winning” and you aren’t; but you secretly hide it and work even harder.
And that can work for a while. You can lead from your strengths … but what happens when your strength wears out? It’s a flameout.
I wouldn’t say that’s where I am right now. But I’m not far from it.
I have a devotional life, but it is typically the first thing to go in a crowded schedule.
I take care of myself physically, but often cannot sleep well at night.
I tend to take on so many tasks to accomplish because I don’t know how to delegate. I feel stretched in a dozen different directions, mostly by my own doing, and I feel frustrated by all the work I have to do.
Oh yes, I lead from my strengths to the point of hiding my weaknesses, then become offended or angry when those weaknesses are (lovingly) called to my attention.
Our congregation is turning 80 next year, and we are in the midst of a re-visioning process. We are seeking to determine what God might want us to do and be as we chart a course for the path forward. I am excited. And tired. And a little burned out at times. Because I am realizing that I cannot lead this endeavor if I seek to lead only from my own strengths and competencies. All of this came to a head recently as I realized I was nearing my flameout point. It came to a head at a seminar I attended a few weeks ago as I broke down in tears, feeling frustrated and like a failure. Because if our church was going to become what I feel God wants it to be, my strength alone isn’t up to the task.
The next morning I opened my Bible and began reading. I came across this passage—it’s one I have read hundreds of times before, but it struck me in a new light that morning.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:4-10)
Grace. Over and over again, I heard the word grace. This passage reminds me that I will never be enough, but God loves me anyway. God calls me anyway. God asks me to work anyway. God challenges me to lead anyway. Not because I am enough, but because his grace is sufficient and his power is perfect even in the midst of my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Because God sees me as his masterpiece.
For the next few articles I want to chart my own journey as I discover some of my own strengths, weaknesses, and areas of growth, and as I learn to lead from grace.