Finding Light on the Dark Side

On Friday I took the day off work and headed to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit to spend some time being challenged, inspired and refreshed. One of the things I have come to realise is that if I’m going to stay energised then I need to do the things to make that happen. I’ve found it difficult over the last 5 years to carve out the time and have often run on the smell of an oily rag. That eventually takes its toll. If you don’t keep yourself energised its hard to keep rolling.

I realise that to some the ‘Leadership Summit’ is the ‘dark side’, because it leans towards working with business principles and of course the church is not a business… So – yeah – I know that, but it’d be foolish to think we couldn’t learn or receive challenge from some of the best minds in the world.

So I went with the intention of savouring everything I could and spitting out any ‘bones’ as appropriate. These days I tend to think that if you can leave a conference with just one significant question, learning, or moment of inspiration then that’s enough. Let’s face it, there isn’t much that’s new in Christian leadership after 27 years, so its more about listening for the nudge of the spirit rather than picking up brand new ideas. (Are there any even?…)

The conference began with Hybels in full swing teaching about the ‘intangibles of leadership’. His basic idea was that for many years he has been teaching that there are 8 or 9 critical components to good leadership (vision casting, strategic planning, problem solving etc – all the usual stuff) but he had observed that there were plenty of people with these skills highly developed who were actually not doing well as leaders. What was the problem?… He stumbled on a book titled ‘The Intangibles of Leadership‘ that gave him a fresh perspective on the ‘below the surface’ stuff that makes a good leader. To be fair none of it is rocket science, but that isn’t the point.

He spoke about:

  • Grit – passion and perseverance over the long haul
  • Self Awareness – becoming aware of our blind spots by walking with people who are willing to tell us the truth
  • Resourcefulness – which he defines as ‘learning agility’
  • Self sacrificing love – the willingness to give of ourselves to those we lead at whatever cost.
  • Creating a sense of meaning – Referring to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Hybels spoke of knowing clearly what your ‘white hot why’ is and letting that shape your life.

The two points that I found myself pondering were the idea of ‘grit’ (tenacity / resolve and the refusal to quit) and that of ‘meaning’. During the Forge/Upstream years I had a super clear sense of calling and had no trouble articulating my ‘white hot why’. As a result I was able to grind on thru some pretty difficult times.

In that period the missionary calling was burning deeply in me – the ‘why’ was as white hot as I have ever known. But for the last few years my ‘why’ has been less ‘laser focused’ and I sense it has impacted on my passion and my ability to persevere. I reckon my ‘grittiness’ is pretty high when I have a cause to give my heart and soul to, but in the absence of this its hard to take hits and keep going. Disappointment and discouragement has definitely been a factor over the last few years and with a less gripping ‘why’ to sustain me I’ve found myself often pondering whether I should keep leading a church.

Add to that, I’ve also been travelling thru the ‘mid life tunnel’ and feeling a more general sense of demotivation and disorientation. It was really disturbing for a long time until I was able to accept that it was like a middle aged version of puberty – a change period and it was ok and normal, even if it made me feel awkward. Richard Rohr’s book ‘Falling Upwards‘ was really helpful for bringing clarity to my confusion even if it didn’t re-ignite my sense of purpose.

So how does this all relate?

I came back from holidays two months ago still somewhat ambivalent about my role as a pastor. I could keep going and ‘doing the job’ but I wasn’t feeling the deep burn that I know is needed to sustain you and give focus to ministry. James words in Chapter 1 about the ‘double minded man’ were resonating with me and not in a good way. I was aware that I was looking simultaneously down two different paths and that I wasn’t going to do anything well in that state.

A good friend challenged me early on after we had returned to just get on with it, lead and enjoy it. I don’t think she meant it to have the quite the catalytic effect on me that it did, but in one short sharp moment I sensed the spirit poke me in the chest and say ‘This is it. Do it!’

I’ve had 2 or 3 similar landmark moments before where the only response possible is ‘ok… I’m in!’ So I made that commitment – to give this next season of church leadership absolutely everything I’ve got and to make sure that I am faithful with what talent I’ve been given. I told Danelle. I told our leaders. I told my friends. Because when you tell people you can’t weasel out. I was intentionally shutting down one of the roads my mind had been venturing down (the one of running a business full time)

That was the first step.

I have been doing some work over the last month to give better leadership to the church in the coming years and I know part of that involves operating with a greater sense of intentionality and purpose. That stuff flows from the ‘white hot why’. (I like Hybels way of articulating that). We aren’t motivated simply by information and facts, but instead by the things that captivate our hearts and that stir our deepest emotions. The missional purpose that gave such strong shape to my identity 10 years ago has faded. That’s not a bad thing. I still see its importance, but I think God had burned that message in my heart for a time and now it has mellowed – maybe come back into better balance with the other priorities of the church.

In the last few days as I have reflected on this ‘white hot why’, and what it is now, I have come to a different place. I left the conference on Friday disturbed because I couldn’t articulate it and I know that if I can’t give words to it then I don’t know what it is clearly enough. I began talking around it, writing, reflecting and puzzling. I knew something was there, but with so many distractions and competing agendas in life at the moment I was struggling to simply focus. But I pushed on because I sensed I was near – I was having a ‘tip of the tongue’ experience.

Then it struck me – like a sledgehammer out of the blue. Over the last two years the idea that has been inspiring, disturbing and captivating me is Paul’s statement in Philippians ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ I’ve preached on this, blogged on it here and here, done a talk for Sonshine radio around this exact idea and it still bubbles away in me as a significant centring statement.

Its the place I find myself coming back to when I want to sum up the life of faith in a nutshell. Its my lens for viewing life. I dunno how it speaks to you, but for me its a strong statement – a call to a very different kind of life both here and now and also with a vision for beyond this world.

I think you see things differently at different points in life and for me this has taken centre stage in my understanding of discipleship – and because of that I see that this will give rise to how I lead a church community and how we organise what we do. Last week I did some work on ‘vision’ and priorities for the coming year and I couldn’t generate the kind of energy I know is needed to lead and engage others. You can write all the right words on a page, but if it doesn’t start a fire in you then its just leadership-babble and worse than no direction at all.

But… ‘to live is Christ… to die is gain…’

I can start from there. I can lead with that… because it evokes something deep and visceral in me. It is a raw and untrammelled description of life under Jesus. You might say ‘Hamo – that’s just discipleship in different words…’ and yes… you’d be right… but those words matter because they create a mental picture in my mind – they spark my imagination and inspire me. They burn me.

I want to look back in 10 years time and see a church of people for whom those words have become the guiding motif to their lives. If that happens – if we can create that kind of a community then it will have been worthwhile.

4 thoughts on “Finding Light on the Dark Side

  1. we’ve just preached through Philippians. I was moved by the previous sentence. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
    “That Christ will be exalted in my body” – Paul’s single minded goal and purpose. The ambition that shapes everything we do.

    And “2:17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” – a good one for pastors.

    Philippians seems to have dozen quotable life changing verses.

  2. Fantastic stuff Hamo. Really enjoyed reading this latest post. It strikes me that “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” is an appropriate second-half-of-life ignition for growth, as the need to define your own container for your life (to use Rohr’s analogy) has passed, and now you are looking for what will go in the container. This is a real statement about the willingness to die to self- which the second half of life pilgrim knows is the only way to experience joy and fulfilment. I’m excited to see where this all leads for you. CV

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