Over the last 4 months, our church has experienced an amazing time of investigation and reflection. Prompted by a money shortfall, we have been looking for what we may need to fix. It all started smoky enough. But the journey has left me asking questions of my own leadership. Not whether I can lead well or whether I know what to do to get us back on track. But deeper and harder and more invasive to answer - How did I let myself get so far off of my own personal leadership values?
So far, I don’t like the answers. But true assessment is the key to real change. So, staring in the mirror, and coming to terms with my own fallibility, I want to give you some reflections of my heart as I identify where I got off track and how that has changed things and what happens now.
It all begins with prayer. Doesn’t it always? During a week of fasting and prayer for our church, I got the amazing opportunity to participate in a wrestling competition camp (as a coach, not as a wrestler). Wrestling is different from any other sport I have ever participated in. In a team sport, you can hide. Even if it happen for one play, one step, one moment. letting your guard down and not going 100% is not going to be the end of you. Football, basketball, and others are all essentially consistent in this regard.
Don’t worry, this really isn’t going to be a “meathead” sports analogy that only jocks will get. But please hang with me.
Wrestling is different in this regard. If you let down for one moment, you pay for it. For three “two minute” rounds (6 minutes total), you must give complete and total focus for every second. Let your guard down, and you will get pinned.
What I love about this truth is that stepping onto a wrestling mat is an opportunity for something much larger than just winning or losing a match. There is no one to blame if you relax. There is no one to blame if you don’t give 100%. It is you and your opponent - alone. Every time you step on the mat, you have the chance to decide what kind of human being you are going to be. This affects so much more than the 6 minutes you are on the mat. If you will slack in something as simple as a wrestling match, you will slack in other places as well. But if you refuse to slack even in something as insignificant as a wrestling match, then walking off the mat you will be a person who refuses to quit in everything else - everything.
Lesson #1 - Fail, but don’t ever quit. This has been a value for me for a very long time. But somewhere along the way, too many decisions coming at me too fast got in the way. And some of those decisions were hard and needed attention. And some of them were going to hurt other people’s feelings and that is never fun. And some of them affected families and their future. Kids were going to have their perception of God and His church shaped by these decisions.
And the weight of that was like a big ole’ heavy weight wrestler sitting on my back. So, to get him off my back, I just quit making decisions. The only problem is, it didn’t help.
Lesson #2 - Time doesn’t make hard decisions easier.
God connected me back to Him at a wrestling camp of all places by reminding me that the only way to get the weight of these decisions off my back is to make a decision. It is the waiting on a decision that gives it weight. And waiting for fear of the failure of a bad decision doesn’t help make a better decision.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for thinking things through, but the old adage of "analysis paralysis" is true. In the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, he confirms that data actually proves that more information and more time doesn’t equate into better decisions.
The only way to move past the heaviness of a decision is to make it.
Lesson #3 - If I am in the position to be decision maker, no one else will make a tough decision for me. I have a theory about 2nd chair leadership…
Every person in 2nd chair leadership believes that they can lead better than the person in the 1st chair. But history proves to us that this is not true. Think about Alexander the Great and his generals. Think about Herod the Great and his sons. The list goes on and on.
I loved being in the second chair. Because I could have the swagger of bravery about making a decision without the consequence of any responsibility. First chair leadership is a different animal in this regard. The fear and the weight and the consequence and the failure are mine and mine alone to bear. But so is the success, the accolades, the respect and the trust earned through the success of good decisions.
Welcome to leadership.
Lesson #4 - I will not “accidentally" make good decisions on a consistent basis
If I am going to be a good leader, I must decide to do what it takes to get that accomplished in my life. No excuses. No one else to blame. Either I worked at growing or I didn’t. Just like sitting underneath a big ole’ heavy weight wrestler in a match… He is trying to beat me. And he is pounding on my head and trying to turn me to my back to pin me. If I don’t like that, I can choose to do whatever it takes to get off the bottom. OR I can give in. But there will be no one else to blame. Only me. It is mine to carry. No one else.
In growing as a human being, I must do what it takes to make growth happen. Get coaches, read books, be willing to fight fear back, be willing to offend people if the timing is correct to do so. This is the price of leadership. And the loneliness is sometimes greater than anything that I have experienced. But the reward is also bigger than anything else I have done.
Lesson #5 - I must be willing to own my responsibility, even when others won’t own theirs.
I would love to be able to wax eloquent on this one. But suffice it to say this much. No one makes mistakes in an organization alone. There are layers to mistakes.
The grunt makes a mistake, but the manager doesn’t catch it. So the product is flawed and gets put in the hand of a consumer who doesn’t handle a conversation with customer service well. The owner finally gets a nasty email over this whole things and gets frustrated because he hired an inept manager.
Now, whose fault is it? Any any level of this scenario, we could make a case that each player is the “wrong” party. But as long as the layers of people try to prove why the others are wrong, it will never change. Until someone owns their part, nothing can move forward.
I would love to lay blame for where our church has been over the last four months. And I would be absolutely justified in doing so. But, It would solve nothing. So, in order to move forward, I must own as much as I can (even if it isn’t mine to own) so that we all can move past bad places in the journey.
So, as I work my way through this season as a church, I am finding a greater sense of passion and focus than I have had in 2 years by facing the issues that I have spent an awful lot of effort avoiding. Maybe the very thing that I thought would bring me life has wound up sucking it all away. That seems like a Jesus principle. And maybe dealing with the pain in the moment is better than the pain of the long term.
Just some thoughts...