A bit more on powerlessness and leadership

One of the things that we church people have done these days is to revere the culture of competence. We have taken the call to be a community of broken individuals working toward wholeness and transformed it into a product to the sold to the highest bidder; a commodity to appeal to the masses. This packaging of discipleship lends itself to the professionalism of church leaders who are judged as much on competence as faithfulness. And yet, in a world in which the product is becoming less and less appealing, the most competent among us have to dig deeper and deeper in their bags of tricks to present the product as new and fresh.

I think Henri Houwen anticipated the place we find ourselves today in his small but important book, “In the Name of Jesus,” a reflection on the temptation of Jesus. “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…” he wrote. “The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”

What Nouwen recognizes is that there is a point when the culture of competence and authority begins to break down. When we place our trust in our abilities and wisdom it is easy to write God out of the equation. The starting place for all Christian ministry must be the acknowledgment of our inability to do anything on our own without the grace of God. It’s only when we put our egos aside and recognize our common vulnerability and brokenness that God can make something special happen.

It’s a bit of cliche to mention the sign that Quincy Jones put over the door of the studio in which they were recording the superstar performed song “We Are the World,” but it continues to be a model that we forget as we enter our “studios” of leadership in the church. What would it have meant for delegates to the 2012 General Conference to be greeted with signs saying “Check your ego at the door” when they entered the room to discern the will of God for the UMC? What would it mean for members of our leadership teams to admit that we aren’t nearly as brilliant as we sometimes think we are?

The first step is a constant reminder of who we really are.

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