I have more confidence in one book on Christian leadership than any other that I've read, and that book is Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton. (Click to find out more about Ruth's ministry, The Transforming Center.) Each time that I revisit one of its chapters, something new sticks with me, but the powerful premise on which Ruth bases the entire book is this: "Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves" (page 19).
Upon first glance, it may not seem like all that radical of a statement, but if we let ourselves be put to its test, it won't take long to find some of the many ways in which we don't really believe it. Particularly in ministry leadership, it implies:
- my own process of becoming more like Christ is more important than any skills I bring to the table, which means
- my ability to love others well is more important than my ability lead them, which means
- the degree to which Jesus' life in me is so abundant that it will naturally influence those around me is more important than my ability to manage them, to preach a moving sermon to them, or set meaningful goals and objectives for them, which means
- although it's great for me to develop all of these skills and others, to do so without giving ample time, space, and attention to the things that lead to my transformation to become more like Jesus is to miss the point.
Not only have I been tremendously challenged by this statement from Ruth, but I've been equally challenged by its natural corollary. If our own transforming selves are the most important thing to move us forward in leadership as Christians, we can carry the statement another step forward and identify the biggest hurdle to great Christian leadership:
my own unlikeness to Jesus.
The implications of this won't feel fun to deal with, but can certainly lead us into a much better way of living and leading for others:
- the primary hurdle to Jesus' kind of life growing in those whom we influence is never "out there," but "right here," which means
- the answer is never really to be found by finding a different church, a different boss, a different pastor, a different small group, a different curriculum, or any other difference that leaves me unchanged, which means
- if I have any desire for my community to be led well, I should immediately stop blaming anyone else for it not being so. Instead, I need to take the huge responsibility of un-busying myself enough to make room for the hard work of the things which reliably lead to transformation like prayer, solitude, silence, and serving others in secret.
In other words, the biggest hurdle to great ministry in my community is never someone or something else, but my own lack of love, joy, peace, and all of the other things that Jesus' kind of life naturally produces in me. In the short term, it's much easier just to blame someone else rather than deal with these kinds of things, but we've all tried that course for a while, and, honestly, how helpful has that turned out to be?