Saturday, April 18, 2015

Leadership & the Ministry of Absence

Bird house in Munson Park, Monroe

As a pastor I have people who call me for help. When they ask for help, I give them the best of what I have. I help them. But help can go overboard.

I must trust people with areas of ministry and release them to it, without always helping them. At some point I must not do the work for them. And, to help the laborers without invitation is to frustrate them. They will feel micromanaged, and grow resentful.

I must keep my hands off areas of ministry where I am not qualified. To assist where I am incompetent is to destroy relationship. Unskilled pastoral assistance breeds mediocrity.

All this requires the setting aside of "self" and ego. While the motivation to be of assistance can be pure, it can also be a sign of control and ego-drivenness. When this is the case helping is evil. 

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, tells the story of an introverted wing commander in the U.S. Air Force. He was in command of thousands of people, was a classically introverted person, and a great leader. Cain writes:

"He was also widely admired; when he spoke, everyone listened. This was not necessarily remarkable— if you’re at the top of the military hierarchy, people are supposed to listen to you. But in the case of this commander, says Grant, people respected not just his formal authority, but also the way he led: by supporting his employees’ efforts to take the initiative. He gave subordinates input into key decisions, implementing the ideas that made sense, while making it clear that he had the final authority. He wasn’t concerned with getting credit or even with being in charge; he simply assigned work to those who could perform it best. This meant delegating some of his most interesting, meaningful, and important tasks— work that other leaders would have kept for themselves." (Cain, 55-56)

Pastoral leaders need to know when to help, and when not to help; to know when to be with others, when to be without others. There is a ministry of presence, and a ministry of absence.

Pastoral leaders must allow more qualified people to lead areas of ministry and get out of their way.

Pastoral leaders must get over themselves to allow others to come forth and shine.

To lead is not always to help; indeed, there are times when helping subverts leadership.

All this is a matter of spiritual discernment. Discernment is a function of intimacy with God.