If I plotted each month on an axis according to intensity factor, August of each year would be the spike. It is the month when so many things happen all at once in a ministry year. You’ve got manpower, budget, and program planning. You’ve got to run (and plan ahead for) a leaders’ retreat in September so that your ministry’s leaders can have a three-month runway to pray and plan ahead for the next year. This year, the spike is anomalous because I’m preaching at the end of August, launching a songwriting campaign and preparing to lead a team out to India in October all at the same time, so yes spike.
I have imaginary miniature cheerleaders waving pom-poms and chanting, “Go, Sam, go!” on my left shoulder and this grumpy also miniature old woman (probably a projection of my seventy year old self) sitting on the right shoulder going, “You overestimated yourself again.” So how has your August been?
My inner voice is not very helpful sometimes. I’m also prone to anxiousness and depressive thoughts, so you can imagine listening to my inner voice at a time like this is a recipe for implosion.
Today I want to draw out one of the more distinctive statements I’ve uttered repeatedly in my own head that I really need to tackle face front and process through before the next level of intensity kicks in. I’m the sort of girl that processes through words, so I guess a blog post is finally up due to this!
Unhelpful inner voice statement: “Your leadership style is causing others to suffer.”
Oh my word, I’ve really had this thought go on in my head like an annoying scrolling marquee in neon and all caps, garish font size huge. The inner critic is especially activated in August when I’m doing so much planning that revolves around how I’m managing the areas of ministry I’ve been entrusted with. I feel inadequate when I look at the number of things we planned to accomplish and have not managed to. I feel incapable of rallying my teams to action when I look at how people ask me questions about decisions and direction. I feel small when I look at the hurdles up ahead and wonder how we’re going to navigate, coordinate, incorporate, anticipate, argh I hate all these -ate words right now. I feel helpless when I look at certain individuals with personal struggles that have bled into how they struggle in ministry and realise that I do not have the capacity to be there for them. I feel frustrated thinking of the little I have done this year.
I had to stop in my tracks and ask myself what I was basing all these evaluations on and I realised that, just to be really honest, it all comes from comparison. There it is, the chief culprit – comparison! My most frequent go-to yardstick was my perception of someone else’s success, and then looking at where I have matched up and where I fell short. With a clear head (caffeinated of course) right now as I write on my sabbath day, it’s apparent how silly that is. My perception of someone else’s success can only be formed on what my eyes see – their popularity, their visibility, their social media highlight reel, the type of activities they are involved in, the way they assert themselves – everything on the external.
Today I read in 2 Corinthians 4 about how Paul was addressing some issues that lay below the surface of criticism that the Corinthians had been throwing at him. He pointed out that they had been using the wrong criteria for the measure of a man. They esteemed worldly wisdom, personal achievement and economic status. They thought that one was better than others by virtue of the titles they bore and the following they received. Paul wasn’t distracted or offended by their criticism. Instead, he said this:
We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it, when we are being slandered, we answer kindly.
Bless? Endure? Answer kindly? This went against the grain of what the Corinthians considered as good leadership protocol. I resonated with this thought because I find in my own heart a struggle for power, which extends from a restlessness in my own soul, finding that things are often not within my control. And that inner struggle for power and control bleeds into the mode of leadership I desire to function in: show power, take control. “People will listen to you if you sound firm.” “People won’t question your decisions if you say it like so.” “People won’t think less of you after you put your foot down.” I don’t find myself in these type of situations that often, so thank God I don’t have to put what I think into action. I shudder to think the number of relational bridges these actions would burn down to the ground. Yet inside me, I know, this is often the ongoing dialogue. Show power, take control. It really stems from so much insecurity.
Paul emphasised grace and humility. Bless, endure, answer kindly. Jesus embodied grace and humility. I need to uncouple the word “grace” from “soft; backbone-less” and
“humility” from “less; weak”.
In one of my conversations with God after an intense long day of meetings, I told him that by the last meeting of the day, I was feeling really uptight. I couldn’t really be myself and enjoy the jokes and banter that were going around the table. I was this wound up version of myself that defaulted to desired leadership style homebase: show power, take control. That knocked all the fun out of me and I was feeling disconcerted because I know that I relate to people infinitely better when I’m being fun than when I’m high strung. High strung Sam doesn’t connect. High strung Sam doesn’t care how people are feeling, only how people are contributing. High strung doesn’t leave room for people to be themselves, only for people to fall in line and align to the process.
And in His loving, gentle way, He said: “You can just be yourself, Sam.”
Like a reflex action I said, “No way. If I’m having fun they won’t take me seriously. If I’m nice they’ll step all over me. Also, there is so much about myself that I don’t like. If I be just myself, I’m going to make a ton of mistakes.”
Then, He reminded me of 1 Peter 5
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Pride says: I’m right. I’m always right. I must always be right.
Humility says: I don’t have it altogether all the time, I’m learning, we need God and we need each other.
My insecurity stems from my displaced boast, wrongly placed in the pockets of status, accomplishments and power. I will instead choose to boast in the work that God is doing in me, so that I can be free to lead just as myself and admit that I am in a process of going through a refining fire.
Meanwhile, as I’m a work in a progress, my advanced apologies to those of you friends, leaders, co-workers and team members who need to bear with me and in so doing, feel the heat from the fire that I’m going through in this refining process, heh. I LOVE YOU.
I will be myself, not as a prideful assertion of superiority or individuality, but as an expression of dependence on God. I will esteem grace and humility above KPIs and achievements.