Casting Shadow or Light: Discerning Discipleship and Liberating Leadership

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This endeavour we have been doing together – exploring and re-imagining the Vineyard distinctives – was initially stirred by a talk given by John Mumford at the UK and Ireland Vineyard Pastors and Leaders conference.  Regarding leadership in that talk, John spoke of a wish that he could wave a magic wand, because he so hoped for, prayed for and  wished for maturity for the leaders of the Vineyard.  This stirred me as well – and has for some time – and reminded me of some things I have learned from an erstwhile mentor of mine: Parker Palmer.

Maturity.  I have heard some of this theme woven in the tapestry of our conversations recently.  From the Ephesians 4 passage that we all talked about in "equipping the saints" where it ends with a flourish and encouragement toward maturity to Steve Schenk’s admonition that we make room for failure as a positive, learning (and really) necessary experience in discipleship; like some sort of sacrament of failure, to which we respond in community with encouragement toward maturity.  It's a journey.  As Steve Schenk also reminded us, and Dallas Willard said recently echoed: we are victims of models and expectations for what “success” looks like, and we need to re-assess our spiritual maturity and our vision for what ‘success’ looks like.

I think at times - out of our own insecurity - we teach our children these trite, easy answers...instead of inviting them into the Mystery as partners in it, partakers of the divine so-to-speak, and explorers together.  Perhaps we seek to give them security (as well as cobble together some for ourselves), when the security they (and we) truly want/need to embrace is beauty and tension, hope and mystery, suffering and love...not pat and shallow answers.  Easy and shallow answers are a wide road that does not lead to maturity.  And I know we do struggle and wrestle with the Mystery...as I heard John Wimber used to say, 'never trust a man without a limp'...and I limp just like Jacob from wrestling with the Mystery that is our Living God.  For myself and my life of discerning discipleship, I guess it's the contentment with cheap and shallow answers that gnaws at my bones through the night and has me wrestling with the angel until dawn.  But there again, our settling for those answers is possibly a symptom of a distracted life of insecurity.  We think by being busier, that maturity happens.  But alas, can we admit that for all our busy-ness, we are not seeing the fruit of maturity?  In fact, our insecurities just grip us tighter.

I think we need to wrestle with the fact that a leader is capable of the power to project either shadow or light upon our world and upon the people dwelling in it.  In this way, a leader shapes the "essence" of how people live...an "essence" as light as heaven or as dark as hell.  A mature leader seeks to have a higher awareness of the interplay of inner shadow and light, so as to cast more light than shadow, so as to empower more good than evil. 

Too long have we dwelt in the immature and dangerous delusion that our leadership is OK if based in "good intentions" and that makes our power benign; Jesus always called out the leaders for "good intentions" without following through to "good actions" that liberate instead of bound people, themselves included.  But to grapple with this Jesus-centric "calling out of leadership" is to join the journey toward maturity. 

If we as leaders are to cast light and not shadow, we need to embrace the gift of discernment and seek to understand the shadows that populate our hearts in order to bring them to Light and experience the transformation of on-going maturity:

  • Insecurity.  Many leaders are insecure (OK, maybe all of us are!).  We become insecure possibly because we don’t think we know enough, aren’t expert enough, aren’t “insert-your-own-insecurity” enough.  When leaders aren’t secure in their own identities rooted in Christ, we can often foster an environment that deprives others people of their identities, as we are busy supporting our own insecure place and identity.  We need to heed the sacred call to embrace the gift of being ourselves.  I keep coming back to the fact that I need to embrace the gift of myself.  God wants me to be me, I can't be Moses or David or Wimber, I need to be myself; the ironic thing comes forth at this point: the more I can be myself in Christ, the more I can be real and present to other people and even in embracing who I am, there will be a family resemblance because of Jesus living through me.  But I can't be divided…I can’t be two people.  Again, as I mentioned before: there is a cruciform-shaped authenticity at the core of servant leadership.  Walking with authenticity is walking with a limp.
  • Pride.  Another shadow common among leaders is the pride of “functional atheism”, which amounts to the deep-seated belief that we are responsible for everything and it all comes down to “me.”  This sort of pathology “wishes” God might show up, but “acts” in a manner that never expects much from God, but expects almost everything from me.  This kind of pathology leads to depression, burnout and can carry us close to “losing our religion”.  It is very difficult to lead people so that they follow Someone Else.  Full disclosure: Most of the anxiety in my life is focused on “outcome”, and I forget scripture clearly states that the “outcome” is God’s responsibility, and my responsibility is just to be obedient (even if that makes me look like a fool for Christ), as Mother Teresa used to pray: I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.”
  • Fear.  Related and underlying the first two is fear or perhaps reactions to fear.  One primary reaction of leaders to fear is taking control.  In this way, we have over the years tangled and bundled power, authority and control.  I think it is time we together enjoined the task of unweaving these baselines of leadership.  We can see clearly that most of Jesus’ meetings (in which He was clearly the leader) we a mess…messy human need, fear, insecurity, pride, and everything that comes with those.  Unfortunately, we leaders try to organize and manipulate and eliminate the mess.  But what we might find ourselves doing is organizing the work of God right out of our meetings, and we find ourselves creating an oppressive environment rather than a liberating and empowering environment.  The insight of scripture is that almost always messiness is a precondition for creativity.  We witness this in Genesis where there was formlessness and void and darkness…as the Spirit was brooding, then life itself emerges from the mess.  There is a precarious balance between spirit and structure that creates the condition for life to emerge and thrive.  But in order to embrace this good tension of structure and freedom, leaders must through fear, be discerning, and embrace courage.  As US President Roosevelt once said: “The only thing we have to fear if Fear Itself.” 

 

The road toward maturity is a road travelled in fellowship.  We need to remember that throughout history people matured and “grew in Christ” primarily through relational and communal engagement.  This engagement engenders trust and deep relationship that forms us on the way.  There is a deep sense that this is about living your life out-loud...walking with your limp, in public.  In this journey, we hope to live and lead not out of the insecurities and pride and fear that populates our hearts, but in the midst of our transforming heart that empowers trust and hope and faithfulness.  We want to move toward a grace-filled place of possibility rooted in Christ and away from outcome-based anxiety, while we all work out our faithfulness and trust issues in fear and trembling.  This is my earnest hope that was stirred again when John Mumford mentioned it.  My hope and prayer for all of us is that we move toward maturity and integration, even if, at-present in this now-and-not-yet age, it remains a hidden wholeness in Christ Jesus our Lord.