in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist; part 4, mission curator, part 5, storytelling host) i’m ruminating on the suggestion that leadership in the church needs to move away from the traditional notions of hierarchical power we’ve embraced for so long. and i’m unpacking 9 new metaphors for “powerless leadership”. here is metaphor #5:
i’ve been doing more than my normal share of thinking about hope in the last year or two. in some ways, at all started when i was asked to speak on the subject of hope at a youth ministry event very early in 2010. i did some thinking and praying and digging, and realized that there are a handful of things that often rob us of hope in our churches:
- optimism and pressure to be content. it’s not that optimism is a bad thing. it’s just that we’ve spiritualized it in the american church and re-labeled it as hope. but they’re not the same thing.
- being well-resourced. honestly, what church leader would choose being under-resourced over being well-resourced. but as i meet hundreds — thousands, even — of church leaders and youth workers around the globe, i’m amazed how being well-resourced can lead to a variety of destructive things (hoarding, protecting, confidence in things) that make hope impossible. because hope has embedded in it some longing.
- living without pain. i’ll expand on this a bit more in a second, but pain seems to be the necessary b-side to hope. or maybe it’s the other way around: hope is the b-side to pain.
- technique. we loves us some technique in the american church, don’t we? technique is a distraction, and quickly becomes (in many, if not most cases) the object of hope.
but my perspective on hope was rocked by my trips to haiti this past year (which i have blogged about extensively). and that idea that suffering and hope are two sides of the same coin really started to click for me.
as i wrestled with this more (including developing a book proposal that’s under consideration at some publisher or another), i read more on hope — particularly some stuff by bruggemann. and i saw the biblical pattern: honest and healthy dissatisfaction with the way things are –> crying out to god, admitting your need for god and dependance on god for a rescue –> the gift of hope. it’s most clearly seen in the exodus. and it’s seen again in the exile. it’s even seen in jesus’ cry from the cross.
but here’s how this applies to ‘leading without power”: organizations need to have hope (not just individuals). while this isn’t talked about often, it’s intuitively true. we’ve all been part of, or visited, organizations (churches, business, whatever) that lack hope, and ones that seem to be bursting with hope. really, this isn’t just christian organizations — my visit to zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, gave me a visceral experience of hope embodied.
but the leader who wants to lead without power (because, really, there’s NO WAY to hierarchically force someone to have hope!) becomes a champion of hope in the organization. the powerless leader listens for and is present to suffering — not brushing past it or sweeping it under the rug (easier said than done, btw). and in the midst of that safe articulation of struggle, the powerless leader points people to the source of hope (jesus), rather than cul-de-sacs of optimism, technique, and other hope thieves.
a few practicalities:
1. remember Romans 5:3 – 5 — …we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
2. provide reminders of who we place our hope in; reminders of what our hope feels like; reminders of why we have hope.
3. cultivate a language of hope with your team, and with parents.