Leadership from the Back of the Boat

Noted leadership expert, John Maxwell has said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

Yesterdays Jack Knox editorial was about leadership and the difficulty of having new leaders to step up. He was talking about new political leaders and the reluctance of people to enter the races. The article focused on the diffuculty of political life and he zeroed in on the observation, “It can be brutal and can wear you down. Many just can’t stomach all that leadership entails.”

Does leadership have to eat a person alive, consume them, everything they love and everyone around them? Jim Mattis, former US Secretary of Defense and distinguished career in the Marines for over 40 years was highlighted in an August article in the Wall Street Journal in which he told of a tour of duty in Afghanistan after an especially tough stretch of battles in 2010. He came across a Marine and a Navy corpsman, sopping wet, cooling off which sunning themselves in an irrigation ditch. He asked his usual Commanding Officer question, “How’s it going, young man?” “Living the dream, sir!” the Marine shouted. “No Maserati, no problem,” the sailor added with a smile. Their nonchalance and good cheer, even as they lived one day at a time under austere conditions reminded Mattis how unimportant are many of the things that can divide us if we let them.

What constitutes good leadership? Who among us are the leaders that God is calling and preparing to serve? With countless books and perspectives on leadership, which one provide a leadership model that produces the best results?

Let me tell you a story of effective leadership. A group of men ended their day in a boat. if you know anything about boats, you know that the place to be is not in a boat, on the water, during a storm. But that’s exactly where Jesus and the disciples find themselves. It was supposed to be “get-away-trip.” This was an essential trip for a group who needed to get away from the maddening rush of people who just had one more question, and needed one more aunt examined for a skin ailment.

But this “getting away venture was turning into anything but – especially when their leader was missing? Where was he? Asleep. The most distressing feeling imaginable is to believe that YOUR leader is asleep at the wheel when you feel that your life/home/church is in danger. Why is he not in the front of the boat screaming into the wind, meeting their challenges headfirst?
That’s the leadership we need as we face the challenges ahead and those are formidable! Statistics tell us that over 3000 churches close every year. Less than 30% attend a religious or worship service each week. 50% of pastors have considered leaving the ministry in the last three months. 50% of those who go into full time ministry drop out in five years. These challenging times cause us to shake our heads and wonder if God is asleep in our balcony while the storms of change and conflict rage around us.

The disciples expected more and you can hear their disappointment in their response to Him, “Don’t you care that we are dying here?” Surely you are aware how dangerous this situation is! They were afraid. They felt that Jesus had abandoned them in their hour of need. We have verbalized those fears ourselves. “Jesus don’t you know what’s going on with me? Don’t you care that my life is in danger? Where are you in MY storm? For some reason I get the feeling that you are asleep when my life is in mortal danger and you aren’t doing a thing about it. Fear is a natural response to danger. Where it turns sinful is when we suddenly become convinced that God is our Deserter gone AWOL, an ever absent no-show in time of trouble. Jesus awakens to the disciples frightened screams and their glare at him.

And this is the occasion that gets repeated ad infinitum in churches, boardrooms, fellowship halls and sanctuaries across the country. We though you were going to fix it! Pastor, do you not care that we are dying! How in the world can the pastor be so calm? This is where most pastors veer off the path that Jesus set. Most pastors hear the disappointment, the anger, the frustration and take all that to heart. Most tend to buy into the belief, “Not only do I need to fix the raging storm, but I need to eradicate their frustration and anger at me. I need to calm the conflict.” But Jesus gives us a different model for the church to follow. Notice that Jesus did not jump up and run. He did not rush to calm their fears. Quietly he spoke to the storm with authoritative power. And then he asks his fearful followers some rather pointed questions, “Why are you afraid? And “Why aren’t you using your faith?” The critical point of this experience is not that Jesus calmed the storm. The critical point is rather, Jesus’ calm within the storm. George Fox, a well-known Quaker once said, “Be sure to carry some quiet around inside thee.” Leadership from the back of the boat refuses to empower helplessness as a survival tactic. This kind of leadership operates out of the belief that more often than not, the real problems flow not from the storms raging around us but from our fears raging within us. Remember that sometimes God calms the storms. Sometimes the storms rage on, but in their place, God calms His child.

Even when our lives are under threat, when our fear keeps us awake at night, Jesus has invited us into the kind of relationship with Him that isn’t based on when He stills the storm or even IF He stills the storm but in my trust that He is with me IN the storm even if the boat capsizes. God’s love never lets us go. Sometimes our circumstances aren’t resolved. Sometimes the boat capsizes or the car crashes but God is still good and His love holds us until the night passes or until the storm fades. Fear caused the disciples to turn in on themselves and their inadequacies. It led them to doubt that Jesus cared. Instead of saying to the disciples, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, you aren’t alone.” Fear causes us to believe that God doesn’t care when we don’t get the outcome that we expect. Fear predicts the worst. Fear tells us that we deserve the happy ending or else God is Not Good.

Leadership from the back of the boat is not reactionary. It calls on all of us to find and rely upon that quiet presence within, especially when the storms rage.

A prophet by the name of Micah provides a case study for our learning. A conflict has emerged. People have been serving God, or so they thought. They have been giving their offerings and making their sacrifices faithfully. But God sees that their hearts are empty. He calls them into court and makes his case against them. They were in fact, doing religion, but their hearts had grown cold and uncaring. They worshipped but their worship was empty. Micah counsels - 3 things. To Do Justice. To Love Kindness and To Walk Humbly With God. How does it look when we lead by Doing Justice, Loving Kindness and Walking Humbly with God?

To Do Justice implies setting right that which is wrong. Certainly we demand justice of others, of our courts. But To Do Justice was Micah’s reboot of their worship. They were “doing faith” but not “living faith.” Doing Justice isn’t about looking busy. Doing Justice is not about demanding of others what you aren’t delivering in word, attitude and behavior yourself. Doing justice is living in such a way that others can see what you think and believe without you ever saying a word? How would you and this church Do Justice in a manner that attempts to set right whatever is wrong?

How would it look to Love Kindness? Obviously implied here is not just to love kindness but to actually live kindly. To Love Kindness is – similar to justice – best lived out in your lifestyle. I have a friend who wants his church to do what he calls “Hands Dirty Ministry.” What he means is that everyone, from young to not so young does those acts of faith in such a way as to actually get their hands dirty. Let me suggest that Doing Justice and Loving Kindness, when it comes to the ministry of this church and pastor will get your hands dirty.

Leadership from the back of the boat doesn’t mean that you always jump and run, that you buy into people’s fears that the sky is falling, or that you take responsibility for their helplessness. Leadership from the back of the boat means that with energy, intelligence and imagination, each of you live every day discerning what it means to Do Justice, Love Kindness and Walk Humbly with God for your life and for your church. Occasionaly you will go horribly amiss but you will also get it exactly right. Remember that you are merely called to say, “We will, with the help of God.” Frederich Buechner has said, “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of us all, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we may go, may we in whatever way we can call on Him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May Christ be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace…we may find Christ. May it be so! Amen!