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I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. – Ursula K. Le Guin
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13
Do any men grow up or do they only come of age? ― Stephen King, The Gunslinger
I was recently talking with my friend about our experiences over the last five years from seminary graduation to our calls in ministry. She is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Midwest and I minister in New York City. We both went to Western Theological Seminary and speak highly of our time there. As we were getting caught up on our personal life, the conversation shifted to church leadership within our classes. She and I are both the vice presidents of our classes. I recently had to lead one of the toughest meetings of my professional career yet and sought the advice from past office holders on how to lead this meeting. I was sharing with her how that meeting was for me, the leader.
I asked the question of my friend “What makes one a good leader? And what makes one a good leader for our current culture in the RCA?”
This is a question I ask a lot. What is the measure of a good leader? I think I have been asking this question since I was in fifth grade when I was the captain of the safety patrol team. I was ten years old since I have known myself as a leader. I keep asking this question today, what makes one a good leader?
Certainly influence and good communication help make one an effective leader. The great Roman orator Cicero said that the marks of a good orator include delighting, persuading, and informing. A leader must be skilled to have the conviction of her ideas and know how to communicate those ideas effectively. Yet, effective communication of convicted ideas alone doesn’t seem like the only qualifying mark of good spiritual leadership.
I asked some folks who are close to me, who voted differently than me, “Why do you not like President Obama?” The response was “He is a bad leader.” I think very differently than they do so I was curious and ask “Tell me more. Why do you perceive him as a bad leader?” And they said “He has been weak in foreign affairs and has compromised our safety.” I said “Oh this is so helpful for me to understand where you are coming from. What I perceive as good leadership is diplomacy and seeking to reach out, you perceive this as weak.” Two different opinions about what makes a leader good.
In a time of political division that influences our own ecclesiological communion, I play with ideas in my own leadership how to lead passionate, smart people forward in an ever changing church culture. As Reformed theologians we begin with the Scripture and trust God will have a word to guide us. I think of 1 Corinthians 13 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Is love the undergirding principle for good spiritual leadership? I think Jesus might agree with this. The greatest commandment is that we love God with our whole heart soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves. Lead firmly, lead with love.
Good leadership entails good communication, conviction, reflective decision making, teamwork, intelligence, and training. Good spiritual leadership requires the ability to love. To sit at classis meetings or General Synod meetings and to know the person who is voting the opposite than you is also a child of God worthy of benevolent love.
I have not always been good at this. I’m not sure I would say I’m good at this right now, but there is something compelling about leading from a place of big-hearted love. The love that does not exert power over the ones you are leading to strong arm decisions, but authority that leads in the rich soil of love. When one leads from this position, one garners the ability to speak his convictions while emphatically communicating with dignity for the one who thinks differently than you. I used to think this was weak leadership, I now think this is one of the hardest things to do and is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Spiritually mature leaders pray for those who oppose them. Why? Because they are a child of God, too. The business of love takes our whole life and practice. No wonder Maya Angelou once noted that many grow in years, but do not grow in maturity. The Good Book, the overused 1 Corinthians 13, may just give us an idea about a principle of leadership in love as we seek to continue moving forward in a dynamic time.