Next to politics, there are only two fields of employment I can think of which contain the danger of encouraging those who work in them to get an overinflated sense of ego and importance: student affairs and church ministry. Good thing I’ve not worked in either of those before...
I will give the caveat that when I was in grad school, it was imposed upon us time and again that the job we did held greater and more lasting importance than whoever actually did the job. We never intentionally tried to feel like or believe that we were the only people who could do our job; but, there was always that nagging little itch in the back of our brains that no one could do it as well we we did it individually.
At the church I volunteered in, we tried to work under a philosophy called the “Red Truck Paradigm:” what if, on one random Sunday, as the lead pastor was driving to church, he was hit by a red truck and either hospitalized or killed? Could we go on, or was the ministry and church so inherently tied to ONE person that this red truck would have crippled everything? We tried to implement and trickle-down this theory to other aspects of ministry as well; however, while we all agreed in principle that this was a great way to operate, the reality was that we all still held tightly to the ownership of what we felt we were called to do and do it - maybe not better than, but different from others who might have to take up the reigns. ...all the while silently speaking in our hearts that in this case, our different was better.
The thread that ties these two seemingly disparate fields together is the belief that we impacted lives for the better. We made a difference in the way people saw, lived in, and served in the world.
So consider for a moment the fact that almost half of my life so far has been spent in a position where I have been told I am a leader. I have been placed in or placed myself in positions where I am told everything I do matters, that all my actions have lasting impact, and I am preparing a legacy of leaders to leave behind.
Maybe this is why there are some days when I feel...restless...in my spirit. The hours that I used to spend in one-on-one deep conversations about life’s meaning and purpose are now spent doing laundry, washing dishes, and changing diapers. The students who used to express such sincere thanks to me are now replaced by a fussy toddler who at times refuses to eat anything I cook for him.
There are times when I look at the folder on my computer desktop which contains my resume, and I ask myself “Why am I still doing this? Why am I not using the gifts, the talents, and the ability I have to train leaders? Why am I instead spending my waking hours in a repeat loop of fold-cook-play?”
And then, the answer comes to me in the form of a small boy with a mop-top of curly, sandy-brown hair who holds up with such exceptional pride a tower of building blocks as he exclaims “I dit!” (which translates to “I did it!”) to show me what he did, all on his own.
That I trained him how to do. That I showed him how to do. That I led him to discover on his own that he could build as well as - if not better than - I could.
A leader is someone who shows the way, who guides in the direction to go. A leader may not be someone who takes the full journey, or who takes the journey exclusively at the head of the pack. While many might try to lead (as understood solely through the definition of the action verb), to add on the suffix of “-er” changes the dynamic from referring exclusively to the action of leading and instead creates a designation of a special characteristic found within the person.
It goes from verb to noun. From lead to leader. And all it requires is two letters. Funny how those letters are “ER,” which is typically where a lot of surgery goes on anyway.
Leadership refers to instructing on how something or someone is to be shaped. A leader shapes others into roles of leadership according to their own abilities. Only in later usage of the word did “leadership” come to mean teaching crafts or skills, or conditioning the character of a person into a replication of the person instructing. In its original format, a leader would shepherd an individual to find their own unique shape.
Even Jesus chose His apostles individually, and not through a mass altar call. Matthew was different from Stephen, who was different from James, who was different from Peter. And if you read their words, you can see He might have guided them on the same path, but their voices were unique.
Kai's towers may never resemble anything like what I might build, but the point is for me as his dad to be able to guide him to the point of where he is able to say with pride “I dit!” It would be far more damaging to try and squeeze him into a shape that resembles me instead of letting him discover his own. What I have to learn (and relearn, and relearn, and relearn) is that this is my season to let that folder lay fallow. That this is my season to help him find his shape.
That no position or job I have ever held has had as much as importance as this.
One day, I may get back in the field. Or a field at least. One day, I may go back to hosting those leadership programs I used to; to training leaders like I used to; and to using the gifts I have. One day, I may get back to a point where I at least think people are paying attention to what I say and that I am impacting lives in the manner that I used to.
It only pray that it requires dealing with fewer diapers than I do now.