Monday, September 24, 2018

Dealing with Weakness

I like to listen to podcasts. I may in fact be that guy who mentions it in a conversation. Much of what I listen to is incredibly nerdy and only of interest to insatiably curious people like me. One podcast I've come to enjoy is the outgrowth of an internet friendship. Two guys, Destin from Smarter Every Day and Matt from the 10 Minute Bible Hour, got together and started having conversations about history, science and things that they thought were interesting. I listened to one of their recent episodes called "Congrats...On a Life with Chapters". And it hit home for me because our rhythm of life provides this sort of chapter structure. Our life is one where we have extended times of ministry, usually between 2 and 3 years, and then we travel back to the States and get the chance to share what God has done and give an update. This provides milestones or boundary lines for our life. It marks the changes that have happened in our lives.

Some changes are obvious. Last time we were in the States, we had one child; now there are two. Last time, my hair was one shade darker; now you see a lot more grey. But some changes are more subtle and under the surface. Through conversations with some of the really great people we know across the country, I had the opportunity to look back on the last few years of ministry, and these are some of the themes that have emerged, especially as we've transitioned into a position of leadership.

1. No Leader Can Do It All
It is easy to fool ourselves as leaders, to think that we have things together. Often we expect a leader to have an overabundance of all of the necessary skills. They must be gifted administrators, communicators, organizers, visionaries, and not let anything fall through the cracks. The reality is leaders are people, and all people have strengths and weaknesses. This is of course an obvious observation, especially for leaders we know that have glaring weakness, but I think where it really holds true are for exactly those leaders who look like they are competent. Exactly those people who look like they are holding it together are the ones for whom this reminder is the most important, and it is important mainly because of my second point.

2. Our Weaknesses Don't Have Only Short-term Consequences 
We often have this short-term view of areas in our life where we are not as strong. We see it play out in the smaller ways. I am, for example, really bad at calendars. Dates don't stick well in my head, and I struggle to keep them all straight. My Google calendar has saved my bacon so many times. I get into a situation where I have completely forgotten an appointment but was reminded in time to make it. My wife and I joke that I know so little about the calendar that she takes care of it and I just put my shoes on when she tells me to so we can leave on time. These things play themselves out in the micro, in the specific moments. But they also have longer term impacts. People often point out that pastors that have served in churches for longer periods of time tend to take on some of their weaknesses, even down to a structural level. If my weaknesses as a leader go unchecked, then that can have lasting consequences. 

3. I Need to Know My Weaknesses 

It is incumbent on leaders, not just leaders that struggle but all leaders, to know themselves. I need to know my weaknesses and strengths. I must be aware of my blind spots and the places where I struggle. I need to recognize where I am lacking and then find people around me that can help to balance out where I are weak. I need that level of self-awareness. I need to see my own weaknesses and see the places where I need others. I also then need to empower those people that are strong in certain areas to take those areas over so I can also work in my strengths.

Much of this I have been processing as I have been stepping into the role of leading our team here in Austria. I've been asking big questions about what we want this team, this community of workers to look like. Some of this is recognizing that Bethany is very gifted administratively, and there are some details that she handles effortlessly that would bog me down. Working together in this, we are strong where the other person is weak. To accomplish the things that we want to see happen as a field leader, I need to be honest with myself about my weaknesses. We need to then seek out strategies and people that can help me work through those weaknesses.

As I was thinking about this, I posed the question to my brother, who is also in full-time ministry. His big question about all these ideas, which I found profound, was how do we do this? What does this look like practically? It is profound because we often see leaders investing in those that they manage. We see a boss doing "professional development" with her employees...but actually if we are going to put this into practice, if we really are going to be realistic about our weaknesses as leaders, then there needs to be space for humble leaders that ask hard questions about themselves and ask those they partner with to accurately assess them. We need to be open to healthy feedback and criticism. We to have our antenna up. When we hear suggestions or critiques, we need to receive them with humility and gladness, even if we ultimately go a different direction.