I’m a lifelong Tour de France fan. For years, the soundtrack of July in my house has been the voices of Al Trautwig, Paul Sherwen, Phil Liggett and Bob Roll. For a month every year, the world’s finest cyclists gather for the ultimate test of strength, determination and strategy. The grueling road to Paris requires dealing effectively with friction. Teams organize around general contenders, but the sport’s strongest men don’t stand a chance without their domestiques taking the brunt of the wind and elements to position their guy for the win.
It takes 40 percent more energy to ride alone than in the slipstream of another rider. The leader, in yellow, almost never rides out front. Good teams protect their champion as long as they can. But there is always a moment when the leader has to pull out of the pocket and take on the wind alone. Wind matters. Dealing with it efficiently is everything.
Leadership is not unlike this. Anyone can lead with the wind at their back. When the room is full, folks are enthusiastic and resources abound, anyone can point to a desirable future and get people on board. But how long do those moments last?
Rob McKenna, the executive director of Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Leadership Research & Development, talks about leadership as “the willingness to go first and pay attention.” When the moment presents itself, leaders are willing to make a move — even if it hurts or they ultimately fail.
In the Equipping for Excellence (E2) events this year, we began the rollout of a new approach called Outcomes-Based Ordination (OBO). Our future as a movement depends on leadership development. My dream is to see the Free Methodist Church become a leadership-rich tribe known for developing competent and Spirit-led leaders. Of course, this will take time, but it can be done if we all play our part.
I’m a local pastor. It’s how I see the world. While leadership development is not the local church’s exclusive job, I believe it begins there.
We talked at E2 about our local churches as the launching site and the landing pad for leaders in training. People hopefully are first seen and developed where they serve. This is the ideal place to discover our design and to determine our fruitfulness in ministry — two key hallmarks of the new ordination system.
We make the process of discovering our “calling” harder than it needs to be. We spiritualize it so much that most people only congratulate us when we describe it. Who can argue with a Damascus Road moment? But it takes more than a spiritual sense of “call” to be a candidate for ordination. We’re not helping those we lead by simply moving out of their way when they learn to articulate their “call” in sufficiently spiritual terms. Call is design, and design takes time to discover in community.
Like you, I cherish the powerful moments when God intervenes. I just think these moments have more to do with a sudden awareness about what God has already been doing in and through us than about imputing something completely new. If we’re listening, we gain clarity at the
moment of our call, but I doubt a lot of raw leadership material is bestowed there. Moses receives direction at the burning bush, but it’s the crescendo of a lifetime of struggle, not a brand-new thing.
If calling and design are virtually synonymous, then we as pastors and leaders need to do everything we can to help our people discover theirs. What makes each of these brilliant people tick? Where do they thrive? What are they uniquely designed to find satisfying in the kingdom? A journey into design is a journey into God; to know His work is to know Him. The local church is the ideal space for this kind of discovery.
When we know how we’re wired, we make better decisions about where we fit. We’re ready to explore how our hard wiring sets us up for maximum impact and joy in service to the church and marketplace. Not everyone who is gifted to lead needs to pursue ordained ministry as a
vocation. Some lead out of brokenness, others out of duty. Worse yet, some lead out of a desire to feel closer to God and expect their followers to affirm their value.
The new OBO system makes it difficult to get past the Ministerial Education and Guidance (MEG) process if the candidate is merely trying to check items off a list or become someone significant.
The question of fruitfulness is as important as the idea of design. Determining a candidate’s fruitfulness in ministry early in the process is essential. Under the old system, it was possible to graduate from seminary, fulfill the MEG board’s requirements for ordination and still have no track record of leading people effectively, no experience leading people to faith, no record of building and maintaining teams, and no record of casting vision that people can actually follow. Our MEG boards have been in the awkward position of feeling obligated to give their approval to candidates for whom they had simply run out of legitimate excuses to hold back. Fruit matters. It’s right to ask the hard questions early.
Of course, this new system relies heavily on mentoring. My vision for MEG and regional MEG boards across the nation is that they build the kind of mentoring-rich spaces where they can embrace a fresh set of questions leading to discovery and honest assessment. Some of you who serve in the MEG space are already doing this kind of work. It’s time we all get on the same page.
The Tour de France analogy reminds me of how leadership development is a long haul and a team effort. It involves our local churches, conference offices and academic institutions. No one who rides completely alone wins in the end.
Maybe the wind is in your face. Maybe your building isn’t full, the people aren’t enthusiastic and the resources have all but dried up. If so, stay the course. Keep doing what you can to help people discover their unique place in the big picture. Keep asking the hard questions early and never stop releasing your people to be the brilliant folks God has created them to be. If we do this together, we will change the culture of our denomination and make a kingdom impact in our generation.
What more could we ask for?