What It Means to Lead

A few of my observations on what it means to no particular order and by no means exhaustive. 1. It means having courage.

A friend of mine, CJ Casciotta, tweeted this the other day, and I thought it was genius:

Leadership is doing what others are afraid to do until they see you do it.

Some mornings I lie in bed, fighting myself because I just don't want to lead. I don't want to be the person at the front of the excursion into the jungle, hacking at every tropical shrub, spider and venomous snake that stands in the way.

Leading is hard because anything worth doing will be hard to do. You'll hate parts of it. Resistance will declare all-out war on you. Every insecurity you've ever had will bubble to the surface and be seen in the harsh light of reality. But that's what it means to have courage. That's what it means to do something meaningful...and to give other people meaning.

2. It means asking someone to follow. It might seem obvious, but so many of us skip this step. If you're going to lead, someone has to be following, and sometimes that doesn't happen until you ask them.

I rarely have people come up to me begging to follow me. That's not usually the way it works. Instead, we as leaders, have to perceive them. We have to have vision for them. We have to recognize what they uniquely offer. We have to inspire them toward a vision. We have to be open to the way they will change the thing we're leading.

And we have to ask. We just need to ask. I've found that, while most people aren't begging to be followers, they'll step up to the plate if you can show them how their strengths merge with your vision. And remember, you're promising them more than just the task at hand; you're doling out meaning and relationship.

3. It means slowing down long enough to let them follow. I'm going to have to circle back around to this another time, but in short, be okay with a slower pace if it means that other people can be in it with you. The product will be better for it. They'll be better for it. You'll be better for it.

4. It means turning things upside down. I believe leadership is about service. Not everyone would define leadership this way, but this is how Jesus defines it. Everyday I realize more and more that my role as "leader" is really to recognize, release and cultivate what is the unique potential in those who "follow" me. I think I'm going to have to circle back around to this one someday too because I can't begin to do it justice.

5. It means getting messy. We're talking about dealing with people here, and people are messy. All of us are messy and when relationships get real we tend to get our mess all over everything. But real leadership is rooted in relationship.

Why would I say that?

Well, for one, being known in relationship means there's more allowance for being imperfect. And, really, isn't this the best option...since being perfect isn't an option? If you're imperfect and detached, you are not going to be easy to follow. Loving people well also means that even if your grand vision comes crashing to the ground you can get up again because you haven't failed at what is most important.

I would rather love well than accomplish well.

I'm only just beginning to unravel my thoughts on this, so I think I'll need to circle back to this entire topic a few times. But I'm realizing that I do have some things I've learned and that I'm still learning.

Threads, part 1


Christmas and Easter come every year. They’re tenacious like that. (At least Christmas has the good manners to arrive at precisely the same time each December. Easter, on the other hand, sneakily slides around from week to week, making it difficult to pin down.)

As the leader of the creative team of our church, these annual holidays are times of both anxiety and excitement. They provide annual opportunities for us to tell the greatest stories of our faith and to push into new creative territory as we challenge the boundaries of our storytelling. But the holidays also carry with them the challenge of continuously needing to find new and captivating ways to tell a story that almost everyone in our western culture has already heard…and many have already dismissed.

In truth, the story is not really mine to tell. The Spirit tells these stories. I have to trust that.

As much work as I may do, as innovative as my methods may be, this story is made real, and it’s made transformational by the quiet whisper of the Spirit in the soul of each person.

Still, God gives me both the opportunity and capacity to partner with his Spirit in telling his story.

I take that very seriously.

Creativity is, for me, very serious business. Fun business, but serious business.

And so, year after year, holiday season after holiday season, I must innovate. But I’ve learned more and more to hear and to trust the voice of God in my creativity.

Lately I’ve been wondering how that comes about, and I’ve found that the process is not easily traced. It’s hard for me to perceive—much less describe—the way the Spirit whispers ideas to my mind and swells them in my heart.  But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m always looking for threads.

Threads are those things that, well, they thread life together.

Life is a series of fragments, scraps of fabric. Every interaction, every conversation, every experience a different pattern, color, and texture. But through all of it, God is working and speaking. He’s highlighting words and moments.

We hear the same words repeated in a conversation with two friends weeks apart. We learn the same lessons three and four times over in different ways—through a situation, through a sermon, through our devotions. We feel a subtle shift in our hearts.

These are threads. It’s as if someone is taking a needle and thread and drawing them through the fraying edges of all of these scraps of life and suddenly making sense out of them, making them work in harmony, closing the gaps and seaming them together.

So each time another holiday comes rolling/looming on the calendar, I start looking for threads.

More on looking later.

New, Part 4 (the very last one, I promise)

Creativity is like music. It moves like melodies through peaks and valleys. There are times when the meter is precise and times that are simply felt, like jazz. And we sing along. There are times when we sing softly and times when we belt at the top of our lungs.

Wherever the music takes us, we sing along. Sometimes it may feel as though we are repeating the same verse over and over again, and sometimes…sometimes there will be something new, a new song.

Sometimes the new song comes from us, comes from a new variation on our abilities…

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. Psalm 33:3

Sometimes our creativity will birth something new, something unheard, something yet unseen.

And sometimes the song comes from God, a mouthful of grace…

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:3

Sometimes God’s work will cause us to respond with new songs that tell of the new things He is doing, of His grace being poured out.

When God gave the disciples the great commission he was giving them the permission and the mandate to live a story and to sing a song. And in some ways the song they had to sing was a new one, and in some ways it wasn’t. It was the same song that God had been writing, the same song that God’s people had been singing all along, but there were new verses to sing.

There were some who had been faithful in singing the old song, and as God wrote new verses they sang these as well.

But there were some who had ceased to sing the old song—at least in the way God had written—and when it came time to sing the new one they found they couldn’t.

We must keep singing. And sometimes we must keep singing the same song and the same verses again and again, even as we wait to hear a new song.

New, Part 3

I am not waging war on ingenuity. Really, I’m not. I’m not in the sad, fatalistic place that Solomon must have been when he wrote:

What has been will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

I don’t hold to that philosophy. Everything about my creative explorations bely the fact that I believe there’s always something new.

A new story. A new perspective. A new medium.

Yes, of course, everything that is new is related to what came before, but I don’t believe that the creative nature God placed in us has exhausted its voice. Let’s not allow our heads to swell with thinking we’ve discovered the depths and breadth of our source material…or even scratched the surface.

Everything about me believes that there are new ideas and new ways of expressing them.

But I’m also beginning to believe that the best way to begin expressing those things is certainly not to sit idly by, but to tell the stories I’ve heard, express the ideas I know, create in the ways I can while trusting that “the new” will come as I am faithful with “the now.”