Hal is blind. Gus is an amputee confined to a wheel chair. When they come to church, Hal pushes Gus and Gus directs Hal. They make their way through the parking lot and the patio to their place together in the pew. And together, and only together, they come to church. A blind man who can't see giving energy to a man who can't walk. A lame man who can't move giving direction to a man who lacks vision. But together, they worship, take part in community and offer their gifts, and, well, inspire a whole lot of us.
Amidst the recent posts on clergy burnout, a number of thoughtful contributions have been made to both causes and possible cures, but one possibility is presented in the friendship of these two older men: partnership. Honest, authentic, mutually interdependent partnership.
I contend that so much of the burden that leaders feel comes from the noble but misguided belief that leadership requires broad shoulders and an ability to stand under pressures alone. Most of us give lip service to needing colleagues and being collaborative, but when the "buck stops", we really do believe that it stops on one desk only.
Sadly, this is a far piece removed from the New Testament witness where, short of Jesus' own work on the cross, virtually every other expression of the ministry of the Spirit was revealed to the world in pairs or threes (or more). Jesus sent the 70 two by two. Peter, James and John healed and preached, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, Paul and Silas and Timothy, Barnabas and John Mark. Priscilla and Aquila. And a host of other examples, of course.
We also forget in all of our ministering that the church is first and foremost an organic relational “system”: a “people”, a “community”, a “family”, where the demands of an "emotional field" are so complex that they most like the human families we grew up in that are ideally (though obviously not always, not necessarily and not perfectly) led by a partnership called "Mom and Dad." Instead, churches eagerly organize ourselves into "single-parent families" and wonder why most pastors aren't up to the demands. (And again make us marvel at actual heads of single parent households who so often do such an amazing job.)
Somewhere along the way, partnerships were considered too unwieldy or unworkable and we started thinking more in hierarchies, where there is one "head". Today, you'll hear people speak of a kind of military chain of command that is necessary in the battle for the Kingdom of heaven. Community and collaboration may be good for dividing up tasks in "camp" or when we are "settled" in some place. Partnership may be good for a family, but not a mission, we think. On the "front lines" someone needs to be in charge. If we are leading into "hostile" or "uncharted territory", it's best we follow one vision, one voice...so we think.
While I'll save saying more for another post, let me just quickly remind us of the first true explorers in American consciousness. True heroes who defied all conventions of the day, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark not only were the first Americans to cross the continent, but they did it with it extraordinary success. And, as Stephen Ambrose reminds us, they are etched in our minds as one relational unit, "Lewisandclark". They were partners, "equals in all respects," they declared over and over again. In a world where most still believed in the divine right of kings, where even American presidents were from a different standing and class, in a military culture where there was a clear chain of command, and in the midst of a task that was filled with the unknown and uncertain, the only thing that Lewis and Clark counted on was that "in all respects" they would be "Lewisandclark." (For a fascinating book on the leadership lessons of Lewis and Clark, including the “principal of productive partnership, see Jack Uldrich’s book on the topic.)
For my own denominational clan, this addiction to individual leadership is a contradiction to our core principles. As much as we Presbyterians live under the constitutional conviction that all leadership is shared between elders and pastors, still most of us function as if the role of elders is either to be a "board of directors" with the pastor being the Executive officer, or the spiritual "counsel" giving advice and offering prayers to the ONE true minister of the church. Ironically, the phrase repeated over and over again to describe that actual work of pastors, begins with the clause, "Together with..." Pastors lead the church, "together with..." the Session, the elders, the deacons, and, of course, associate pastors. But of course, we don't-- at least not enough to really make a difference in our functioning and health.
I believe that our probably is that we haven't taken seriously our limitations when we carry the burden of leadership alone. Some of us are blind, some of us can't move. Most of us don't have the "energy, intelligence, imagination and love" that a congregation needs all by ourselves. And frankly, the stubbornness to think that we can lead without taking into our accounts our limitations is likely much of what is burning us out.
And in the next post, I'll explore the secret behind both Gus and Hal and Lewisandclark that can help us not only keep from burning out, but actually help us to move forward healthy and well.