Fighting a good fight: Leaders are organized and flexible

The instinct for leadership is necessary on a lot of levels. Classroom teachers need it. Parents of toddlers need it. Neighborhood organizers need it. Our cell leaders, team leaders and leadership team among Circle of Hope are working it out constantly. It is not that easy to lead, but God provides what we need to take it on when we need to.

The false opposition among leaders

Lately we have been having a series of discussions about an interesting conflict of mentality when it comes to leading. Here are questions that get the discussion going:

How do people organize a new team (like a cleaning team or a mission to prisoners)? Do they get all their thoughts in order, gather all their resources, imagine all the difficulties, have a solid team that has met and discussed everything about their organization and action before they get going? That would certainly make for a nice business plan – and as you can see by our yearly Map, we have more than a little “business plan” about us.

OR. Do they get an inspiration, see a need, sense a movement and gather a few common friends to tackle the issue, having a good idea of where God is leading them, but leaving quite a few details to sort out in action, learning as they are going along and coming up with organizational solutions that meet the needs they discover along the way? That would be a nice demonstration of flexibility and discernment – and as you can see by our commitment to organic and diverse leadership, we have a lot of flexibility.

As you can predict, the organized ones are sometimes suspicious of the flexible ones and get upset that they have to put up with their disorderly ways. The flexible ones are sometimes suspicious of the organized ones and get upset that they have to put up with so much preparation and dialogue instead of getting into action. The organized ones might label the flexible “unprepared” and “irresponsible.” The flexible might label the organized “bureaucrats” and “controlling.”

But, in reality, the organized provide a lot of the context in which the flexible can flex, and the flexible provide a lot of the activity the organized can organize. They are crucial to each other. Neither “identity” is whole without the other. One is more orderly and one is more prophetic, but neither is able to fulfill the mission without the other. Prophecy and order go together like Isaiah in the temple or like Jesus in a circle of twelve, or like Paul in an orderly meeting full of prophetic utterance (1 Cor. 14).

The mission brings everyone together

The way forward in most discussions with leaders that end up in the false dichotomy between the organized and flexible is to turn to the metaphor of “warfare” and “contest” that Jesus uses, as well as other teachers in the Bible. That is, the church is fighting the powers that would steal their joy and they are fighting for the lives of people who are deluded into thinking they or God do not matter.

For Paul, the main reason to organize the church is “winning” people to the gospel. When he describes the process, he demonstrates how flexible he is.

To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Cor 9:21-22

When Paul is talking about the most “flexible” of activities – speaking in tongues, he tries to get some organization in the Corinthian church:

“If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” 1 Cor 14:8-9

I think the war sorts out the differences. If we are all trying to win the contest, then the different gifts we bring to it sort themselves out. If all we are doing is living in a static system, then some people will get their satisfaction by controlling it (calling that organizing) and others with get their satisfaction by rebelling against it (calling that being flexible).

In this highly organized age, in which so many of us have been trained to manage large systems (even a retail store is pretty complex, I think!), we tend to bring a lot of organization to the church. In an era in which our wars are fought by drones (from the U.S. side, at least) we do not know much about the flexibility it requires to have a large goal that is being incrementally fought for day by day, decision by decision, moment by moment. So we might be stronger on the organized side (even though we seem so disorganized!). We are certainly strong enough on the controlling/rebelling axis! I think we could all become more secure on the flexible side.

When a child is learning, one can’t always consult the book before acting. We need to trust God and trust the Spirit at work in us and on behalf of the child so we can do what we can do best in the moment and move on with confidence. Likewise, when a team or a cell is forming, we need to resist the perfectionism that our professional orientation demands and move to meet the need and give our gifts with whatever skill or opportunity we have.

I often say that we are an army on the move; we will undoubtedly need to improvise. If we wait until we can do everything well, we may have already lost the battle before we get started! We don’t control the outcomes, anyway, so we have the blessed assurance to move into territory we have never even seen with the confidence that God goes before us.

I feel so grateful to be personally surrounded by so many people who work out their faith in such a deep way! They even entertain the thought that they not only exist, they lead! Their faith is not in some secret compartment in them, it is making a difference! They are not an aspiration, they already have value. They are fighting a good fight.

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