Two weeks ago, I left sunny Florida feeling a bit demoralized. I’d just completed the third retreat for the Lewis Fellows complete with its requisite day-long seminar in freezing air conditioning and an additional day of visiting area churches. There wasn’t anything wrong with what was offered in this time in Florida other than the fact that there wasn’t quite enough time to enjoy the sunshine. What left me a bit empty was that gnawing realization that this mode of leadership that the Lewis Fellows proudly espouses just isn’t me. I can absorb the information and there are even a few things I’ve tucked away in my files, but I just don’t lead with this particular style. It’s just not who I am.
According to the Lewis Fellows, the leader is the one with the vision. I can get behind this to a point. There is a reason for the biblical wisdom that without a vision the people perish. It’s in our sacred text because it’s true. We need a vision. We need to know where we are going. We need to know who we believe who we are. I just don’t think it is the pastor’s job to determine the vision. I am too engrained in the congregational tradition. Or maybe it’s that I’m too much a part of my genereation. Or maybe it’s just not what I see Jesus doing in the gospel story. I think the vision comes from within the community. I believe it’s the pastor’s job to encourage that vision, to remind the congregation when they’re tired and even expand the vision when people get too doctrinaire. (It happens to the best.) Anthony Robinson recently shared an amazing snapshot of what this looks like in a congregational setting. In this snapshot, Robinson emphasizes “following.” The article feels a little finger wagging at church members but I don’t think that’s what he intends. Instead, I think he’s trying to remind churches that pastors cannot be the messiah. We already have one. We don’t need another so we can’t expect a pastor to suddenly calm all of our fears. Or, at least, I know that I can’t do that. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t be the salvation of any church. I can only offer my story.
So, I jumped into another round of continuing education this week to explore what it means to be a narrative leader. I’ve read a little but about this idea and it’s appealed but I wanted to know more. I wanted to do more than read the book. So I came to Washington DC to hang out with a bunch of Baptists at An Introduction to Narrative Leadership.
It was here that I had an epiphany. I’m not that kind of leader that the Lewis Fellows teaches. I can’t be the one with all of the answers. I can’t always be the one that knows where we are going as a congregation. I am a narrative leader. I lead with my story. It’s become more and more apparent as I’ve tried to preach from my story, but it has always been the style I have assumed. I have always lead through questions. It drives lots of my church’s members crazy but I naturally assume a place of not knowing. It appears that this is where I am comfortable. Moreover, this is the stance that a narrative leader always takes. A narrative leader wants to understand. A narrative leader leads through curiosity. A narrative leader wants to know the stories of everyone else as it is those stories that will determine the vision. After three days, I feel I can breathe deeply for the first time in a long time. This is who I am. This is the type of leader I am.