Leadership 2016

One of the great permissions of the New Year is the opportunity to hit a reset button, to start over with a clean slate. For the past 21 years I have given leadership to DOOR. I must admit that in the early years I was the only employee. Being in charge of myself had its share of complications and frustrations, but ultimately it was a manageable situation. Today DOOR is an organization spread across five states employing 11 full-time staff. We host participants from 20+ denominational traditions as well as non-denomination and non-faith backgrounds. We are accountable to two denominational partners – Mennonite Church USA and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Beyond this each DOOR city has its own local board responsible for developing a unique vision for ministry in its particular location. A little over 10 years ago we formed a Beloved Community Council which was charged with expanding our understanding of diversity.

In my early 20’s I dreamed about being a leader. For me leadership had something to do with other people getting behind me and supporting my great ideas, thoughts, and plans. Somehow leadership and benevolent dictatorship were related. Just writing this paragraph makes me laugh, mostly with embarrassment.

Below are four lessons I have learned about leadership in 2016. None of these lessons have come easily or without pain. (It is important to note that I have never been a leader in the political, for-profit, or secular world.  However I still suspect that some of this will apply.)

  1. A leader is someone who is willing to be wrong. I came to DOOR with my ideas about urban ministry, poverty, racism, sexism, etc. In almost every case my initial prejudices were wrong. 20 years ago urban ministry was about helping people become “better.” It has taken years to understand that for ministry to be authentic it must be mutual.
  2. A leader is someone who is willing to flip-flop on issues. In certain Christian circles people like to talk about serving a God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Quite often this idea is used as a reason for not changing personal beliefs. I agree that God is unchanging, but I humbly suggest that our understanding of who God is needs to be more flexible. I came to DOOR out of a particular tradition and context. These things shaped my understanding of God, ministry, and leadership. As I started meeting people who came out of different traditions and contexts it quickly became apparent that my understanding of God needed to change.
  3. A leader is someone who is willing to work in chaos. Bringing together people with diverse experiences and ideas can be very unsettling. In Christian circles when someone doesn’t believe the same as me then it is easiest to declare the difference as sin. This creates division. Allowing space for difference can feel very chaotic. Those who can work and live within great difference are the kind of leaders we need in 2016.
  4. Finally, leaders are people who inspire and create space for those around them to be the people God created them to be. This requires a willingness to be wrong, flip-flop, and become comfortable with chaos.