Courage and Leadership

[republished from Wycliffe Canada’s Prayer Alive publication]

You can never go wrong asking God to give leaders courage. Leadership and courage go hand-in-hand.

Why?

First, because leadership is about taking people from one place to another, and very rarely does that journey come with a clear roadmap. Leaders may have seen some glimpse of the “promised land” or experienced some part of it for themselves, but they are blazing a new trail. When I think of a journey like that, Moses comes to mind. The only way he kept his vision and faith in the wilderness was by spending copious amounts of time face-to-face in God’s presence.

And second, because leadership is a personal practice lived out on a public stage. Each leader has to figure out how much of his personal struggles to reveal to his followers. Frankly, many of our models have come from a generation that kept a “stiff upper lip,” giving a false impression that they didn’t struggle internally. I’m grateful for the young generations who are dropping that pretense. Some of them gain incredible power from admitting their failures and lack of courage. Joshua was that kind of leader. Why would he need four reminders to be “strong and courageous” in Joshua 1 if he wasn’t having doubts? Gideon was this kind of leader as well. I love the insights we get into his almost-daily need for assurance of God’s presence. (Judges 6:12, 16, 34, 36-40, 7:10)

During a recent trip to Southeast Asia where I had a chance to interact with a large number of the leaders of Wycliffe and SIL, I noticed a lot of tired leaders. I suspect some were discouraged, some tired from pushing themselves too hard, and some burning out from working in areas of weakness for too long. So I appreciated an early exhortation from Wycliffe Global Alliance Director Kirk Franklin. He unpacked the lessons God had taught him during his just-completed sabbatical. He specifically noted the lesson learned from Jethro’s counsel to Moses in Exodus 18: God doesn’t want exhausted leaders.

Kirk went on to list a few applications for leaders in the Ten Commandments. For instance, “Do your Sundays look any different from any other day of the week?” He then set the tone for the meetings by confessing six areas of sin that he struggled with as a leader. Kirk’s personal disclosure was a powerful challenge for all of us.

To lead differently requires courage, both in the public and the personal aspects of leadership. To trust your vision and follow God’s direction in the face of doubts, obstacles and sabotage takes incredible fortitude. To admit that you are “not able to carry all these people alone” (Numbers 11:14), and ask for help, takes boldness. To risk your position by admitting your weaknesses requires inner strength. Even taking time for rest reflects a deep faith in God’s ability to carry your load.

So we need to pray for our leaders to be “courageous in the ways of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 17:6). More and more I return to the argument Moses had with God in Exodus 33, where he begged for assurance of God’s presence. We to whom God has given this sacred trust need a daily reminder of that presence. The only way we can be successful is if, like Moses, the Lord is with us.

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Restoration

Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the ‘waters of rest,’ he restores my soul.

In While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Timothy Laniak says the idea of “restoration” in Psalm 23:1 is about returning. David uses the same verb as Jeremiah used to predict Israel’s return from exile. Sure, restoration is about satisfaction, that feeling when your deepest needs are met. It’s about rest, solitude and regeneration. But it’s the idea of returning that sticks with me.

First, returning to a former state. It’s helpful when you’re in the midst of a crazy-busy period to have a marker you can refer to when life was manageable, your days filled with joy and you had a deep satisfaction. For me, the ultimate answer is a place I can never go back to. It’s a world of naive innocence in the first year of my marriage, before the pain of our first miscarriage, when all our relatives seemed healthy, when our friends’ marriages seemed solid and before the economy turned upside down. Life was simpler and the pace more comfortable. Optimism and hope were the prevalent words to describe the year I’m thinking of. I can remember having more time to celebrate, think and enjoy life.

You know how you’re going through life at a frenetic pace and suddenly a smell or a sound takes you back to a moment years in your past? Restoration for me is about catching “throwback” moments when I’m spending time with God in the morning, when I get a chance to jump in on a pickup game of soccer or volleyball or when I participate in the joy of my kids. Those moments are rare, but incredibly rejuvenating. Laniak takes it one step further. He says those moments are about worship.

Worship rises freely from the satisfied hearts of those whose needs are tended to.

Restoration might also be a “return” to something you’ve never experienced — to God’s ideal. As eternal beings, we will one day go to a place that finally satisfies that vague hunger that has plagued us our entire lives. That’s where we’ll finally feel at home… the place we were created for. We may not have ever experienced a great marriage, parents, family life or workplace. But one day we will return home.

So, what does this post have to do with leadership? As followers, we need to remember that our Shepherd is very much concerned about our anxiety, restlessness and frenzied activity. Those things may be part of life for a time, but those aren’t his intention for us. He desires to give us rest and satisfaction, tending to our deepest needs — physical, psychological, intellectual, relational and spiritual. Are we seeking to meet those needs in Christ? Dan Allender says that leaders are more prone to addictions than the average person. Before I lead others, I need to recognize my own neediness and find times to get back to that state where I felt rested and fulfilled.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)

Second, as leaders and shepherds, we have a responsibility to mirror the Great Shepherd. How do we lead our staff to rest? Here are some questions from Laniak:

  • How do we assess needs in our places of ministry?
  • Do we really want to know the extent of the needs?
  • What kinds of needs do we seek to meet? Do we only limit ourselves to tangible needs? Or only spiritual needs?

Here’s the question he floored me with: “Do you give your people a chance to rest?” If I’m so busy myself, what kind of inference am I making for my staff? Instead, how do I promote a rhythm of restoration and rejuvenation for myself and those I lead?

Good questions as we head towards the weekend. I hope yours includes a few moments of restoration and rejuvenation.