I think about leadership a lot, because I’m trying to figure it out. And I think leadership thoughts are relevant for most anybody in society, whether you’re a factory worker, a cook, or a legislator, because nobody can stand in the way of a person with integrity and character ultimately. Even if we’re in the lowliest of jobs and really never see any lifting of the darkness of loneliness and powerlessness, we can still lead and seek healthy, consistent change in our world. Plus, I’m a terribly inconsistent leader who’s terribly dissatisfied with my terrible inconsistency, and I want more from myself so my character can impact the relationships I’m a part of. So bear with me a bit as I think out loud.
Just a few days back on the tail end of our honeymoon, Bethany and I worshiped with Cedar Ridge Community Church up in Spencerville, MD. Some of you may be familiar with this church as it is the people Brian McLaren formerly pastored. He’s now made the transition to “regular” church member (which would be an interesting topic to look at in itself, as the transition was made over two years), but that’s a sidenote here. I’ve had a couple thoughts that sprung up in my head (good worship should cause that to happen over the course of the week), and I wanted to dump some of those thoughts out to clarify them a bit for myself as well.
I wouldn’t say the worship gathering at Cedar Ridge was mindblowing, because it wasn’t, and anyways, which real worship gathering is on a regular basis? We had a chance to step into Cedar Ridge’s story, which caused us to be unfamiliar with how things go for them, what their practices are, etc, but they were very gracious along the way and helped us to worship with them.
During the gathering, the current pastor, Matthew Dyer, stood up and shared about a hard topic; fundraising. It seems the historic barn on Cedar Ridge’s property isn’t considered up to code, and they want to keep using it for youth meetings and the like, so they need to somehow raise $150,000 to get it back into shape. Matthew didn’t say a whole lot that really gathered my attention, but the way he carried himself and the language he used while speaking really struck me. Matthew seems to be very aware of how language the leader uses shapes the people they lead, and he really was masterful at how he used language to serve his purposes.
I noticed two main commitments in his talking, the first being community and the second sustainability. Over the course of his talk on money, Matthew continually grounded folks listening in the fact that Cedar Ridge is simply not just a building; time after time he called us back to the fact that the church is centrally acommunity, and that folks should feel empowered to know that they have a voice and that the church grounds are theirs rather than the sole possession of a steering board. I don’t hear that emphasis much in independent churches where the pastor and/or elder board often function as deities that folks are expected to passively obey or leave.
When it came to talking about how they would raise money together as a community, Matthew very straightforwardly told folks not to do a frenzy of fundraising things by themselves; where one person was selling mugs and another T-shirts and each trying to convince the other to buy their product for the good of the church. Matthew emphasized strongly that this kind of activity was not sustainable, both in terms of that kind of effort being individualistic and that in a society obsessed with consuming, Cedar Ridge needs to be an alternative to that frenzy of consumption. I really think those were two vitally important things he emphasized, and as he spoke, I scanned the room to see much nodding and affirmation. On the whole, I walked away from his talk greatly encouraged that church communities do exist that handle this well. And this sort of shaping plays an important role in molding a people to be different than those around them.
I mulled over the worship gathering as Bethany and I drove to the Orioles game afterwards, and I thought to myself about how strong, wise leaders maintain this sort of consistent influence in shaping the communities they lead. I say this because the response in my local church family to the thoughts I offered at our worship the day before Memorial Day was painful; persons were wounded that I would say such a thing and I was stung by their responses. I tried to be even-handed and deeply rooted Scripturally as I wrestled with what to say, and I’m convinced that Biblically, what I said was nearly beyond question. Yet folks pushed back hard. On one level, I’m glad that I’m kept accountable, yet on another level, I was frustrated that the consistent Biblical message of God’s global kingdom that bleeds through nearly everything that comes out of my mouth seemed to have not broken through into the place where our folks really were wrestling with it. “Have they not been listening, or am I not communicating well?” I thought to myself. Some of my response was rooted in the culturally-shaped mentality that all change needs to happen quickly, or it’s not worth working for.
Since Bethany and I worshipped with Cedar Ridge in the aftermath of our situation, it caused me to think a bit about Matthew’s as a leader. He carries this deeply Biblical commitment of community and sustainability and has served Cedar Ridge for two years; yet I wonder how often he runs into folks who still see Cedar Ridge as fundamentally an institution and Christian discipleship as tshirts and mugs and what God can do for them; a consumptive institution of disconnected religious piety. If that is true (and I would assume it is, though that’s a little dangerous), it would strike me that the mark of a wise leader (since it’s good that folks aren’t blindly obeying us), is a consistent commitment to weaving their central convictions into nearly everything they are; and to do that in multiple different ways so folks don’t hear the same thing a hundred times and tune them out. And as long as that commitment is faithful (we should always step back and take account of that), then good, solid change will come over the long-term as the leader speaks of and models the life of faithfulness in a way that leaves a mark on the people they are with. This applies just as much to a nursery worker or janitor in the church family as it does the pastor I think. Because we all will leave a mark, but those who are intentional leave a more lasting one, I think.