I am starting off our blog with a series on what I will call axioms of leadership and faith.
What is an axiom? These are short concise pithy statements, that try to capture an idea or some kind of wisdom in a way that allows us to easily remember that wisdom.
Here is an example, “many hands make light work.” And another memorable one, “one in the hand is better than two in the bush.” These empower us and summarize a truth; they cause us to be propelled forward in our decision making.
There are some too that are not so helpful, even dangerous such as “God helps those who help themselves.” or “pride comes before the fall,” neither of these are true, helpful or from the bible.
The first axiom I am proposing is “a leader is always present and at work.” You are probably wondering how could this be, we can’t possibly be in all places at once. Here I don’t mean physically; I mean psychologically, a leader can always be present in our thoughts and emotions. For example, when a leader speaks well of us, we remember those words and we hold them close. The reverse is even more true, it’s very hard for us to forget discouraging or judgmental words. It turns out the more we are attached to that person, the more impact those words have on us.
Some of the greatest influencers have been those who have received support and strength from others. Many have recalled the friendship between two of history’s great authors, C.S Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was highly influenced by Lewis encouraging him to write The Lord of the Rings. That encouragement spurred Tolkien on toward writing what has become a literary masterpiece read by millions.
If we consider the Christian faith, we might phrase this axiom as “God is always present and at work.” For a God who is loving, all-powerful, always present, and involved in our lives, this certainly seems to be self-evident and true.
But it’s in the implications where we begin to find some insight.
1. The first obvious place where we don’t feel the presence of a leader or a parent or even God, is when we feel disconnected and alone.
Perhaps we feel like no one cares, or we have to somehow get the attention of those who are leading us. If we are a Christian, perhaps we feel like God is not responding to our prayers, or in our grief God is not present.
In parenting, one phrase we probably will hear a lot for this is; “I am bored!” This happens when the child has lost their curiosity about the world, simply when they have no questions, no ideas in them to pursue. There is an emptiness inside them. We might suggest activities for the child to do, ideas they could pursue, but as it turns out to fix boredom we need to rekindle the curiosity from the inside. What we do is simply invite the child into whatever we are doing. Perhaps they sit on our lap and we tell them a story, perhaps we show them what we are doing and answer any questions. Our youngest now loves to help out with chopping vegetables because my wife stopped on this particular day when preparing supper, and included him when he was bored.
An attuned leader always invites us in when we are a little lost, or finding things hard.
2. Another implication is perhaps when we feel like we need to achieve some sort of success to be accepted.
Often children will seek academic or sporting success to prove their worth to their parents, maybe pursuing a career because society considers that the best way to succeed. Maybe in church worship seeking some sort of emotional achievement together as a community to convince God to show up. But God is always present.
I still have moments where I feel like I have something to prove – as a teacher, speaker, writer or even as a father or husband. This is natural for us to feel this way from time to time, it is a part of finding our own sense of self. This is a part of our growth. A leader knows this and is always present, always inviting the relationship while we are growing in this way. As adults, we can even lead ourselves in this way, making space for our own will to emerge.
3. This axiom can even reorient our vision of sin.
In the Christian faith, I have heard the traditional problem presented as my sins separate me from God, and I can’t pay for it or make up for my sins. God then acted by sending Jesus to take my punishment for my sin, so that God’s holiness, God’s wrath could be appeased or satisfied. Now God could enter back into relationship with me. There is often a decision presented for me to accept this free gift.
This is one way to articulate this, but here’s how that theology ends up. Whenever I felt convicted of sin, I felt like I have to get my life back together, to confess and repent and see if God would accept me again? I had to work to keep the relationship going. This is not at all restful and a little confusing really.
Yes, I acknowledge that when we make sin this breaks the relationship. And I also know it is presented that we will be accepted back, but where is God during that time of work?
Here is the way I would present this. When we sin, God takes the steps to restore that connection. God unconditionally invites us into relationship. Then the work of growth has space within us to begin.
Some of the fruit of this growth may be, we feel grateful, or we may seek to acknowledge we made a mistake and try again, to confess and repent. But these come from inside a person, from an appreciation or a desire to value the relationship, but only after there has been some emotional growth.
We see this played out in the garden of Eden, where God is creating a place in which humans and God live together. When Adam and Eve decide to not live within the boundaries that God created around life and death, around knowledge and wisdom. God does not come to them with a gavel and a ruler, saying, “what have you done?” No! He comes with a question of relationship. “Where are you?” God comes looking for them.
I was taught that God can’t look upon sin, that God can’t be in the presence of sinners, but here in the first story of Scripture, God actually plunges back into the place that sin happens, and goes hunting for sinners. He begins the work of bringing them back into fellowship, into union. It’s not that God can’t be in the presence of sin, it’s humans who hide in their shame and God who comes seeking them. This is leadership, to take the lead in restoring the relationship.
4. This axiom also speaks to the times when we encounter hardship and difficulty, when we are anxious or frustrated.
Perhaps we are angry or feeling uncertain, or maybe full of sadness and loss. We may hear phrases like “don’t be anxious, don’t be angry, don’t be sad!” A leader won’t wait till we have it all figured out, a leader will meet us in those places. That is where the work of growth is happening, in these places that we feel are obstacles to our happiness. They meet us there, and then we can find a place of freedom to grow through these obstacles.
This axiom is a really important good news for us. So as followers, we don’t have to make things happen or obtain grand outcomes to get attention. We are simply participating in the grace of invitation that been given to us. This is not a choice to receive it, it is simply the place we as human beings need to thrive. Often it is many years later as we start caring for others and realise how much work it takes, then we become thankful for all we received.
As leaders, our primary work is to offer the unconditional invitation to exists in our presence. This is the way we tend and cultivate the growth in others. In latter blogs I will continue with other things a leader does, but restoring the relationship is where we start.
If you like the kinds of things you’re hearing, if you are interested, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know what other things you are interested in.