Monday, October 20, 2014

Strength in leadership?

What roles do our strengths have in our leadership?  Why do I bristle a bit at the idea of finding our strengths via the StrengthsFinders test and then maximizing them?  Why spend so much time talking about this?

Well, if you've been following with me for the last couple posts, you hopefully are beginning to see that my view of "strength" and healing and growth is a bit different than the test seems to assume.

Read this.  Please.  This is Henri Nouwen, who in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, wrote this, which is a breathtaking glimpse into truly christian strength and leadership:

"I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.  That is how Jesus came to reveal God’s love.  The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.

The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, We can take care of ourselves.  We do not need God, the church, or a priest.  We are in control.  And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control.  The problem is not lack of faith, but lack of competence.  If you are sick, you need a competent doctor; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; if their are technical problems, you need competent engineers; if their are wars, you need competent negotiators.  God, the church, and the minister have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence, but today the gaps are being filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions.
But there is a completely different story to tell.  Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair.  While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world.

The cry that arises from behind all of this is clearly: Is there anybody who loves me?  Is there anybody who really cares?  Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me?  Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying?  Is there anybody who can hold me and give me a sense of belonging?

The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the comtemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there." (emphasis mine)

What roles do our strengths have in our leadership?  I would say hopefully not very meaningful ones, if Nouwen is correct.  At the least, I'd suggest that we show some serious caution at any test or package that is attempting to maximize our gifts, talents, or abilities because it'll have the potential to cut us off from understanding our own calling from the very calling of Jesus.

Probably unknowingly so many of us carry this "deep sense of uselessness" into something even as trivial as a personality test.  Tell me what I'm good at!  I want to know how special I am!

But Christian leaders, contrarily, are those that claim their brokenness and irrelevance.  They recognize their un-specialness and un-strength.  They are the ones in touch with the conglomerate of base thoughts that dwell deeply in their hearts.  They know their shames and fears, and are unashamedly admitting them.

Jesus understood his calling as being one of sacrifice and service, of going down, that others may arise. Why would we attempt to understand our own calling, even casually, by attempting to maximize how we may best use our talents?  Why not join him in going down?  Why not claim our irrelevance, that he may arise?

I say we should with Nouwen lay down our relevance and our "strengths" that we may "enter into a deep solidarity" with the broken and hurting.  Glitter, success, relevance, talents and strength have little in common with way of the crucified one.


Elisa Newhof said...

Interesting posts, Bart. I am wondering how you view our calling to use our spiritual gifts for the good of the church. I am not saying that there is necessarily a contradiction with what you (and Allender and Nouwen) are saying in your series here, but I'm interested in how you understand and layer in these ideas of claiming our irrelevance as leaders alongside serving as part of His body with the gifts He has given us for the common good. Regardless of whether or not we feel Strengthsfinder is a useful tool for understanding ourselves, do you think there is a place for exploring the ways the Spirit has gifted us and how He wants us to live out the good works He prepared in advance for us to do? And how might that fit into our perspective of leadership?

Bart Shadle said...

Great questions!

Yes I absolutely think there is a place for exploring our gifts and strengths. I think the test, and others like it (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, spiritual gift tests etc) can help us in enormous ways.

I think I've been trying to raise a flag of caution about understanding and blindly accepting our "gifting" and "strengths" and "personalities" based on the results of these tests. Can they be helpful in leading us to a better understanding of self? yes. But could there perhaps be a better starting point? I believe so.

In my head, for the sake of layering, I think:
First, claim our irrelevance and linger and ponder our shame and brokenness.
Secondly, allow the Lord, and him alone, to raise us up. Find our true strength in him. Find our identity in him. Look not for identity or gifting or strength apart from him.
Then, and only then, I think, can we (or rather can God) adequately evaluate how we are specifically gifted, not in our strength, but in our brokenness and weakness. For in our weakness, the grace of Christ is shown as sufficient and his power is made perfect (2 Cor 12:9).

I suppose a more common sense-y way to say it would be to say, yes the spiritual gifts are important, but theres a reason they are 12 chapters into 1 Corinthians rather than the first.

Love your questions! They're encouraging to me.

Elisa Newhof said...

Thanks for your response, Bart. I agree, and as Neal and I have been called into more leadership responsibility we have faced the absolute importance of finding our identity and strength in Him and nowhere else. I'm continuing to work on that, on keeping my eyes looking up to Him, and I probably always will be.

I think of your family often and appreciate your updates and wonderings.