Leading in Troubled Times

I’ve realized that perhaps the best way for me to approach the blog isn’t to wait for others to raise questions or comments, but simply write or respond to those things that come up for me.  Of course, if anyone sends in a question, I will be happy to respond to their question.  By being more attentive to those things welling up inside my soul, however, it will give me a more regular opportunity to write.

So what am I thinking about today?

I’m thinking about what it means to lead – in these unprecedented time when we are dealing with both a global pandemic and deep pain in our nation concerning systemic racial injustice.  Let me tell you specifically what I’m chewing on.

This morning I had a breakthrough in my weekly Codependents Anonymous group.  My breakthrough had to do with the challenge of what it means to lead from a non-codependent place.  Let me tell you why that’s such a challenge for me.

I have always been a natural leader.  When I was a child, my mother and sister found a t-shirt they said was made for me.  It read: “Where are they?  I must find them.  I am their leader”.  I was elected to my first leadership position when I was just 12 when I was voted student body treasurer for my junior high. 

The hard part about leading from such a young age was that I developed some unhealthy ideas of what it meant to lead.  I thought, for instance, that leading meant fixing other people’s problems for them.  I also that the mark of a good leader was that she or he must be liked.  Those were just a couple unhealthy ideas I embraced about leading.

As I moved into adulthood, I carried those early beliefs with me.  That’s primarily how I got to the point last year where I decided I MUST leave parish ministry.  I got to that place because I truly believed that the only way I could lead a church was if I continued to live a life dominated by those unhealthy ways of being.

In the past year, however, I have realized that’s not the case.  It IS possible to be an effective leader while acknowledging I can’t fix everyone’s problems.   I also realized (in a VERY deep way) that it’s okay if others have different perceptions than I do about what needs to be done and how that work needs to be accomplished.  Most importantly, I got – for the first time in my life – that it’s okay if other people are unhappy with me.  I can still love myself in the midst of these challenges.  Once I “got” these things, I realized I COULD continue to lead a faith community. I’m grateful that God – and my church – was so patient with me during this learning process.

I’ve really been challenged to hold onto these insights past week as our country has been wrestling with the deeply-entrenched systemic racism that has once again reared its ugly head through the recent deaths of Breeona Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery.

There are some, for instance, who believe that the events have revealed clear battle lines in the struggle for racial equality.  There are “good people” and “bad people”.  They believe a good leader’s job is to rally folks in their camp to lash out at those on the other side.

That’s one way to lead.

My call to lead, however, is built on a VERY different approach.  My call is about working to obliterate the whole notion of camps and begin to build bridges between those who would otherwise define themselves as enemies – in hopes of identifying areas of common vision and values as we move forward together.

While some might affirm my sense of call in an abstract way, they can be very critical when my call is put into action.  For my call to lead means creating room in the conversation for people some would demand NOT be included.  My call to lead means allowing situations to unfold where tension can be palpable – in order to expose the work that needs to be done (not just within one’s opponent, but within one’s self).  In other words, my call to lead means letting go of my codependent desire to fix things for others in a way that avoids confrontation at all costs.  That – I’m learning – will be a life-long struggle for me.

The good news I can share with you today is that I’ve come a long way on my road to recovery. I am increasingly able to be okay with folks who are frustrated with me because I’m not doing what they want – or in the way they think things need to be done.  I’m increasingly able to use those differences as an opportunity to build first a dialogue and then a relationship.  And that (the building of relationships, or bridges) is what my call to lead is all about.

Thanks for listening.  And let me close by saying this.  I believe that we are all called to lead in some arena – be that among your family, your friends, or your community.  I hope you will embrace your call – and lead in a way that honors both the uniqueness of your call as well as the uniqueness of the call of other’s as well.  I believe that each of us must play an important role in moving the world forward as we seek healing for a troubled world.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 53-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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3 Responses to Leading in Troubled Times

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Having known you a long time I can see your struggles with this and am glad you are finding new ways to lead that allow you to be more present as yourself and not as what you think is expected of you. I have also taken an interest in finding ways to have more productive conversations with people I strongly disagree with, but I’m struggling with the challenge of trying to do that in a way that affirms the safety of marginalized people in my space. How do you set boundaries with someone (such as “That word is a slur and we’re not going to use slurs in this conversation”) while making them feel like you’re genuinely interested in hearing their point of view? Or do you have to take them aside into a private space where the people they’re likely to hurt won’t hear them?

    • Pastor Craig says:

      Great question. I think it is entirely appropriate to set boundaries in the conversation. When I face those difficult points, I usually say something like, “I really do want to hear what you are saying and try to better understand. However, when I hear words like [fill in the blank, here] they cause me to shut down. Since I’m making an effort to listen and understand you, if you could return the favor by making an effort not to use that/those words, then I think we can get further in the conversation.” Thank you for asking that question! While it is important to make an effort to try to build bridges, you can never sacrifice your integrity (or the safe space of yourself or others) in the process of reaching out.

  2. ybabb001 says:

    Much like parenthood your voice to lead through the years takes a change— my older two kids will comment on how much differently and stricter they were were raised- I have to agree. Being new parents we wanted to raise respectable, honest, empathetic, responsible kids— by the time the last two came along we realized that certain battles should not be fought— and the older two helped raise the younger two— changed in thought, perception and patience.

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