Being a leader is all about choices. Big ones. Small ones. Forgettable ones. etc. One of those decisions--in a category all its own--is how we answer a watershed question: What Will I Give My Life For?
It’s easy to be against things. It’s easy to be a deconstructionist. To rail against circumstances you don’t like, things you don’t agree with, situations or policies that are unfair or unjust. It’s also easy to get people riled up and rallied around things they fear or dislike. (Just replay the fear-mongering rhetoric of the political campaigns this past year.)
Leadership is more than being against things. Anyone can load their proverbial shotgun and blast away at stuff they don’t like. But, leadership is about taking new ground. Improving things. Building something better. Championing a better future. Leadership is about what you are for.
Let me ask a hard question. What are you known for? Is your leadership defined by what you are for or by what you are against?
Less than a mile from my house is a church that is becoming known for their focus on attacking the trends of our culture. They define themselves in opposition to a variety of social issues and even other churches with whom they disagree. They are not alone. I know of many churches, some led by well-known pastors, who define their posture in the world by what they are against. At times, I hear their diatribes against the world and I am embarrassed by the hostility toward people we are commanded to love.
I remember back when I was a pastor and was criticized by people in my church for not speaking against the trends in society that troubled them. Their perspective was that it was our job to “speak the truth” by preaching against the things that are wrong. I felt it was our job to bring hope and healing, the promise of new life, to people who were being hurt by the ills of society. I felt it was more important to do something about those ills than to tell a broken world how broken it was.
Instead of spending our energies on what we are against, It’s time for a generation of leaders who are defined by what they are for!
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
It strikes me that there are real dangers in focusing on what we are against.
1.) It is intellectually lazy…
It’s easy to be a critic, to cherry pick issues I am against. It takes disciplined effort to define a preferred future.
2.) It is morally arrogant…
My ego likes the idea that I might be better than those “on the other side,” that I might be somehow superior. When I posture myself as a critic I nurture that arrogance.
3.) It is spiritually corrupting…
When I rail against the immorality of others, I am subtly nurturing an illusion that my own sin is less abhorrent. I can even try to hide my failures behind the bluster of my rhetoric.
4.) It hurts people…
Unbridled criticism injures people. There are always people attached to the object of our attack. And, on a deeper level, it cripples their ability to live with hope.
2021 CALLS FOR A NEW START
If there was ever a new year that called for a fresh start, 2021 is it.
Now, in the final weeks of this truly weird year, it’s time to consider what we will live for in this new year. The list of what we are against is easy: Covid, lockdowns, presidential slander, ongoing racism, economic injustice… and so many of the major themes this past year. Those and more are real issues that deserve honest conversation. But blowing our trumpet over what upsets us is easy. The real work is addressing them. The work of leadership is giving our lives to build solutions.
It is a question of calling and contribution. If you live all in this next year in way that would bring hope and healing hurting people and a broken world, what would that be?
You don’t have to define the one answer needed to carry you for the next decade—nothing wrong there—but if it’s not clear, why not just start with one year. What will you give your life to this coming year? What is it that you long for? What results are you willing to sacrifice your time and energy to make happen?
It’s easy to take pot shots at the things you are against. But, defining what you long to see as the positive result of your life takes the courage to name what would break your heart if it failed to happen. It invites the disappointment of disapproval from others who don’t share your vision. It takes hard work to build what doesn’t exist.
Real leadership is about choosing the path less traveled. Will you be one of those leaders who does the hard work to figure out and stay focused on the thing called to live for?
If you find that you need help with this, drop me a note. One of my favorite things is helping leaders sort through the fog to find the essence of what they are called to give their lives for.