In my last corporate job, my company was acquired by NiSource, Inc. Early on, we were invited to send representatives from the company to join teams which would help organize the newly merged firm. As our team members came back from Gary, Indiana, their reports filled us with doubt and discouragement. It felt like all we had worked for, the company culture we had created together with much blood, sweat and tears was at risk. I was president of the operating company, and had resolved when I came that my management team and I would lead a different kind of company than Enron, where I’d learned so many lessons on how “not do things.” How was I to lead at “such a time as this”?
We felt like how I imagined the Israelites felt when the twelve spies returned from Canaan, the Promised Land. Ten said that there were giants in the land, and issued dire warnings. Two said it was a land flowing with milk and honey. Where could we find hope in this situation? Then Victor stood up and said, “you know, there are options.” “I would be proud to work with anyone in this room in any company in the industry.” Somehow Victor’s words calmed and centered us. Some of the team buckled down to do the hard work of merging the two companies, seeking to preserve as much as possible of what we had built together and valued so much. Others took the generous exit package. We parted friends.
How are we—the laity and clergy of this District—to lead in “such a time as this,” (as Esther did)? In our District, we are not of one mind on the outcome of General Conference 2019. Some see the hand of God in the workings of the democratic voting that took place; others see injustice that offends God’s will. I have yet to speak to someone who is happy about how the delegates and observers treated one another. Many are hurting for their LGBTQ friends and family members. Some are questioning their call. Others are pondering a new future in some new form of Methodist Church yet to be created. There are many unknowns at the present time, so I do counsel people to take time, and to be deliberate in their discernment.
Ron Heifetz writes:
“When you do adaptive work, you take a lot of heat and may endure good measure of pain and frustration.”
(Ron Heifetz, Leadership On the Line, p.200).
There is no question that we Methodists are “doing adaptive work.” In Tod Bolsinger’s terms, we are indeed “canoeing the mountain.” From an observant Jew, Ron Heifetz, here’s what I have learned about canoeing the mountains in such a time as this:
- Even when you feel at risk, betrayed, powerless and hopeless; you stay open.
- You resist hardening your heart or closing yourself off.
- Even in the midst of disappointment and defeat, you remain connected to people and to the source of your most profound purpose. (ibid, 220)
Heifetz says that to lead in such difficult and challenging circumstances, we must maintain a posture of innocence, curiosity, and compassion.
The good news we receive from Jesus is that whatever hell we find ourselves in, Jesus has been there before us. Whatever rejection we encounter, whatever unfair accusations are hurled at us, we are not alone. Whatever mess comes to our door; we can trust that God is at work in ways we cannot begin to imagine. And if we attend to the movement of the Holy Spirit, God will bring us safely home.
As I have listened to the Spirit, and asked, “What am I to do?” I have heard the Lord calling me to comfort the broken hearted. I have also heard the Spirit saying that God may well be calling different people and different churches to do different things.
I pray that all of our leaders—both lay and clergy—will spend a good deal of time listening for God’s direction at this time. I invite everyone to come to hear Tod Bolsinger speak on “Leading in Uncharted Territory” on March 21 from 9-3 at Annandale UMC (Register Here).
Most of all, in this season of Lent, I pray that each of us will seek the gifts of innocence, curiosity, and compassion—not out of our own power, but out of the power of One who died so that we might be freed and the world might be transformed to embrace God’s peace and God’s justice in all things.
Yours in Christ,