In seventh grade, I came into Junior High Football as the fastest kid in my class, or at least that is how I remember it. My ninth grade brother, who was post-growthspurt, was waiting for me. On my second or third day, I got a hand-off up the middle and was just breaking the line when the sky appeared and pain erupted from my chest and chin. My brother had let me get loose enough to not see him coming and blindsided me.
Getting blindsided is one of those experiences that can either make you better or bitter. I was both, but that was a long time ago. Now as a leader I have been thinking a lot about the kind of community that I want to build and what kind of leader I have to become in order to build it.
After just writing about the dangers of the father knows best kind of leadership, it may seem ironic to think that a leader can and should determine the kind of community they are forming, but that is what stewardship means. As a Christian, the kind of community that I want to create is one that does naturally what Jesus said that we should do: love, be compassionate, forgive, offer mercy, bring peace, and tell the truth.
A natural leader affects the systems they are in without necessarily thinking about it very much. You have seen the eight or nine year old who just changes the way the kids around them act. That kind of leadership is a gifted form of what we all have: influence. Influence is real power. It is not necessarily the power to change a single event, but rather it allows over time the changes to whole chains of events, if it is allowed to work without manipulation.
Influence may or may not come naturally to you, but you can grow in your influence as you grow as a human being. Following Jesus, you have to attend to the log in your own eye, rather than the splinter in your neighbors. You have to go into your closet and pray. This work that turns inward in terms of discipline and law and outward in terms of gentleness and peace, think repentance within and mercy without, this work allows us to actually follow Jesus and to grow the kingdom. It brings wholeness and peace that begins to look a lot like our Lord. It makes for integrity.
Integrity is a subtle thing to notice in someone, but it allows your gravitational weight in systems to grow exponentially. People notice when people are consistent and humble and still honest and strong. People begin to give what you say more weight and what you do more influence.
So, what does influence have to do with not getting blindsided? In leadership people are always going to be angry and reactive to change. Most leaders cause change simply because as we try to move the world closer to the Rule of God that movement is change from the previous status quo. Since we can rest assured in a world post-Eden that the we are not in God’s Rule completely yet, we should be leading change somewhere. Even good people resist change. Even saints are held down by gravity and back by inertia. So as systems change and pull on people around you, someone somewhere is getting pulled, and if they resist, then something will give, and there will be a reaction.
I never suspected that my brother would hit me. I just didn’t. I should have. He was on defense, and he had been hitting me for years for fun. If I had more influence and more integrity, someone would have warned me, maybe even my brother himself.
In leadership, influence allows us to move the system through something more like God’s way of being in the world. We can cause change through goodness, calling, love, forgiveness, healing, influence. We don’t have to resort to violence in our relationships. This more subtle change allows people to join in and respond without build up of reactive energy, but it also allows time to deal with build up constructively, chasing down those who are left out or hurt by the changes.
The work also should give us clear enough vision to not be blinded to real dangers by ego, pride, or false reality. We can hear God’s warnings in the subtle movement of the Spirit, but also in the words and warnings of others. Because we are not led by our blind pride, we can move with others and see more clearly what they need.
Leaders change systems. They influence others, hopefully towards love and peace with gentleness and mercy. As I grow, I am seeking ways to call more clearly for the leaders around me to own their own weight in the system, trusting that influence is more powerful than either inertia or reaction. I am also more able to admit that I don’t know where the next hit is coming from and to ask for help from others, especially when I feel vulnerable.
Finally, I have to say that I do believe that if you lead, you will get hit. Systems don’t like change. The crowd prefers Barabbas because though he represents violence and danger, they know violence and danger keep things the way they are. In football I learned to take hits because I had a larger goal. That is still true. I have to turn my cheek if I want to see the kingdom.