DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

All Eyes on You

Written by: on April 11, 2021

At the end of Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers gives up his role as Captain America and officially goes into retirement. In a symbolic passing of the torch, he gives Sam Wilson – Falcon – his trademark shield. Since his creation as Captain America, Steve Rogers has served as the symbol of American values within the Marvel Universe, as well as the weight of leadership of the The Avengers. It’s a heavy mantle bear. In Disney+’s latest Marvel TV series, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there is a heavy air surrounding Anthony Mackie’s Falcon as he decides to give up the shield, feeling inadequate of being chosen as Steve’s successor.

Everyone’s eyes were on Sam as he made the decision, much like everyone’s eyes are on us as well.[1]  Simon Walker writes, “When you accept a role in leadership, you accept a public life in which your behavior is identified with the institution you represent.”[2] As much as we may like for our leadership to stay in the recesses of our organization, as leaders people are always watching and waiting to see what we do. Some people have genuine motives, while others may have something more sinister.

For better or worse, leaders are associated with their organizations, which is why when a hero falls their organizations are in danger as well. Living abroad, I am often lumped in with the actions our political administration takes. “You’re an American, so you must believe that as well” or “Are all Americans like Donald Trump / Joe Biden?” are common questions I receive.

When we take on leadership roles, we bear the burden or weight of an organization. We become the face that people see. If you think about Apple, Steve Jobs may come to mind; Bill gates when you think of Microsoft; Elon Musk and Tesla. When one of these leaders does something, it inevitably falls back on their organization.

The church is not exempt from this; in fact, it seems that people scrutinize church leaders closer than most. In my denomination, there was a recent scandal regarding a General Baptist pastor who said many demeaning things about women.[3] This put the General Baptist denomination under fire by the media, particularly because of the polity that General Baptists hold in that it falls on the local associations to deal with pastoral discipline. When public witness is tainted and trust is destroyed, it’s difficult to crawl out of that pit.

As I reflect on the way we present ourselves, a few things come to mind:

  1. Beware and BE Aware. We need to be careful of how we present ourselves and be aware of the people with whom we surround ourselves. We must also be aware of the ones who are actively watching us. Who are the people we defend? Who are the people who defend us?

 

  1. Our Identity. Although we may represent our organizations in different capacities, ultimately we cannot tie our identity to them. When we do so, we risk losing ourselves in the torrent of feedback and complications found in our organization. What happens when the organization fails? What happens when we fail in our own leadership?

 

  1. Have Grace. Leaders make mistakes (some worse than others). However, when we – or others – make mistakes, we should approach the situation in humility and as a learning experience. This does not diminish the need for consequences, but rather reframes our troubles in light of the One who shows us.

 

[1] Without spoiling the show, the latest episode –Episode 4: “The Whole World is Watching” – really nails this theme.

[2] Simon Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power (Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007), loc. 310.

[3] For more, you can check out: https://nypost.com/2021/03/03/pastor-slammed-for-telling-wives-to-lose-weight-look-less-butch/

About the Author

mm

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

13 responses to “All Eyes on You”

  1. mm Jer Swigart says:

    It’s good, Dylan. Thanks for this.

    I’m especially struck by the idea of beware. Caution….wisdom….is necessary, especially in an age of public shaming and cancel culture. I’m finding that I am far more discerning about who I’ll work with. I want to ensure that we can fail together in our attempts toward restoration while maintaining a posture of grace.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      An idea I’ve been turning over in my head is “toxic vulnerability” – or the expectation that we must be willing to share EVERYTHING regardless of the context. When talking with someone in my small group about this, she mentioned the culture where we expect everyone to be on the same level of vulnerability with one another in small groups. When someone doesn’t fit that mold, there’s an implicit (or explicit) shame. I think this was even more apparent in the culture of my university and the Christian groups there.

      We must have wisdom in who we share and work with. It’s okay if we don’t get the deepest levels of intimacy with others (something I appreciate about Joseph Myer’s The Search to Belong).

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,
    Solid advice and take aways. I know a lot of leaders whose identities are tied up in their roles as leaders whether in business or in ministry. It can be challenging to keep things separate especially if you pour your life into it to assure success. Many leaders take ownership of what they lead. I find it hard to break the mindset. I have been away from the pipeline world and Williams for 13 years but I still find myself referring it as “my” company as if I still worked there. Our identities tend to get wrapped up in what we are passionate about. As a young leader what advise can you give someone who has lost their identity in their role as a leader?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      My advice would be to brace yourself, because there’s going to be a day when you’re no longer that leader. With loss of identity comes a new search for who we are and during that time, we may try to fill it with something else. Losing our identity when it’s wrapped up in position is common, but there’s also a freedom that comes when we realize we aren’t defined by what we do, but rather by who we are on the inside.

  3. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    We are behind the times but just starting the MCU journey as a family. You lift my eyes to look for themes that might not be first apparent.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t too subtle with its themes, but I’ve found it to be handled quite well. Or maybe I think that because of everything we’ve been reading lately. Either way, there’s a lot to enjoy 😉

  4. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    I always tell my kids that people are always watching what they do to see who they are. But I follow that up with what determines who they are often happens in spaces where people can’t see what they are doing. We talk a lot about integrity and doing the right thing even when no one is watching. I wonder what role those hidden choices make in the public mistakes or downfall of a leader? When the back stage and front stage personas are so incongruent, it will eventually show in one way or another. Humility and grace seem to be rare commodities in today’s Christian leadership world.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think it can go either way at times. It depends on who is willing to stand up for the leader’s integrity. The unfortunate reality is that mistakes often overshadow integrity unless people are vocal in defense of the person. Even then, it’s feels more and more unlikely that we allow anyone to move forward with grace when it’s easier to demonize someone for their mistakes.

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Really great post, Dylan. I remember seeing some of the outcries after “Endgame” about Rogers’ decision to retire. Fans called it selfish. I thought it was brilliant- a powerful way for one story to end and another to begin. (The actors and their contractual decisions aside!) And assuming the responsibility of a new role is daunting. It takes real strength for one to do the things you’ve suggested, but you’re spot on.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Agreed! There’s quite a few shows that deals with those themes. Usually they end up being sequel series of sorts that follow the main protagonists’ kids as they deal with the burden of living in their parents’ legacy. I always find it touching in those moments when the parents let go or their kids finally have the strength to write their own story our of their parents’ shadow.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    I am not sold on ‘buck stops here’ or ‘one at the top’ leadership. There’s too much on these individuals. Too much pressure.

    More and more, I am becoming curious of the possibility of shared/group leadership.

    However, this certain has the possibility of turning into an untouchable, exclusive ‘club’ type space.

    Nothing is perfect. Things could be better. Justin Trudeau doesn’t gloat the monarchical status of a president. The Queen does that! And, she does that with some unique grace, I have to admit.

    What do you think about the possibility of a well-vetted, sweetly-boundaried shared/group leadership?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I’m a big fan of shared leadership. In my current small group, there’s a small team of us who lead the group. One person is the designated “leader” in the formal sense of registering the group as part of our church, but we function on equal footing.

      A friend of mine is also potentially planting a church in the next year and he’s in the process of putting together a team of leaders to share the burden of leadership. He said he doesn’t want to be the sole leader and the people he’s talked to also don’t want to be the sole leaders, so they’re working to find a way to spread it out among them. I’ll be interested to see how things play out with it.

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