As I read through Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, I was reminded of one of my favorite verses in the New Testament: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These are words of endurance and perseverance. Perhaps the apostle Paul used these three metaphors to reflect on the struggles and difficulties in his ministry and life. Yet, I am reflecting on this verse as I celebrate (a bittersweet celebration) my last Sunday as pastor of my church and as I begin a new journey after 23 years in Oregon.
I’m almost certain that many leaders have fought a fight, but not “the good fight.” Some have exchanged strong words that have caused discouragement. Others have engaged in conflict situations that have left them exhausted and burnout. I must confess that there were times when I too was discouraged and almost burnout. Yet for me, “the good fight” must not be solely about conflict situations or hurtful words, but about where and how leaders spend most of their energy. It is very easy for leaders to spend their time putting out fires and going from crisis to crisis. If that is how we choose to use our energy, then how much energy do we have to be creative and to engage in what is life giving?
We live in a very anxious society. Friedman states that America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression that is toxic to well-defined leadership. This regression is characterized principally by a devaluing and denigration of the well-differentiated self. According to Friedman chronically anxious families and societies have five key characteristics:
- Reactivity : a vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another;
- Herding: togetherness triumphs over individuality and everyone adapts to the least mature members;
- Blame displacement: a focus on being the victim rather than taking responsibility for one’s own being and destiny;
- A quick-fix mentality: seeking relief rather than change;
- Lack of well-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four.
It is a clearly defined, non-anxious leader that can promote healthy differentiation throughout a system.
When I first planted the church that I just left, I constantly asked myself, “What race am I running?” “Whose race am I running?” With the overabundance of ministry demands, the desire for a quick fix, the demands for new strategies, programs and growth, it can be easy to run the wrong race. We forget about the race that we’ve been called to run and we spend most of our energy running someone else’s race. We judge ourselves and our value by how our ministry is going; all this to the detriment of the lives of those whom we are leading and serving. As leaders, we need to be discerning about the right race to run and finish well.
As much as leaders would like to have a quick fix strategy or program, we all know that there is no such thing. “Keeping the faith” requires the leader to have patience with the process, with themselves and with others. “Keeping the faith” is not a quick fix, but a lifetime work. Keeping the faith is also about continuing to work on one’s self. This does not mean working on “self” to be greater and better than others. This working on self is what Friedman calls differentiation. According to Friedman, differentiation means the capacity to become oneself out of one’s self, with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others.
“Fighting the good fight” is being able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of those who are anxious. “Finishing the race” is being clear about one’s own personal values and goals. “Keeping the faith” is taking responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others or the context.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Will we all be able to say this at the conclusion of our ministry?
 New Revised Standard Version (2 Timothy 4:7)
 Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2007) p. 53.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 53-54.
 Ibid., 183.