Leadership books are hard right now. After 15 years working at King University in an attempt to develop and maintain a viable ministry program, I received my notice of termination about a month ago. So, at the end of this semester I will officially be a dependent. I don’t share this information to gain sympathy or empathy. However, as I read the many books on leadership in this program over the past year or so it is hard not to read them through the lens that seeks to find fault with the university administration, recognizing all of the things that were done poorly that led to this point in my career. I am certainly not without fault and leadership books were never high on my reading priority list before I met you all. Unfortunately, it seems that neither were they high on the priority list for my University’s administration.
‘Dare to Lead’ is my first introduction to Brene’ Brown, though I have heard her name bandied about for several years. Again, leadership books. Those are for people in positions of authority, right? I’m just the little guy trying to make a difference in the lives of students. I see the fault in that thinking now and feel evermore confident that stumbling over this DMin program was a divine appointment. I was captivated by Brown’s unique approach to the reality of leadership, the emotional perspective that I assume is largely dismissed in traditional books on the subject.
So rather than dwell any longer on my situation I believe it is more prudent to attempt to apply the text to my area of interest.
From my perspective I believe the Church, particularly the white, middle class variety in the United States, is experiencing cataclysmic decline. While there are some bright spots, I am convinced that almost all of those represent consolidation rather than genuine growth by profession of faith. The patterns of church life and leadership are changing but it seems the Church is very slow to recognize the need for change.
Emerging generations are fully immersed in postmodern thought. They are skeptical of institutions, do not readily accept information (read sermons) conveyed by authority figures, and generally desire to grow experientially. Yet, for some reason the Church continues to embrace the same patterns that were effective within the confines of modernism yet fail to fully connect with those steeped in postmodernism. I believe there is something to Brene’ Brown’s suggestion that one of the keys to leadership is vulnerability. “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” Not only does the Church like to be able to predict the outcome, in most circumstances the preference is to dictate the outcome. That position is completely ineffective with emerging generations. It is little wonder that they are abandoning the Church.
Leadership that garners connection with emerging generations is not what is demonstrated from a platform or proclaimed by those in positions of authority. Leadership that accepts the change that postmodernism has brought is one that seeks to earn the trust of those being led. Brown reminds us that, “It turns out that trust in fact is earned in the smallest of moments.”  This suggests that the churches that will lead the next generation will ultimately not be the largest ones or the ones with the most recognizable personalities up front, it will be those that are willing to relinquish some of the control, demonstrate vulnerability, and take the time to earn the trust of individuals and groups. I love the thought behind Brene’s image of leaders as those who are fellow passengers. She says; “I am a traveler, not a mapmaker. I am going down this path same as and with you.” Leaders that are willing to be self-effacing enough to communicate this through word and deed are those that will capture the attention of young people.
It is true. I wish that the administration of King University had read this text and several of the others we have had the privilege to digest over the past eighteen months. But as I allow this season of work to expire and look forward to the next, I am encouraged by what I have read and as a result believe I am more prepared to lead. I have no idea in what form that leadership will take but I hope at the very least I will have the wherewithal to communicate in a way that mirrors the quote by Jim Hollis highlighted in ‘Dare to Lead’. “We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As [God] intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.” Isn’t that the essence of the Gospel? In this new season, both in my life and that of the U.S. Church, I hope we are vulnerable enough to become ‘more and more ourselves’ and lead others to do the same in a manner that most effectively connects with them.
Brown, Brene’. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018. P. xviii
Ibid. p. 32
Ibid. p. 63
Ibid. p. 74