DMINLGP

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

Sand in the Eyes

Written by: on October 23, 2015

I have always loved the metaphor of the sandbox. Perhaps it is because I spent so many hours in the sandbox as a kid (and then as a dad). I know how sandboxes work and I know that some kids gravitate toward group play while others stake out their boundaries—literally; a quick squeeze of the hands in the damp sand creates an instant fence. Cross my fence, steal my toys, or touch my houses, castles, roads, or trenches and you will know the feeling of sand in your eyes. At a young age, a person’s leadership style quickly begins to form.

In her book Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, Charlene Li stresses the importance of one’s sandbox. A sandbox is not one-size-fits-all nor is it a free-for-all. Boundaries must be set and rules and limits must be in place and understood.[1] The same kids that cannot play well with others in the literal sandbox exemplify those adults that cannot play well with others in the leadership sandbox. Li defines open leadership as, “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”[2] This requires a person to have the character traits of humility and confidence, which do not always coexist peacefully in a person. They must also have the ability to inspire people, while at the same time relinquishing the need to be in control. “The open leader needs to be a catalyst, the inspiration for people to pull together and accomplish things together.”[3] Perhaps this is the reason open leadership is so rare; it seems to go against human nature as some feel the constant need to be in control and a truly inspiring person is hard to find. That’s ok, many good things go against human nature. As followers of Christ, we are constantly confronted with doing what comes naturally from our selfish human nature or doing what we know God is calling us to do. The good news is that God is in the business of transforming our nature.

Wouldn’t it be great to see more open leadership in the church? What would it look like? I think it would look a lot like Li’s “New Rules of Open Leadership”.

  1. Respect that your customers and employees have power.
  2. Share constantly and build trust.
  3. Nurture curiosity and humility.
  4. Hold openness accountable.
  5. Forgive failure.[4]

In the church, we could look at these points as follows:

  1. Love and respect everyone. God has empowered each person, lay and clergy alike, with specific gifts, abilities and contributions that are to be developed and employed in the life of the church.
  2. Never stop communicating. The moment people don’t know what you are doing or why you are doing it, they will begin to distrust you.
  3. Let God work in your midst in such a way that others are drawn-in to see what is happening. Never take credit for what God is doing. Humbly give the praise to God and point people toward him.
  4. Be accountable. Give permission to speak into each other’s live in love.
  5. Forgive failure. Without a freedom to fail, there is never really freedom to succeed. Learn from mistakes and move forward.

I realize this may sound naive, but so what. What do we have to loose—other than the stress and hurt of maintaining the illusion of control. Redefine your sandbox and play nice for the Kingdom.

 

[1] Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 107.

[2] Ibid., 14.

 

[3] Ibid., 197.

[4] Ibid., 14-15.

About the Author

mm

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

9 responses to “Sand in the Eyes”

  1. mm Dave Young says:

    Brian, Love it. Why is it that somewhere in most of these leadership books, the ones really worth listening too we find a focus on humility? I’d love to lead more in that posture. I’d would like the points that you highlight to be said of our church but back to humility… it needs to flow seamlessly from the pastor(s). It seems like it’s first a matter of spiritual formation on my part. Am I loving, am I communicating openly… etc. Ouch. Great and convicting post.

  2. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    “As followers of Christ, we are constantly confronted with doing what comes naturally from our selfish human nature or doing what we know God is calling us to do. The good news is that God is in the business of transforming our nature.” Your point reflects one of the reasons I appreciate Li’s research. She is realistic, yet hopeful that people have the capacity to learn and honor one another. I think Christ held that same mindset – we tend to do what we want to do (both in and out of the sandbox), but He holds out not only hope but a way to be transformed…following the one who offers the power to change us. Thanks for your words, Brian.

  3. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Brian,
    You use the word humility. I’d like to add vulnerability to that list. Being humble is a great trait and one that everyone should have, including leaders. I think that vulnerability is what often holds leaders back from being open. Some of the mindsets that breed in churches are things like:
    1) We don’t have enough money to turn over decision making to others – they just don’t understand how tight our budget is.
    2) If we let others have the control, they may allow things into the church that hurt our theological stance or Christian witness.
    3) We have a responsibility to ensure that we are good stewards.
    4) A person must gain experience and wisdom in order to understand how a church must be run.

    Li’s message is one that says “go out and play nicely with others in the sandbox”, but also to remember to keep the sand in the box. Don’t throw your sand at others. Rather, collaborate with them to build amazing sand castles. I love your point about power. Could it be that we limit the work of the Holy Spirit when we fail to be open leaders? If we resist being vulnerable (even for a good cause), are we lacking faith that God’s plan will prevail? Could it be that the church has too many people that thrive off of control in the name of being responsible leaders for Christ?

    You said, “What do we have to loose—other than the stress and hurt of maintaining the illusion of control.” I don’t think your statement is naive – rather it is a good call-out!

    • mm Brian Yost says:

      Dawnel, thanks for bringing in vulnerability. This is not a popular word and often speaks of victimization. It is a totally different thing when someone has so much reliance on Christ, a deep inner strength, and integrity that they allow an openness and vulnerability that invites others to become vulnerable.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, Give me back my truck! Not sure why that thought came to mind, but just seems like you might have taken my truck to be funny if we were playing in a sandbox:). I like the thought of who we were in the sandbox is probably related pretty closely to how we were relationally growing up and as an adult. It kind of goes along with the “everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten. Unfortunately in many unhealthy churches I do not think many elders were very successful in the sandbox. Most unhealthy churches I have seen are basically relationally disfunction and the simple “rules” you suggest would sadly be so transformational if they could just play by them. Great post and I really think it is true!

    • mm Brian Yost says:

      “Unfortunately in many unhealthy churches I do not think many elders were very successful in the sandbox.”
      We recognize that our kids need to understand these simple rules of playing well together, but many church leaders don’t seem to get it. This simple change could make the difference between a dysfunctional, dying church and a growing church that attracts others.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Brian there are certain places in leadership that we have realize that we have ultimate responsibility no matter how much we share. Some people we share responsibility with will never get sued if something happens. I know that you are aware of this. Shared leadership is a great idea it makes it more easy for everyone when we help each other carry the load. Yet some places we have to wear our hats and no one can do that with you!

  6. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brian, I really don’t like sandboxes because they can be so messing…does that make me a party pooper? But Li (and you) make a good clear point with the sandbox analogy. I love what you did with Li’s New rules of leadership and how the church should use them. Good stuff. Thanks.

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