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

“Sweet Jesus, free me.”

Written by: on March 10, 2020

“Sweet Jesus, free me.”

Five years ago, these words, birthed from Spirit, emerged from the depths of my being and were spoken into what seemed to be a dark empty void of space. But like the creation narrative, when Spirit combines with Word, new things happen. Over time, this open-handed, full-of-trust prayer has been answered in ways I could never have imagined.

Within weeks of speaking those words, the door opened for me to begin counseling. The long waiting list of a well-respected counselor was suddenly cleared so I can begin the deep dive into the depths of me. Things I’d thought were normal in my childhood were actually abuse or neglect and resulted in unhealthy mechanisms for relating with others. It has taken considerable and continued effort to specifically address deep shame and unconscious coping strategies to trauma that have carried me through life.

The freedom I’ve longed for is slowly being realized. But freedom comes at a cost. God has led me away from the community of faith I loved, organized bible study groups that gave me life, and lay ministry leadership positions that provided purpose, into what feels like wilderness. In doing so, I left all that I once held dear and believed necessary and true to be a follower of Jesus. I’ve also had to deeply reflect on identity and what it means to belong.

For years, I’ve been a leader. Whether it was in my work environment, home, or various volunteer capacities, I’ve had many opportunities to influence change within systems. Sometimes my influence was positive, other times negative. Most times my leadership happened within the frenzied state of busy. I was a busy mom and a busy lay ministry leader. I had bought into the evangelical discipleship model which focused more on doing then becoming. But when I walked away from my non-denominational, evangelical church, I also walked away from all the busy. And when one walks away from busy, there is not much else to do but think…a lot.

Fortunately, I was in seminary and had ample opportunity to think in constructive and transformational ways. In spring of 2019, as I neared graduation for my Master of Divinity, one question surfaced on multiple occasions: “Who are you?” Like the annoying drip of a faucet left barely on, “Who are you?” popped up in seminary assignments, counseling and spiritual direction session, and in my quiet times of reflection. Sure, I could dig up some scripture verses to justify who God said I was and call it good. But I knew God was inviting me into something more.

So, I prayed, pondered, and payed attention to the movement of God in and around me, looking for the answer. My extended time in the wilderness has provided some insight as I examine who I am and how I have come to be. An area of particular interest is the development of my ego. Examining psychological studies regarding the developmental stages of humans, David G. Benner focuses on two dominant seasons: childhood to mid-life and mid-life to death. In the first, we have an external focus, learning the ways of the world and navigating daily life. It is during this time the ego is developed and a separation of self happens. Conversely, in the second stage, humans turn inward, examining ways of “relativizing and transcending” the ego. Here, movement is made back toward discovering our true self.[1] The self is the Imago Dei, the image of God, within each person. It is the essence of who we were created to be.

During human development, the understanding of self is shaped according to attachments with other individuals. This happens primarily between infants and mothers but can also be impacted by other relationships. Through the avenue of trust, children “construct a working model of the way they expect people to treat them, based on their experience of attachments.”[2] This understanding then shapes how an individual interacts with the world in years to come.

In the Undefended Leader: Leading out of Who You Are, Simon P. Walker unpacks four main leadership ego types: shaping, defining, adapting, and defending. As I read through the types, it was clear I fit squarely in the adapting type. I grew up in a home with emotionally and often physically absent parents. I was a latch-key kid raised by working, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” parents. At an early age, I learned expressing emotions was not welcomed. Difficult issues were buried, and conflict avoided. I developed little trust in myself and worked tirelessly to maintain relationship with my parents and others.[3] I did this primarily through helping others, performing exceptionally well in sports and academics, and bottling up my emotions. As I aged, all that bottling of emotions led to deep resentment, uncontrollable anger, and exhaustion. In many ways, during my years in leadership, I was living a life of “daily penance, an observance of a duty of gratitude, burdened by perpetual guilt for what was done for me (by Jesus).”[4]  I exchanged one form of bondage for another, as I transferred my efforts of maintaining relationship with others, to diligently working to maintain my relationship with Jesus.

Thankfully, God knew I was in bondage to the ego formed by my past traumas and my present understanding of atonement. God knew I needed time in the wilderness to be stripped of spiritual practices that on the surface are good for many, but for me had become weighted chains. God knew I needed intentional time away from the busy of helping others, from working to maintain relationships, and from all the shame driven “shoulds” and “ought tos” of life. God knew that while I longed for the freedom Christ came to give, it wouldn’t be experienced unless I got really still, silent, and alone, for in the busy cacophony of life, I could not hear the Spirit sweetly whisper, “My beloved, you are free.”

It is in that space I remain.

Here, I’m learning before I can lead, I must learn to follow. Before I can invite others into freedom, I must be free myself. Before I can realize who I was made to be, I must embrace who I’ve become. I’m learning as I become comfortable in the uncomfortable, and rest in the mystery that is God, I can then help others do the same. And lastly, if I want to “enable people to take responsibility” in their lives, I must first take responsibility in mine. This is the goal of true leadership.[5]

In the wilderness, God is inviting me to abide in Jesus by living with deep internal awareness. Doing so facilitates my becoming fully human as Christ was fully human and allows me to lovingly and compassionately walk with others as they, too, follow the Way toward freedom.[6]

 

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

[1] David G. Benner, PhD. Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human. (Grand Rapides, MI: Brazos Press, 2011) 55.

[2] Simon P. Walker. The Undefended Leader: Leading Out of Who You Are. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions, Ltd., 2010) 58.

[3] Ibid., 80-81.

[4] Ibid., 84.

[5] Ibid., 150-154.

[6] Benner, 9.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

14 responses to ““Sweet Jesus, free me.””

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Here, I’m learning before I can lead, I must learn to follow.

    Without a doubt it is one of those phrases that gives a lot to reflect on. And we are always thinking about how to be better leaders, how to lead more effectively, how to persuade people to take action but very rarely we ask ourselves the question.

    How to be better followers? And another very important one: Why be better followers?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Joe,
      Agreed, rarely do we ask How can we be better followers and why would that be important. My husband is a grounded leader. He went to West Point and served in the Army. He’s been to war and navigated tough terrain. In the business world, he leads with authority but also deep empathy and compassion. The one thing he does regularly is roll up his sleeves and works on the floor with the hourly employees. The first time he does this with an organization, the employees are surprised. But its during those days when he’s working alongside them that he learns about their kids sport activities, their dying parents, their inability to pay the bills without working 3 jobs. He also learns the processes and can see what’s working and what’s not within the organization. As he works and observes, he’s able to connect with employees and customers in new ways. Over the years, he’s had many people tell him they’ve never worked for someone who actually cares about them the way he does. His style of servant leadership was engrained in him at West Point, but it’s been fortified in him through his faith in Jesus and love for others. Few buy into such a leadership model, even within Christian settings.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    The wilderness experiences in life though painful are pivotal! Learning to follow is a vital key to leadership that is seldom taught. Why is that we see so many books on leadership but very few on followership?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      I wonder if that doesn’t have something to do with the patriarchal paradigms many adhere to in society and in church. If men are consistently told they are the leaders of their family, of their wives, of their work places, then what need do they have to actually learn to follow? Sure men would say they are followers of Jesus, but the reality is they are often followers of cultural norms more than they follow Jesus. Church leadership structures support this paradigm. Large portions of evangelical denominations perpetuate this paradigm. I believe its antithesis to the Gospel, yet it still remains that men are leaders and women are followers. So why would dominant culture men, who are in positions of power and have platforms, want to write about following? They don’t do it because it would require them to step down and share the podium. Even worse, many justify such positioning with scripture, which does little to encourage others to embrace following Jesus.

      As a person who studies leadership extensively, why do you think few write on followership?

      • mm Greg Reich says:

        Darcy,
        The part of being a follower is less glamorise in a word of power and prestige. I think most leader believe followership is an issue of blind loyalty and a lack of opinion. A true follower may have the skills and ability to lead they just realize they can be second and satisfied. Having been in the first chair more than once I can say it is not all it is cracked up to be. I can truly say being second and satisfied is awesome with a lot less stress and not near the risks. Part of followership is relinquishing control. I have often viewed that part of following Jesus is relinquishing my right and need to be right and submitting to His right to be in charge.

        • mm Darcy Hansen says:

          Submission is a word that continues to surface this week. The willingness to say, “Not my will but your’s, Lord.” It’s the prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Ruth Haley Barton calls it the prayer fo indifference. Its’s one I whisper often. It’s a prayer of big faith, trusting God to work in ways we cannot fathom, and believing that somehow things will work out to bring new life from death and ashes. Its vary contrary to current leadership methods.

  3. mm Steve Wingate says:

    I’ve wondered when ministering to addicts that there is any coorelation between how long they practiced to how long there is full recovery- apart from a miracle work throgh the Spirit

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Moving to a life of wholeness in Christ is a life long endeavor. Even if the Spirit does a miracle and heals one aspect of a person’s life instantaneously (say with drug addiction) there’s still internal wounding that must be examined and healed. Its brutal work. But if it’s not done, that wounding will come out in one form or another.

  4. mm Dylan Branson says:

    “But freedom comes at a cost.”

    This hits hard. I’m reminded of Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, that the grace we take for granted so often came with such a huge cost for us to be free. Freedom from false narratives, freedom from false identities…it hurts when who we think we are isn’t who we are actually are (in one of our upcoming blog posts, I’m going to expound upon this through my own story of identity in the last couple of years, so I’ll save it for then).

    But the path of the exile is difficult. It’s full of pain, but it’s full of growth as well. In a big way, I’m still on my own exilic path as I unravel and reconcile my own identities. When our leadership identities are tied to something that gets turned on its head, the initial moments of it can be harsh, but there’s freedom in it as well.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      I think once you taste the freedom, you realize going back isn’t an option. The hard part is learning to live in freedom. Truly discovering and experiencing our identity in Christ is challenging and super uncomfortable. I think this is mostly because it is opposite of what we see modeled around us, not just in society, but also in our churches. I can count on one hand the people who I felt really lived in the freedom. Those are the people I see Jesus most clearly in. They are the people I want to be around the most, the ones who I want to learn from and emulate. It is my prayer that God will continue to reveal to those of us in exile what it means to live free, and to remind us the gifts far outweigh the cost.

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Personal growth and self-differentiation are expensive and there are many- including people we love dearly- who can’t or won’t accept the changes we make for ourselves. Your journey will light a path for others. It already is. Where have you already seen fruit of your new freedom?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      John,
      Stepping out of the shadow of shame has been a game changer. It has allowed me to live in a more authentic way with others. While I still wrestle with why I am in the wilderness, I’m learning to rest and be assured that it is for a good purpose. My relationship with God is simple and true, and no longer feels like a burden. That lightness has infused my personal relationships, as well. I still have much to learn and a ton of ways to grow, but I’m grateful God continues to strip away my misplaced affections, desires, and false identities, and replace them with more of Himself.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Darcy, how long have you been able to label this season as the “wilderness.” When you did, what was that like? Defeating? Empowering? Depressing? Oddly Freeing? Thanks for “living out loud” with us during this formational time.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      It began when I walked out the doors of my church in Oct 2017. Though I believe God extended the invitation 18 months prior (based on reading through older journal notes), but I wasn’t ready yet to take those steps of faith. Heartbreaking. Completely defeating. Super confusing. Deeply sorrowful. Leaving that community was like experiencing the death of a loved one. I mourned deeply for 18 months. It wasn’t until the cloud of sorrow and shame lifted this past fall that I began to really experience the freedom that came from leaving. I don’t feel empowered yet. Maybe one day that will come? I hope it does.

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