In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, he writes a striking phrase: “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.” I remember the first time I read this sentence was in the middle of my “church crisis” where I was questioning what the function of the church was and what, to me, I felt it should look like. I had a vision for what I thought church should look like and what should happen within the church, but it was it the vision that God has for the church, or was it my vision?
Bonhoeffer clarifies more on what he means as he writes:
“The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with having vision. However, are we leading out of our vision, or are we leading out of the Great Visionary? As Christian leaders we must pause to ask the question, “In whose image am I leading?” Are our churches or organizations extensions of our image, or are they manifestations of God’s image through us?
Simon Walker writes, “All of us create worlds in our own image, but the difference for leaders is that they have the positional authority to do so.” Because leaders have this authority, it is imperative for leaders to know him or herself and to know the the hidden motivations in his or her leadership. The baggage that we carry from our lives can bleed into our leadership as we may try to create a world that protects us from our past harms.
Because of our tendency to create the world in our image, when someone or something tries to bring us out of that world back into reality it can lead to a dissonance in our hearts and minds. We may fight tooth and nail to hang onto that vision as a means of protecting ourselves and our pride. This can cause the need for power to skyrocket as we wrestle for control over our own destinies.
Enter the dreaded “A” word: Accountability. Walker writes, “Accountability and submission are crucial factors in leadership: no leader should be without them.” Accountability serves not just as a series of checks and balances, but as a means to maintaining mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. The toll of leadership is great and without someone to keep us in check, we can easily lose ourselves in the torrent of leadership.
We must have people who know us and are willing to step into our lives when we lose sight of ourselves. There are few examples as poignant in this as the relationship between Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. The moment when Frodo begins to lose himself, Sam proves himself to be not just a true accountability partner, but friend as well. He is willing to tell Frodo the hard truths, that the Ring is corrupting him. He offers to share the load, but this causes backlash from Frodo who instead gives in to the temptation of Gollum’s cooing to be rid of Sam.
When it comes to finding accountability, there are two lessons from the above illustration I want to pull out:
- Find Your Sam. Find someone who not only knows you for who you are, but who can call you back to yourself when you lose sight of your true Self. A “Sam” is not just a friend, but they are someone you can love and trust. They are someone to whom we can be mutually submissive. These are the ones who, when the vision begins to drive us, bring us back to reality.
- Beware of Gollum. There are people in our lives who appear to have good intentions and give off the persona that we can trust them. However, beneath the surface is someone who wants to see our destruction, who wants the power of leadership for themselves. They feed into the false image we project while slowly hijacking our Self for theirs.
 Simon Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007), 66.
 Ibid., 67.