There was a time when I was a “double barrel shot-gun” kind of leader. In my home, it was “my way or the highway.” God, scripture, and faith were to be understood through a fundamentalist viewpoint. Our home was to be an external reflection of our internal reality: tidy, orderly, simple. Nothing was to be out of place, and if something was moved, it was to be returned back to its designated place for storage. My children were taught “To delay is to disobey.” Obedience to God, parents, and other authorities was non-negotiable. My deep need for order and control stemmed as much from my childhood as it did from the theology jug I was drinking from. Serving as a leader in Bible Study Fellowship with its ridged class and leadership “guidelines,” provided a controlled environment for spiritual growth and development. I thrived with their clear expectations and high bar of serving God with excellence. But outside of that ministry context, little of that leadership style was effective or redeeming.
Over the years, my leadership posture has changed. Not necessarily by choice, (because I had little idea how toxic it was), but more by necessity. When my daughter went off the rails in her early teens, I knew things needed to change in a drastic way. Her wellness was more important than maintaining the illusion of being a “good Christian.” With her, I learned the difference between being a good parent, and parenting well. This differentiation translated into my heart transformation from being a good leader, to leading well. But with little training on what that looks like, my learning curve continues to this day.
In many ways, I’ve stepped back so far in leading that I’ve become more of an observer, a ponderer, and a questioner. Having stepped away from organized lay ministry leadership, I have spent the past three years noticing and wondering what does it look like for me to be a leader? My primary leadership role is in my home as a parent. My secondary leadership role is that of a spiritual director, where my footing with directees tends to be more “in step” than “in the lead.” In each of these contexts, leading happens on a 1-1 basis rather than a group setting.
My doctoral project includes crafting and instructing an online spiritual formation course at Portland Seminary this summer. Having not led in a group setting for a number of years, I am nervous as to how best to take up space and lead. Furthermore, I tend to prefer in person interactions, so the virtual dynamics are new to me. How do I lead well in this context? I’m not sure, but I appreciate Simon P. Walker’s perspectives on the use of power in leadership positions.
In The Undefended Leader: Leading with Nothing to Lose, Walker highlights the importance of the power of weakness. At times, weakness is more powerful than strength, yet few leaders utilize it because “weakness is threatening…a negative, that leads to loss,” which is terrifying to many leaders. Considering weakness as power forces leaders to reconsider what power actually is and how it manifests at different times and in different contexts. Power can be broken down into three different “pairs of forces- frontstage/backstage, strong/weak, and expanding/consolidating- and there are eight different ways they can be applied in concert.” Of interest for me and my leadership in the course is the RSX (reserved, strong, expanding) force combination. This backstage combination creates a visionary and inspirational environment where force is utilized to capture imagination, hope, and belief. Horizons are expanded, the world becomes bigger, and possibility for transformation and change abounds. The RSX force combination invites people to step away from the status quo and into new territory.
The title of my course is Discovering Life through Loss and Grief. In it, students are invited on a pilgrimage, traveling roads of death, loss, and grief, which every human must travel. Along the way, there will be highs, lows, and obstacles. Students will ask questions and have opportunities to step off the path to explore. Pilgrims know the world is big. They know it can be dangerous. But they also know that something inside them compels them to notice the Sacred through the hard and holy of life. The pilgrim’s journey requires shedding heavy baggage. In its place hope and goodness are picked up. Lament is embraced, humility developed, and freedom found, as the limits of their humanity is experienced.
As a leader, it’s my honor to walk with these fellow pilgrims, guiding them along the path, helping them embrace unknowns, and encouraging them to keep moving along the way, not just where the course map leads, but more importantly into what comes after the map has run out. Death and grief traverse a holy and mysterious road filled with sorrow and joy, pain and comfort, hope and hopelessness all mixed into one messy, individualized and yet deeply communal journey. I pray I lead well.
 Simon P. Walker. The Undefended Leader: Leading with Nothing to Lose. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions, Ltd., 2010) 165-166.
 Ibid., 189.
 Ibid., 189-192.