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Glass Ceiling Leadership

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Recently, I was speaking with a friend and he shared an experience he had on a conference call with another well-known leader.  This leader has been in ministry for over 45 years and has a wealth of insight that anyone would want to glean from.  As I leaned in to hear more about the topics discussed and the feedback from the leaders hosting it, I was fully intrigued. (If you know me then you know I am a complete geek when it comes to absorbing information and learning from others.  I love the collaborative process in general so when others are sharing what they have gleaned I am all ears! )

We were having a really intriguing discussion until everything came to a complete halt with one statement he shared.  My friend was telling me that when the discussion questions took a turn and questions began to be asked about retirement, succession planning, and when this particular leader would be passing the baton, this successful and seasoned leader totally clammed up and shut down.  I was a bit perplexed to learn this response.  My friend repeated the statement from this leader which was basically, “When I no longer outthink my team then I will think about stepping down.” WOW! I could hardly believe that a man of such stature would have boiled down his succession planning to simply find someone he deemed intelligent enough to outthink him. After this conversation with my friend, I started a search to understand and actually deal with my reactive feelings toward this aging leader.  Honestly, my first gut reaction was one of almost disgust!  In my estimation, this type of leadership is nothing like Jesus’ leadership style at all.  In fact, Jesus could outthink His disciples in every dimension for eternity so if this is not really the criteria in which to measure someone’s ability to be a successful successor. This conversation spurred me to some personal soul-searching and to examine why a seasoned leader may have this mindset and perspective about succession in ministry. So here are my thoughts upon pondering this question:

  1. When you are fearful, you say stupid things. I think Brene Brown is right.  In in her book,  Dare to Lead, she describes shame as being “the fear of being irrelevant” in your environment.  She goes on to say that when we feel shame we desire nothing more than to shame others.  In my opinion, this exact dynamic was active in this leader’s life.  Apparently, he no longer felt relevant and had not faced the fear about his next season, subsequently diminishing his closest allies in the present.  We are not called to be glass lid manufacturers but “desert irrigators” as CS Lewis so keenly put. We should continually be pulling others up higher and pouring into their lives as leaders.
  2. He who runs alone runs the fastest cannot be the motto of the future.  I have grown up in ministry and I have watched leader after leader never transition their ministries because they have bought into two things.  One- they believe it is ONLY their decision!  WOW! This is unbelievable to me! Secondly, they believe that they are above ordinary restraints necessary to prepare and live within proper transition.  Both of these ideas are dangerous.  Great transitions take great leadership who embrace healthy but restrictive boundaries.  It is not out of the context of control that we transition but out of shared value and shared accountability.  I get nervous when I hear Pastors say they “deserve” something.  I do not disagree that elders should be honored.  In fact, the Bible is very clear on this.  When we begin to decide what honor looks like according to culture and not Scripture, we have potentially crossed over some serious barriers into dangerous territory.
  3. We buy a lie that YOUNG automatically translates as UNREADY.  This is one of the greatest lies we embrace as maturing leaders.  We start looking for our successors to pay the price we have paid, to have experienced life in the pain we have never been able to escape.  Once they have proven that they have paid a similar harsh price, then and only then are they are ready. May I suggest that readiness is not about age, but it is about a submitted will.  Every leader has their own pain threshold.  No one escapes the demand or the pain of leading greatly.  Yet, I have found that even though young can and often means “a novice, inexperienced”, on the flip side, it can also mean “energetic, risk oriented”.  Serving in ministry from a young age is all about whom you are covered by and the speed of your submitted will.  This leader’s statements troubled me because he could no longer see potential-only intelligence and experience.  Who knows what God could do if we stopped holding on until we were comfortable, never regarding what God actually has in store.  Jesus left the planet to men who were quite clueless but their heart burned to please God and that made all the difference.  Who knows who we are stifling with our “timing” and perceived permission instead of God’s purpose and plan.

As I round out my thoughts on this matter I want to balance it by saying- I do get it.  I understand the deep sorrow associated with letting go and the vulnerability necessary to do so.  I realize this reality and perspective as a leader in mid-life myself. As leaders, we have a responsibility to speak out about unscriptural and irreverent leadership tactics that are hidden in fear and self-preservation.  We must stop the nonsense of selling churches, walking over people to get to the top, and playing a game that is so far from God He is not even invited to the table.  It is time for a generation of leaders to arise, both seasoned and novice, who will take on the giants who try to taunt us and engulf us- ridicule us and badger us- Men and women who will fight the good fight of faith for the right reasons.  Whose sole desire is to make King Jesus known in the earth!