Sunday, August 07, 2011

Leadership, Part One

Another theme I am compelled to ruminate on further these days involves leadership. I think of a post I wrote some months ago entitled Thoughts on a Vocation of Music Ministry. I talked about a few different people whose musical leadership I've experienced, but finished the post with this sense of not being able to put my finger on the quality I was trying to describe. And now I think simply that quality is called leadership ability. This is something that I find my spirit extremely sensitive to, and something that, for lack of a better word, does stuff in me that is so deep that it has been very hard for me even access it to bring it into my conscious thought.

What provokes my thinking about this so frequently is attending Mass at Franciscan University where there is a steady stream of different music ministers. (I was nit-pickingly critical of them until I led a group myself some 13 years ago. Then, one day when I came to the gospel acclamation and went completely blank and could not remember the word "Alleluia," I learned that it is harder than it looked to be able to adequately lead a congregation in the music of worship.) But the simple truth is that most music ministry leaders have only a few years' experience playing their instrument, let alone leading a congregation. Unless something has changed that I don't know about, there is not really much formation the teams go through. So while they generally all get an A for effort and the desire to worship God, many simply are not skilled as leaders.

I can feel the pain of every single one of them, too. Some seem to feel that they are being humble and unobtrusive by speaking quietly, playing quietly, and singing quietly. These folks completely miss the fact that their job is to be loud and clear enough for everyone to hear and follow them. If I can't understand what you are mumbling, I have no idea which hymn to turn to. Quiet music is fine when you are in your own meditative time. But when the congregation is straining to hear you, no one is free to join in worship because the attempt to hear you is too distracting.

There are other folks who also give the sense that they are leading a personal worship time, but they want others to join them. Sorry guys, this is Mass. That psalm rendition you created with five part harmony is nice, but no one can follow you. You and fifty of your friends know that new praise song you did, but it's not in the hymnals and no one else can join in or understand what you are singing. And when you do sing from the hymnals, please do the music as written instead of with unusual musical flourishes or just random changing of notes, rests and tempos. This isn't your personal concert where we get to hear how you like to do things. This is Mass, and the congregation has work to do. To lead well in this work, we need to be able to reasonably predict where you are taking us.

Ok, this much I have hashed over before. I've gone over how much ineffective leadership frustrates me. But there are two other aspects of this matter that I've been less eager to go full-face into. They seem related, and of course the cost involved is the cross, in one way or another. Let me see if I can wade into this and come back out alive.

On the flip side of my frustration is my need. My need leaves me deeply vulnerable, as need does for all of us. My new realization is how much I need to experience good leadership. When I encounter good leadership, it feels like finding water in the desert, a banquet when I'm starving, a blanket when I'm frozen or a shelter in a storm. I can feel my spirit filling up. It's like a taste of heaven.

Like I said, though, this is a very vulnerable thing. In the course of my life I have gone from dreadful experiences of insecurity from having no sure guide ahead of me to following those who were simply full of themselves and using me. As a result of this mixed bag of bad experiences, I developed a very strong tendency to depend on myself to be able to do everything. I needed this, too, because at one stage of my life I was afflicted with a crippling passivity. God writes straight with our crooked lines; it has all served His purposes with appropriate pruning times. But what I see right now is a new grace in my life. It has been in formation for a few years, really, but it has taken me this long to be comfortable acknowledging it. There is a certain strength, a certain grace, a certain beauty that I can only tap into when I am following. And I can only follow when those given the gift of leadership are being faithful to what God has given them.

I once thought of, and lived out "following" as a sort of self-subjugation. That is, I had the sense that to follow meant to place myself under another's control. Usually, that control was of the nicest sort, you know, a "letting them make the rules for the game" sort of thing. But still there was this element, born probably of poor religious formation, that understood "surrender" to Christ as a kind of slavery, a sacrifice of my dignity, my very self. Lord have mercy, I attributed to God the desires of the devil himself -- my annihilation.

Following is about the beauty of becoming fully who I am. It is about rejoicing fully in who someone else is. It is about being fully alive in Christ. There is something very feminine in this, both personally and spiritually. In all of my efforts to do everything myself as a younger person I admit I was never all that comfortable with my femininity. Being a woman struck me as like wearing clothes that weren't fitting me just right. In some odd way, my inner vision of myself was always male. I wrote stories with main characters patterned after myself; they were always male. I think while I was gravitating toward desiring the leadership qualities natural to a man, my inability to either find or appreciate them in others caused me to think I had to develop them within myself, where perhaps they were not entirely natural.

Now, I don't want to go talking about "women" and "men" in general -- that would take me away from the point of my own need. But I did grow up in the generation of "Free To Be You and Me" where sex stereotypes were deliberately dismantled, leaving us all rather confused why God bothered with creating two genders in the first place. Maybe this is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say, for now, that responding to God's gift of leadership frees me in a way that feels very feminine. Among other things, this involves knowing that I am not responsible for the management of everything. I sense strength, I sense purpose, I sense direction, and I am free to move because I know the path is blazed ahead of me. Sensing hesitation and timidity fill me with frustration and a feeling of burden.

But I did say there were two aspects I was less than eager to examine. This need for strong leadership is one. The call to lead in my own way is the other. But I think for now this post is long enough, and it is late enough. I will continue this thought in a future post.

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