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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Freedom & Leading

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One of the great leadership principles that comes, I think, through the messages of Jesus and the practice of Paul is something I'll call "Freedom & Leading." Unfortunately, much of the church today has misunderstood the concept of leadership to mean designating exactly what to do and how. However, it's my impression that both Jesus and Paul lead from deep values, beliefs, and convictions (principles, too?) but offered freedom to those who were following them to use their own gifts, intutions, wisdom, and experience. Again, I'm going to pull some ideas from Blink to show once again that leadership principles embedded in Scripture make their way into the best practices of leaders in the world. Bear with the long quote, but you have to get the gist. This quote deals with some war games between the blue and red team, blue using all the greatest analysis techniques to consider all variables and wage a smart war, while the Red Team lead by Van Riper was one based more on intution, Blink, and what I would call freedom & leading.

"The first thing I told our staff is that we would be in command and out of control," Van Riper says, echoing the words of the management guru Kevin Kelly. "By that, I mean that the overall guidance and intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn't depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward. Almost every day, the commander of the Red air forces came up with different ideas of how he was going to pull this together, using these general techniques of trying to overwhelm the Blue Team from different directions. But he never got specific guidance from me of how to do it. Just the intent."

"...we would us the wisdom, the experience, and the good judgment of the people we had."

This kind of management system clearly has its risks. It meant Van Riper didn't always have a clear idea of what his troops were up to. It meant he had to place a lot of trust in his subordinates. It was, by his own admission, a "messy" way to make decisions. But it had one overwhelming advantage: allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly turns out to be like the rule of agreement in improv. It enables rapid cognition. [pp. 118-119]

I think this is such an important leadership issue that is so rarely raised. It comes in comments like "in command and out of control" and "the forces in the field wouldn't depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward." There is an empowering that comes from good leadership that does not depend on micromanagement from above or an overwhelming dependence on being told what to do, and instead errs on the side of empowering others to make decisions based on broad values, vision, and principles.

What I find, to be frank, is that very few church leaders are willing to trust that the Holy Spirit actually works in the lives of real people who are "below" them in rank. They are unable to give the kind of freedom that Paul, or even Jesus gave to his disciples. What this means is that leaders "above" need to trust in the power of the Spirit to guide the conscience, experience, and wisdom building of emerging leaders. (By the way, this is often one of the issues behind the patronizing comments of "senior" leaders, but don't misunderstand me for mistaking these for good coaches, mentors, and real leaders who are secure and who trust the Spirit.) What effective leaders do is provide foundational teaching, foundational vision, overarching values and undergirding pillars and then trusts people into the hands of the Spirit, praying them into ministry fully empowered to use their own gifts. It's no wonder the church so often finds itself working from a position of the laggards or late majority when it comes to change (this is from the Rogers' Innovators Curve... if you have questions about it, email me.) How cool would it be if those of us who were leaders released ourselves and our people to be innovators and early adopters because we were hitting the major foundations and freeing people to lead out of the power of the Spirit working in their hearts and lives?


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