Asking the right questions

July 12, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 14
Darryl Neustaedter Barg |

I spend a lot of time pondering leadership these days. I see the word everywhere. I suspect I could take a course on leadership every weekend of the year in our city. Despite all this energy on building leaders, I hear more negatives than positives summed up by this recurring phrase, “We just need leadership,” as if this will solve all that’s ailing the church and the world.

Call me a cynical Gen-Xer, but I don’t believe we want real leaders. At most, we want someone to lead us where we want to go. We’re more educated, opinionated, over-informed and, most importantly, individualistic, than ever before. We’ve developed all kinds of subtle ways of saying, “My way or the highway.”

Our world is changing at a breakneck pace and we’re trying to find our place as individuals, and, more importantly, as the church. Has most of our denomination noted by now that we’re a shrinking lot, and that the way we’ve done it may have been good once but it may not be working as well now? If they have, why does it seem that so many are not prepared to change to meet the challenge?

Every time I see new young people enter leadership in one of our congregations, I pray that they won’t get passive-aggressively eaten alive. I was once called to task by a leader in my congregation for not stepping into leadership. I responded that I wasn’t prepared to help guide a ship where I had to defend every new direction to the row of retired captains who were hoping to sail comfortably into that good night.

So I’m ironically aware that this column is called “From Our Leaders.” By now you’ve likely noted my ambivalence towards the matter—oddly interested, but not really keen to put my neck on the chopping block we’ve created. You may be thinking, “He’s no leader. Is he scared? Where’s his faith? Does he respect any leaders at all?”

Well, actually there are leaders I respect and leadership qualities I’m trying to emulate. There’s one leader I’ve read about who often answered accusations with a question. When accused of healing on the sabbath, he asked, “‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this" (Luke 14:5-6, NRSV).

Further, I think some of the main attributes of leaders are changing. I’ve met people I trust as leaders, who, on reflection, display certain characteristics:

• People whose decisions reflect the interests of the lowly and not just the powerful;

• People who admit mistakes;

• People who say, “I don’t know,” when they don’t; and

• People who ask hard questions.

So, if you ask me what leadership looks like for the future, I’ll be happy to talk. If you tell me, “Just lead,” or, “We just need leadership,” I pray God will give me the right question for you.

Darryl Neustaedter Barg is Mennonite Church Manitoba’s assistant director of media ministries.

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