This was originally posted here.
It is difficult to read how cynical I was of my seminary experience in these old posts. It was a difficult time. I was deeply depressed. But I was also learning a lot about myself, meeting some of my favorite people, and developing as a thinker in some ways that I think have been lasting in and important. SFTS gave me a great deal and I don’t want to take that for granted.
What’s really funny about this post is that I remember the clearness committee experience so much differently than what I expressed then. It was, in fact spiritual formation and leadership in ways that are beyond what is considered normal but maybe in ways that are more of what the world needs right now. It was non-hierarchical. It was question-focused instead of being answer focused. Maybe most important, it was built around a tension between silence and community. Yes, we mostly sat in silence, but I felt very connected to the people in that circle. I held their anxiety. They held mine. We loved each other through questions. We probed deeply into each other’s fears and expose pieces of identity that we might have preferred remained hidden. It was a spiritual experience.
I don’t think the spiritual leadership the
church world needs right now is of the variety to which we have become accustomed. I don’t think we need more talking heads. I don’t think we need more answer people. I don’t think we need more people standing in front of us telling us which way to go and how to get there. We don’t need more experts.
I’ve always liked the idea of being a spiritual sherpa.
Someone who walks the path with you, knows the path well themselves, and can be on the journey alongside you. That’s a fairly westernized vision of what a sherpa is and does, but that’s what I got. I still like this image and prefer it over the image of spiritual CEO that is so often seen in the religious arena, but I don’t know that that’s who I am or the kind of leadership that I want to model.
There’s a meme that I’ve seen on Facebook a few times. It is an image that contrasts a boss vs. a leader The boss the worker stands above the workers barking orders while the leaders goes in front and pulls alongside the crew.
I like this. It feels like it’s almost there. And if spiritual leadership is about getting tasks done, then this is the image that is required.
I think the image of leadership that we need looks more like this:
Two friends driving down the road, being on the journey together. Yes, this is light and airy, but no one can deny that Kermit was a leader. He is the quintessential order muppet. Kermit is loved by those in his charge because he travels along with them. How many of the Muppet movie adventures involve travel. Kermit is never in first class. He’s in among the zanies. He goes through it with them. He’s trusted because he’s on the journey with the others and they know that he too will have to bear the consequences of whatever decisions are made.
I think I went into seminary with the model of a CEO pastor. Sure, a hipster CEO, but a CEO none the less. I really don’t think there is an open niche for any more of those. Sherpa’s a re good guides because they are experts on the terrain. I’m not sure that will ever be obsolete. Leaders who get dirty with the team and pull the load are awesome. Both of those images require that someone be out front. I’d rather lead, banjo in hand (metaphorically speaking) from the passenger seat.
The more I learn the less I know. The more that I try to pretend that I know, the more I set myself up to fail. At best I have insights, but I don’t have answers. I want to be on the journey with whatever community I lead next. Not as an expert. Not as a boss. Maybe not even as a guide. But as co-traveler on the journey, improvising harmonies as we’re moving right along down the road of life.