I am slowly recovering from a spring and summer that has been full of travel, speaking engagements, and new initiatives. Between April and the August, I found myself going from one key initiative to another. My family and I knew this season was coming and prepared for it as best we could, and now I am seeking to intentionally finish well and wrap up all of the projects from that time. For me, that also includes entering a time of prayerful reflection as I document the many lessons God was teaching me, and particularly how he wants these experiences to shape me going forward. I’m entering a time of reassessing priorities and focus, and asking, “Where do I need change?”
It is evident to me on so many levels—my personal life and ministry, the church, culture, and the world—that God is constantly calling us to change. Oftentimes, a leader’s responsibility is to initiate change or manage the change that is in motion. The challenge of a mentor is often convincing their mentees, and even themselves, to take risks or not be afraid of change. Whether we decide to remain comfortable and plant our feet firmly where we are, or whether we decide to move forward and try something different will drastically shape the trajectory of our lives, ministry, communities, and work. If we are truly going to lead in this world as faith leaders, and mentor others to lead well, then we must be willing to take risks even when we are uncertain of the outcomes.
That’s the clear message I learned when reading the book, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change, by Robert E. Quinn. Quinn begins the book by sharing some eye opening and fundamental teachings about leadership:
- We can transform our organizations by transforming ourselves (ix).
- The fundamental state of leadership requires commitment to deep change and a willingness to embrace uncertainty—to build the bridge as we walk on it (11)
- Living through transition is lonely. It is very important to find someone who can provide support at an intimate level (55).
Authentic leadership requires us to first look in the mirror and assess who we are. Our identity shapes our personal relationships, the commitments we make, and the work that we do. A leader must regularly ask herself in the various parts of her life, “Am I willing to change or grow in this area? What is preventing me from change? How can I take the next step on my faith journey even when I don’t know where that step is leading me?” In short, we must consider, “Are we open to being changed by God?” Our willingness to grow, change, take risks, and be open to God’s transformation is paramount for leadership and mentoring well. When we learn to ask these questions, we are more open to embrace uncertainty both as mentors and mentees, and as a follower of Christ.
The true struggle is whether or not we will give God complete control, or maintain a false sense of control in ourselves. God knows what is best for our lives, and we cannot be captivated by his vision and hold on to our own vision at the same time. God wants us to choose the best life he has for us, and when we hold on too tightly to what we think we know, how we feel, or what makes us most comfortable, we will never see God’s best realized in our lives.
Every day, perhaps without even knowing it, we are making choices between either serving God or playing God in our own lives. We are making the choice between life and death. In his parting words to the Israelites, Moses said to them:
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
At the time when he spoke these words, Moses had been a leader, shepherd, and mentor to the Israelites for many years. He knew that he was nearing the end of his life, and would no longer be able to instruct them in the ways of God or tell them which way to go. At this critical time of transition, he simply reminded them of what that already knew:
- Their life’s choices would either result in receiving the blessings of God (for their righteous responses to his commands) or inflict curses upon themselves (for their disobedience to God’s standards). Blessings would lead to a good life, and curses would bring them physical and spiritual death.
- If they chose rightly, they would bring blessings upon themselves and also their children. Their obedience would draw them near to God, increase their love for Him, and help them hear and understand his voice more clearly.
- He reminded them that the Lord is the keeper of his promises. He is the one who sustains their lives and make them prosperous in the land he was giving them.
Moses was reminding them again and again to do right, seek God, and trust him with the promise even though they had not entered the land yet. Following the instructions of Moses meant denying their old ways of being and doing. They needed to change. As Christians, so often we think the only change we need is to accept Christ as savior and to walk in his way by going to church and living a “good” life. Rarely do we see that accepting Jesus as Lord, requires a surrender of all of self and everything that has shaped us prior to our relationship with him, and regularly yielding ourselves to the transformation needed to clarify our purpose and calling.
Robert E. Quinn writes:
Rather than accepting the need for deep change, most of us practice denial. We rationalize away the signals that call us to courage and growth. We work very hard to preserve our current ego or culture. To give them up is to give up control. Normally we work hard to avoid the surrender of control. Instead, we strive to stay in our zone of comfort and control. Given the choice between deep change or slow death, we tend to choose slow death (6).
I believe God is regularly calling us to deep change—an abandonment of our old ways of life and old manner of doing things—and he is constantly inviting us into a new life. Joshua understood and embraced this teaching from his mentor, Moses. After leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, he again called them out of death and darkness and into a new life:
Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15).
The season of fall is upon us. It is an identified time of transition. My hope and prayer for you, is that you too will take the time to seek the Lord about his desire for change in your own life. What areas are you choosing death? What things need to die? Where is God desiring change? Where is He inviting you into a new life?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015