Leaders who limp

 

What makes a good leader? Or a good pastor?

Good pastors are not perfect pastors. No pastor is a perfect pastor. Good pastors are, paradoxically, those who know their own limitations, their imperfections. We give lip-service to this truth. But it is, sadly, rare to encounter leaders who know their own limitations and imperfections, and intentionally gather around them others who can complement those limitations and compensate for their shortcomings. It is rare to find leaders who are weak, but then are strong enough to admit it…

Thus wrote Mark Meynell in his brilliant recent book, When Darkness Seems my closest friend. Mark speaks out of his own experience, and also the powerful witness of Paul;

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Not for nothing did Jesus say that these are the kinds of people who would be blessed (Matthew 5:3-12).

But do the people we uphold as examples of leaders really look like that?

Do our presidents, pastors, prime ministers, teachers, heroes and heroines, really delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties?

Or do we prefer a strongman?

A few years ago a previous incarnation of this blog was comedically nominated for ‘Leadership Blog of the Year’ in a Christian blogging awards ceremony. This continues to amuse, humble and bemuse me. Not least because I spend quite a lot of my time and characters on Twitter challenging contemporary/Christian understandings of ‘leadership’. There is always more to be said about that. One leader I have a mixed view of is John Wimber, one of the catalytic figures of the Vineyard movement. He reflected on whether there might be any truth in the suggestion that we shouldn’t trust any leader who doesn’t walk with a limp. He wrote something that has shaped my view of leaders – making me very grateful for a number of leaders in my life who do walk with various limps, honestly and helpfully:

If anything characterises seasoned leaders it is enduring qualities like humility and faithfulness, characteristics that make them look like Jesus. So, pastors that walk with a limp usually run the best race. They may not be the swiftest, but they finish that which they’ve been called to. And they are rarely disqualified for taking shortcuts. In the end, they are the ones holding the gold“.

I recently posted this, the back of a church leader’s business card I’ve got lying around from an old job, on Instagram:

The middle pair of words is something that I believe to be utterly true. Good leaders, especially in a church context, are those who recognise their own imperfection, and yet, like someone with a torch in a dark cave, points outwards and upwards towards the light. I don’t really trust leaders who don’t limp – or, at least, those who seem to go out of their way to look like they might be perfect. Maybe one of the things to ponder is how we can recognise the humanity and imperfections of our leaders – even as we look upwards and outwards towards Jesus.

 

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