Rob reflects on the key themes from Session 1 of Freed To Lead.
Within about 5 seconds, I was regretting involving the kids. I don’t sign up to that old adage “Never work with animals or children” – life is generally more fun with a fair dose of the unpredictability that kids bring to the table. And as a Dad of three, of course I moan about all the nonsense, but secretly I wouldn’t be without it. On this occasion though, the chaos was getting a little, let’s say, too close for comfort.
I was leading a special Advent themed Family Service. We’d come up with the idea of doing an “Escape Room” style puzzle-solving thing. I was tied up in bungee cords and a bike-lock, representing the stuff that holds us captive. The point was to find “keys” from bible passages about Jesus’ birth, which would reveal the keycode to unlock an old box, which in turn had another puzzle in (as well as a tonne of chocolates as a distraction) which would provide the code to “set me free”. Essentially it took everyone on a journey from the Great News of John 3:16 to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18, via John 10:10.
The problem was, as I was talking about the kinds of things that hold us back from the abundant life Jesus came to give us, I asked the kids to wrap me up in the bungee-cords. I imagined I’d end up looking a bit like a sausage, with a load of bungees around my torso. What I didn’t count on was one enterprising lad deciding to loop one over my shoulder, and between my legs, and fastening it behind me. It wasn’t even one of the longer cords – it was definitely too short for the distance. Yes, there are pictures, and no, I won’t be sharing them here.
Suddenly, I had a very immediate and urgent need to get free – but I was committed to the plan. I couldn’t be free until all the scripture keys had unlocked the box, the chocolates shared out and the code for the bike-lock was discovered. So, now in no small amount of discomfit, I gritted my teeth and persevered to the finish line. We got there in the end – everyone was duly distracted by the chocolates, illustrating the point of how easy it is to be thrown of course – but I was eventually “set free”, my discomfit evaporated and my voice dropped an octave.
Leadership is unpredictable, it’s tough, it’s a challenge. It’s also an amazing adventure that can take us way outside our comfort zone, and leads us in a rollercoaster of delight and despair. A painfully placed bungee-cord is certainly not the greatest challenge I’ve experienced as a leader, but for me it serves as a memorable reminder that things don’t always go according to plan. In Session 1 of Freed To Lead we lay out our vision to enable followers of Jesus to lead confidently from a vision of Christian leadership rooted firmly in our identity in Him. It’s vital we do so, to avoid the common pitfall of feeling like a failure when things don’t work out as we expect. No adventure worth having is easy – and we need to remember that struggles and difficulties in leadership do not automatically mean there is something wrong with us. Adventures test our stamina and courage!
Paul, knowing the challenges Timothy would face, wrote this to encourage him. It’s the theme verse for Freed To Lead, and it’s as pertinent to us today, as it was for him, then: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
I don’t know about you, but I find fanning into flame the gift God has given me, without fear and anxiety but in power and self-control a real challenge. Despite the myriad of advice, articles, books, courses, and people offering their opinions, leadership is difficult. And what’s more, it’s getting more difficult. People are increasingly overwhelmed, overloaded, over-faced, and overanxious. If you think leading is tough, try following! We shouldn’t be surprised that people resist good leadership – Paul encouraged Timothy to understand “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim. 3:1), listing off a horrendous set of traits that would characterise Christians, and Jesus himself told his disciples to expect difficulties (Matt 24:12).
And so, as Rod puts it, the challenge of leadership today makes you wonder why anyone would want to do it. We’re beset with dilemmas - perhaps the first of which is that true leadership is the only way to resolve the issues we face, but the very people who need it are the ones who resist it the most. Dilemmas are issues that have no clear and easy answers – they can’t be solved – we have to navigate them as we lead.
You know, leading with a too tight bungee-cord wrapped around you might require a bit of perseverance, but it’s a problem that’s fairly easily fixed. But to lead whilst holding multiple dilemmas in tension, that takes not only courage, but a greater vision of what it means to lead well. A vision radically rooted in who, and Whose, we are. A vision that sees our leadership in the context of the spiritual battle we’re all in. A vision that seeks God’s goodness, fruitfulness and transformation in our own lives, as much as in the lives of others. And that’s the heart behind the course and Rod’s book – that we truly are freed to lead ourselves and others into the great and good works God has prepared in advance for us.
To find out more about Freed to Lead, head over to www.ficm.org.uk/freedtolead