I’m a process guy. A polity wonk. There a lot of us out here, and you know who you are.
My street cred: Back in seminary, people sometimes called me “Mr. Presbyterian,” which they meant mostly as a compliment, I think. I still get calls from people I have not seen in the flesh for a decade asking me nuanced questions about what the Book of Order requires them to do at next week’s Session meeting.
And I enjoy this. I got to serve as a presbytery stated clerk for a year. I’ve been a parliamentary assistant at a bunch of General Assemblies. I took myself out to dinner (Who else would, really?) when I got my membership card in the mail from the National Association of Parliamentarians (yes, the N.A.P.—no jokes, please). I’ve even helped people find the decent-and-in-order process for accomplishing legislative outcomes I deplore, all part of our Presbyterian commitment to seeking and finding God’s will together.
I have usually tried to make this part of my pastoral ministry, too, careful about taking sides on the little—or not so little—conflicts that arise in a church’s life. Frequently, instead of being first or loudest to speak, I try to make sure all the voices are heard.
Lately, I’ve found myself in a different kind of leadership role. Chairing a committee through a time of making difficult decisions and issuing controversial recommendations (the details of which aren’t especially important for blogging purposes and which would almost surely lead us into digression of an unpleasant nature) has put me in a place where after the meeting I’ve often had opportunity not just to listen but speak, not just moderate but advocate. Though the positions I am representing are a committee’s and not merely my own, the role I find myself in—the voice of a viewpoint, rather than a process—is an altogether different sort of leadership.
Or is it?
Proverbs 31:8-9 offers advice given to a king by his mother (Isn’t that where leaders should always turn for the most important lessons?): “Speak out for those who cannot speak …. Defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Other scriptures testify—in calls to and cries from prophets, in the example of Jesus—to the sort of leadership that involves moving from observation to action, from discernment to direction.
I’m certain that I have not been alone in playing it safe in the middle, or in thinking of this as my job. Pastors and parliamentarians alike have to be judicious, measured, fair. But it is seeming to me more and more that this sort of leadership must eventually give way to speaking truth—truth to power, truth in love, truth to all God’s people. And when this speaking takes the form of advocating for those enduring pain, those who are oppressed, those whose perspectives have been absent or diminished in church and society, then isn't this the real fulfillment of that earlier form of leadership--making sure every voice is truly heard?
So for all the polity/process/parliamentary types out there, I wonder what it might look like for us to lead for change … for a change.