One of the world’s largest ships stumbled in the Suez Canal, turned sideways, and got stuck in the sand, completely blocking passage through one of the world’s most important trade routes. For six days, ships were backed up into the sea, their precious cargo of everything from shoes to TVs to barrels of oil stuck on floating pause buttons. Fifteen percent of the world’s trade flows through the Suez Canal. More than 6.7 million dollars of trade per minute were interrupted by the uncontrollable drift of the Ever Given.
The Ever Given is a behemoth. It’s more than four football fields long, weighs 200,000 tons, and can carry 20,000 shipping containers. It makes the Titanic look like a tugboat. Speaking of which, it took 14 of them to dislodge the Ever Given out of the sand and redirect it out of the canal. By the time the ship was freed, 422 others were waiting in line. Knowing how grumpy I get waiting in traffic, I can imagine there were some angry sailors cursing like…sailors. I’m glad I wasn’t the captain of the Ever Given.
But I’ve gotten stuck, too. All leaders do. I’ve taken my eyes off the steering wheel and grounded things for a time. Unfortunately, my “stuckness” caused a backup in the life and flourishing of my ministry. In fact, the bigger our domain and the wider the scope of our influence, the greater the cost of our blockage. Whether we are solo pastors, senior pastors, or leaders of multi-staff ministries–we who once had all the dreams, ideas, vision, and passion–may inadvertently become blockages for what God has in mind for our people.
Sometimes we are the Ever Given.
For the sake of this article, I’m not writing about moral failures or spiritual blockage caused by sin. That’s a significant issue, but that’s for another blog. Instead, I’m thinking in terms of being the one who has gotten stuck, is unaware, and in so doing is causing problems for our ministry.
Do we have blind spots that are blocking fresh ideas, causing backups, and keeping our ministry from moving forward?
How do we avoid becoming the Ever Given? Here are three things I am trying to look for in my life and leadership.
AVOID RIGIDITY – STAY NIMBLE
I had back surgery last year. My back has been slow to return to any reasonable amount of flexibility. I want to golf again, but I’m afraid that when I let loose with my Tiger-like swing, my spine will travel farther than the ball. (You do not want to watch my feeble attempts at yoga in the basement.)
I’ve been leading our youth ministry for 21 years. Things are well-established and “successful.” We have routines, systems, events, and structures that are purposeful and important to me. But what if they aren’t as “successful” as they could (or should) be? What if something is stuck and I don’t realize it? What if getting things unstuck would unleash a season of flourishing like no other?
If you are leading a team, work to create a climate where nothing is off the table as far as change. Evaluate everything frequently and work that process until your heart bleeds. Allow others to throw in ideas, and don’t dismiss them until they’ve been vetted by everyone involved. That’s the only way we can avoid becoming rigid.
What needs to change, or what sacred cow needs to be slaughtered to feed the future? And here’s the hard part: Would I be okay if the sacred cow was something I created?
The RIGIDITY question is: “Am I okay if it’s my sacred cow that’s slaughtered?”
AVOID CONTROL – STAY OPEN
I am an Enneagram 4, which means I’m bent towards the creative. One of the fallouts of that is that I don’t always work well with others when it comes to creating something new. My mind works in meandering and nonlinear ways; sometimes working with others interrupts my thought process and frustrates me.
By the way, this did not go well when my teacher-wife and I were planning Bible studies together. I did not appreciate the fact that she marked my report card, “Does not play well with others.”
My self-contained creative process worked fine when I was leading the ministry myself, but now that I have a team of people more gifted—and much more relevant to students—than me, I needed to change. I needed to let go of the control I was wielding and let others speak into the process. I needed to listen to their ideas and allow them to make the call, even if I don’t like what they propose.
The CONTROL question is: “Am I okay if this idea works, but I don’t like it?”
AVOID PRIDE – STAY HUMBLE
At sea, the Ever Given could be as big as it wanted to be. It could sail forever and never get stuck. But in a canal? Well, that’s a problem.
When I compare myself to “the world” with regard to pride, I think I’m doing okay. The world is full of pride and bluster, and I’ve never seen myself that way. But that’s deceiving. My pride shows up when, in my own little world, I feel threatened by the success of someone else. Envy and Pride are brothers, and my guess is that they are kin to nearly everyone reading this.
Pride in an ocean may go unnoticed, but pride in a canal will not.
I’m currently navigating a significant transition for our college ministry. It’s a ministry I have oversight of, but it’s also one that I need a lot of help with. Yesterday, someone presented some ideas for the summer, and my first response was defensiveness. “Let me figure it out first.” Even as I type this, I see subtle pride in my heart as I think about how to set this ministry up for future success.
Humility requires us to face the ugly truth that we like to get credit for things.
The PRIDE question is, “Am I okay if I get absolutely no credit for this?”
Seriously, no credit. None. As if we had nothing to do with it. Am I okay with that? Are you okay with that? That’s a mark of humility that will open the channels of success in our church in ways we never imagined. That’s the version of myself I want to lead with. It requires a vigilant and constant “beat down” of the need to take credit.
The Ever Given caused a big mess at the Suez Canal. By God’s grace, may we not be the church version of the behemoth that blocks traffic and interrupts God’s work in our people. Asking ourselves these three hard questions may help keep the channels clear.