Christiana Rice’s second “posture” for leadership in her brilliant piece “Midwifing the Church” at: http://juniaproject.com/midwifing-the-church/ relates closely to her first “posture”, but is an important expansion.

           2. Adapt to every unique story

Each birth story is unique. The role of the midwife is to usher a mother and child into their particular experience with sensitivity and strength. This process requires adaptation at every turn of the plot. Things will never go as planned. A midwife learns to see deviation as a part of the mystery unfolding.

Every person is unique. No two journeys have ever been the same. I do not know all the factors in your life that have brought you to the place you find yourself. What works for you in one situation may be wrong for another person, or wrong for you in a different situation at a different time. Cookie-cutter ministry, whether for a leader just starting out or one long-seasoned in ministry, will always be destructive.

I do not know what is best for you. I have said to the people in the congregation I serve that there may be times on a Sunday when what they really need is to go to the beach with their family, or stay quietly alone at home rather than struggling to get everyone out the door for church bright and early. There are people who need to come to church Sunday after Sunday for a long time, quietly warming a back pew and then slipping away unnoticed at the end of the service. As a leader in the church, I need to be ok with you being where you are and I need to trust that you are following the flow of God’s Spirit in your life. I do not want you to come to church to please me, or to be involved in busy church activities because you believe it is expected.

I must let go of my expectations that you should be a certain way. I must be willing to surrender any need that you should be in a place that is not authentic to who you are and where you truly find yourself in life. You do not exist to conform to my image of what a “good” life looks like. You were created to find yourself in the image of God, not in meeting my particular vision of what it means to be truly human.

Leadership in the church exists to nurture in every person the ability to listen deeply to that which they know to be most true in their lives. The most grievous errors in the conduct of church ministry come about due to our unwillingness to truly listen to the “particular experience” of another person. Even when I do not understand what is happening in your life, more than anything else, I want you to discover the ability to listen deeply to God’s Spirit at work in your heart and to discover the strength and courage to respond authentically to what you discover in your innermost being. I cannot share in supporting your ability to listen deeply to God’s work in your life when I am badgering and pestering you to fulfill my personal hopes and aspirations for your life or for the church.

The “mystery of unfolding” can be threatening. Being truly sensitive to another person requires a willingness to open to the strangeness and peculiarity of the other person’s life. In order to be able to truly embrace the “mystery of unfolding” that is central to the beauty of life, I must return to #1 above and start from a place in which I am deeply centered in God’s love. I must return again and again to the presence of love who is the only source of my true identity and the only hope for security in the uncertain world of ministry among unpredictable and flawed human beings.

 

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