Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children…
In his book, Letters to Zoe, Max De Pree tells the story of his granddaughter who was born very prematurely. While Zoe was in neonatal intensive care, her nurse told Max that it would help Zoe for Max to come regularly to talk to her while he stroked her tiny body. The nurse said that it was important for Zoe to connect Max’s voice with his touch.
Leadership, for those of us who take the Bible seriously, means connecting our voice with our touch. What we say and how we act are meant to be congruent with one another. Today’s text reminds us that the commandment to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might,” is intended not only for us but for those who follow us – for our “children”, to use the language and imagery of this command. In other words, the Greatest Commandment is not merely personal, much less private, religious instruction. Instead, it’s addressed to us in the context of our leadership responsibility within the communities and organizations of which we are a part. There is an inherently communal and public aspect to this command. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Jesus added that you shall love “your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Doing this well in the public, secular work context in which most of us find ourselves is difficult.
First, there is the need to find our voice. I’ve always been leery about using unfamiliar and arcane religious language in the public square. That’s why I’ve admired Max De Pree’s writings, because Max has the uncanny ability to say profound biblical insights in fresh and accessible ways to a secular audience. While none of us can (or should try to) be Max, each of us as leaders has the challenge – if we are to take the Greatest Commandment seriously – to reinterpret the biblical mandate for our generation of followers in the worlds we inhabit. The poet, TS Eliot, states the challenge well, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language | And next year’s words await another voice.” (Little Gidding)
Second, there is the issue of finding a matching touch to our voice. In my entrepreneurial experience, the challenges are legion. For one example, I am a strong advocate of innovation. But, at what point does technology development become an end for its own sake? And, if a product development project is terminated, what about the years of effort wasted – and the lives spent – by those who were working on that project? Or worse, what if that would result in layoffs? Should we continue to subsidize the effort to retain people even if the future prospects are uncertain? What is the “touch” that matches my “voice” then? Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves becomes a very practical challenge (and necessity) at that point.
Finally, there is dealing with the frustration of failure. In addition to wrestling with finding our voice and touch, there’s the on-going reality of living as redeemed but still fallen leaders in the context of a redeemed but still fallen world. To be sure, there are moments where voice and touch are seamless. But, at other times they are discordant. Sometimes there seems to be no way to bring the two together. As a good friend of mine once said, for leaders there are occasions when it’s not a choice between bad and good, but between bad and worse. This is part of the reason why leadership in the way of Jesus is so difficult. Not only must we wrestle with language and action, but also with the consequences of our own limitations and failures.
Getting this right is hard. As Jesus himself said, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” (Matthew 7:14) So, we should not be surprised. But, we can be encouraged by the promise of God’s faithfulness to us and through us, even in the midst of our struggles.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what areas of your leadership do you find it difficult to connect your voice with your touch? Why is that so? How might you work on that this coming week?
How have you developed your own voice for communicating God’s purpose and design for your leadership work? What have you found to be helpful? What is challenging for you?
What limitations or failures do you struggle with in connecting your voice and your touch?
Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for your honesty about the narrow gate and the hard road that leads to life. And, we are particularly grateful that you have not left us to enter this gate nor travel this road alone. Thank you for the presence of your Spirit, who keeps us on the way, strengthens us when we falter, and encourages us when we want to quit.
Thank you that by your grace and through your Spirit we are able to develop a voice and a touch that reflects who you are. Forgive us when we fail. Help us to leave a legacy of integrity that honors you. We ask in your name, Amen.