Seeing the genesis of our leadership as a seed is helpful in a number of ways.
The things we make wind up making and remaking us.
Work is like that. Not only is work something we do, but it invariably shapes who we become. That is another reason why our work is important to God.
Each of us has a history – personal, familial, organizational. Psalm 78 tells Israel’s history with stark honesty. No attempt is made to “spin” its story to make God’s people look good. The bulk of the psalm is a long litany of Israel’s failures despite God’s mercy and continued faithfulness. If for no other reason, I like this psalm because it reminds me that all my history can be faced. In a contemporary leadership culture that tends to hide its failures and weaknesses, this is refreshingly good news.
Today’s text describes the seed falling into good soil. So, what makes the soil good? As our last set of reflections suggested, part of the answer lies in our giving conscious, sustained and disciplined attention to Jesus’ way of life and leadership. However, this is not merely an exercise in acquiring leadership knowledge or technique. Jesus’ teaching challenges us at the core of our being as leaders.
Our task is to give witness to Jesus as Lord in the midst of the public square. As today’s text reminds us, despite our track record, abandoning the public arena is not an option for faithful disciples. In the context of each of our leadership responsibilities there is a public dimension to our faith. How are we to live it out?
There are times in leadership when we find ourselves isolated. Sometimes we find ourselves there of our own making. We’ve had to make some hard decisions with which everyone else strongly disagrees, and we feel alone. Sometimes it’s the result of others’ actions. We find ourselves marginalized politically or even have our organization “right-sized” out of existence. Where once we had colleagues and superiors who supported us, we now find ourselves isolated. As the Psalmist prays in today’s text: “Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.”
I have spent much of my working life trying to develop “covenantal” business relationships. The word “covenantal” implies a focus not merely on the economic transactions of the relationship, but on the well-being of the other person or institution. While there is considerable interest today in forming strategic business partnerships, those partnerships are usually dominated by, if not exclusively concerned with, matters of business self-interest. But what if self-interest were supplanted by—or at least augmented with—a real interest in the common good made possible by the relationship? One such relationship that I experienced started well. Our business counterparts shared many of the same strategic interests and cultural values as our company did. We built a mutual business relationship rooted in figuring out what made business sense not only for ourselves but for the other. But, over time, things changed. For a variety of reasons, our business partners began to treat the relationship like any other. From their end, the business relationship had devolved from a covenantal one to a transaction-oriented one. We were faced with the question: How should we respond?
There are different kinds of enemies and different sorts of violence they seek to perpetrate. In the world of work and leadership, there are personal and impersonal enemies. As an example of the former, some people see others as obstacles in their ascent to or retention of power, and therefore seek to undermine the others’ roles and work. As an example of the latter, market forces can create competitive situations where one organization effectively seeks to destroy another in the quest for customers and market share.
The Hubble Telescope is an extraordinary invention. With it, we can see from unimaginable distances some of the farthest reaches of the universe; and simultaneously we can look back in time to see stars and galaxies as they were thousands and even millions of years ago. Perhaps the Hubble serves as a useful analogy for God’s ability to see from far away what is going on in our lives, and to look back through our personal history even to our formation in the womb. But, unlike the Hubble, which passively gathers information from a long time ago and from galaxies far away, Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows each of us personally. Extraordinarily, God sees, not from a vast distance, but up close and in person.
In the context of a congregation, the psalmist acknowledges that leadership is a vocation lived in all aspects of life: in the court of public opinion, among colleagues and competitors, and particularly in the presence of deadly adversaries, a life of faithful leadership plays out. Faith for the psalmist is neither tangential nor compartmentalized. It is central and integral to leadership, even a matter of life or death.