It is said that leadership is messy.
Leadership is messy, because life is messy. Life is messy, because we each have a will to choose, to decide and a body and mind to put choices and decisions into action. We aren’t perfect people, in fact, as my friend Bill likes to say, “We’re all jacked up”. Life and people aren’t perfect. Life doesn’t always align with our dreams or what the highlight reel of our Instagram thread portrays. Sometimes… many times, creeping like a shadow beneath the surface of our beautiful sunset photos, the perfect summer family vacation pics, the back-to-school snaps there lies the truth of hurt, grief, worry, anxiousness, concern, pain, hopelessness and at it’s worse, helplessness without hope.
When leaders come face-to-face with the reality of the “shadow life” of those around us, whether it’s close to us, or the revealed shadow life of people we respect from a distance, it brings the reality of how hurt and broken we all are. It bruises a bit of our hearts and it causes a certain amount of grief for God’s “Image Bearers”. It also requires a response from us… because we’re leaders, because we are now a royal priesthood (Rev 1:6). This is where the rubber hits the road, it requires us to dig down deep and do the personal inventory in our lives, so that we can help others as they navigate walking through the shadow and not getting stuck there in fear, cynicism, anger, violence or depression.
Today, my heart is heavy and the tears are swelling just below the surface. The last two weeks have been incredibly fruitful watching families lean in to pursue being wholehearted parents… working on a project that we pray will equip, enable and empower the whole church to lead like never before… spending time with family and having new opportunities open up almost every day.
It has also been a couple of weeks walking with friends through tough career seasons, watching as friends navigate divorce and the grief that comes with that, standing in the gap for a family member who received the diagnosis of the “C” word, too young, too soon with so many things on the horizon. Watching in shock from afar as a respected leader is aligned with actions that don’t align with his tenure. Aching for the big “C” church, the bride of Christ in the shadow of his shadow life.
And then yesterday… the worse possible thing I can imagine. A family ravished by evil and deep shadows resulting in the death of a momma, her unborn child and two sweet little darlins… right here in our neighborhood. The Insta-stories are perfect, but the shadow lives were clearly so dark and felt too deep for hope. I can’t even…
My heart is bruised for our humanity. There’s clearly so much to this story and we are hard-wired to fill in the blanks of the story. But the truth is, without Truth, without Grace, without Hope, without Jesus we listen to every other voice, even the voice of evil. The voice of evil can convince us of things we would never imagine.
So as leaders, pastors, ministers and believers in Jesus Christ, how do we respond when the shadow life is exposed?
Feel it. You are a person made up of a will, mind, body and soul. Grieve, pray, read scripture and ask for understanding, wisdom and discernment. Do your own work, so you can lead those around you.
Love them well. One of the traps we can fall into as leaders is the trap of “ministry” over “people”. Ministry is people, don’t ever forget that. It seems ridiculous to even say that, but the truth is sometimes we can put ministry, the tasks of, ahead of human souls. Just stop that. We are in the people business, bottom line. Love them well. That might mean loving them through admonishment to walk straight in faith, that might mean just hugging them without words, or it might mean standing in the gap through prayer.
Run toward it. Don’t ignore the hard things. We do hard things, that’s what we’re called to do. Don’t keep putting it off till tomorrow, don’t turn a blind eye. Step into the shadow with them. That’s what Jesus did over and over again. As David ran toward Goliath, Daniel willingly jumped into the lion’s den, as Jesus reached out to the woman at the well, the liars, the cheats and the lepers, run toward the mess.
Jesus said it this way, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” John 12:46 NLT.
My sweet friends, there is darkness all around us, and as much as that will some days stop us in our tracks, it should well up in each of us a holy fire that ignites a burning desire to love, to shout Truth and be Jesus with skin on to everyone around us… even in the shadows~