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Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ When Leaders Need to Be Led

It took a while to realize what I was missing.

It does sometimes.

It took sitting in a pew to allow the revelation to dawn on me.

Everyone needs to be led sometimes: especially leaders.

I loved pronouncing the opening line of the call to worship; I loved welcoming the faithful and the not-so-faithful to the communion table; I loved uttering “our Father” and hearing voices join mine. Pastoring my first church, and especially engaging with the flock in communal worship, was a joy.

After a couple of years in ministerial service, I found another distinct joy: sitting in a pew on a rare Sunday away, hearing someone else preach, and being led in worship by someone else.

Most “healthy clergy” initiatives focus on things like physical health (which is good) or individual spiritual development (also good) or even clergy fellowship group participation (another good).

But what about the value of sitting in a pew, receiving communal worship? We all need to be led, to be part of a group of listeners even for an hour. Recently, I read an interesting question posed by a well-known leader: “pastors, do you have a safe house?” The point in question related to time away in a physical space with people with whom you are free to be vulnerable.

Let’s put a twist on it: pastors, do you have a sanctuary? Not the worship space of the church where you serve. Do you have a sanctuary? A place where you can claim safety, peace, anonymity, protection and worship? Maybe as a pastor what you most need is to sneak away to an Episcopalian midweek Eucharist service. Surely “sanctuary” is something clergy members need more often than their yearly vacation. One Protestant pastor I know still cites time he spent at a Catholic monastery as profoundly formative in his vocational journey.

I found sanctuary in Doxa Soma – Christian practice of meditation, prayer, stretching and strengthening through which I can be led (through the marvels of the internet) via live video stream. To have Psalms read to me (which somehow feels so different than opening my own Bible to read a Psalm myself), to be led in prayer and meditation, to be guided through the movements – what blessed relief. I can turn off the responsibility switch in my brain and simply follow and receive. And what an important role to inhabit for a while: that of learner, of follower, of recipient.

North American leaders – in business as in ministry – like to be motivated or inspired or challenged. We want keynote speakers that will give us a half-time speech that will send us to the end zone. But all of those responses still allow – or curse – leaders to feel in control.

The image of Christ here is compelling: fully God, fully human, allowing himself to be baptized – the Divine, being dunked. Over and over again, we hear from the Gospel writers that Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray. If Jesus needed sanctuary, how much more do I?

Lord, we are so much like Simon Peter sometimes – eager, enthusiastic, ready to march ahead or leap into action. And just as he learned, teach us also the value of the truth that even leaders – especially leaders – need to be led…