Leadership is about navigating change. To be more precise, one of the main elements of leadership is about navigating change. Leadership can also be about visioning change, creating change, managing change, and even cleaning up after change. The element of navigating change is however always present for the spiritual leader because someone, some situation, or some place within the leader’s care is always changing.
As I was packing for recent trip, I found myself reflecting about how the process of navigating change is a lot like packing. Both in leadership and packing there is the thinking about it, there is the planning, and there is letting go of what needs to be left behind.
First, the thinking about it. If you are going to navigate, then set a point towards which to steer. Now there are people I know, when it comes to packing, who put it off as long as possible to avoid a lot of little decisions. For them, it is easier to dive in right before the trip, take the essentials along with a few items that work in any condition, and forget about the rest. That is fine if one is prepared to live with any consequence. For me, in packing and in leading, considering the temperature of the place I am going is a point towards which I can steer. Warmer climate means multiple days’ bathing suits, shorts and tee shirts. Not necessarily less stuff just less variety. Colder climates means multiple layers, wider range of possible weather, dark colours and a few colorful items for flair. Not less stuff and a greater variety of mix and match. Planning for the likely climate means asking the question: what are the conditions likely to be when I arrive? Leadership means planning for the likely climate. An extreme in either direction would leave me wondering if this change, the trip, was really worth it.
Second, there is the planning. Not everything I plan to take fits in the suitcase. Whether it’s carry on or checked luggage, whatever I planned in my mind to take along exceeds the capacity I have to carry it. To check myself, I place all the planned items on the bed and ask myself, what is the purpose, how many times will I use it, what are the occasions to use this item, can something else serve multiple purposes? The leadership for navigating change, at least for me, means I always want to include more than I and the team have a capacity to carry. I suppose it is good that I can think of more ways to make the process of navigating change better. And if I tried to do all of them, then nothing will get done well, I and others leaders will feel frustrated, and we will likely not get to our destination with the items, the elements, that will really make a difference.
Finally, there is the letting go of what needs to be left behind. None of us makes a journey without leaving something behind. Once the suitcase is packed, then the items not going are placed back in the closet. A favourite scarf, an additional pair of socks, one more sweater (or bathing suit) that may make being at the destination better, will also make the journey harder. Even at the start of a journey some thing, or, in leadership, someone, is left behind
It is the “someone” in spiritual leadership that I believe is the most difficult. Differeniating between this person at this time for this journey and everyone who who might go in a variety of directions is an important discernment. Will the gifts, the leadership position, the readiness of the team members serve multiple purposes so that the journey can flow freely? Is there one or more persons just not prepared to go now, who will only offer one function, or who may not like the climate at the destination. And, this discernment does not mean we are rejecting that person who does not make this journey at this time. This is hard to do and to communicate for spiritual leaders because it implies exclusiveness, division, favouritism, and insider decisions. Those are all values that can be called “non-gospel.” We don’t want to live from those places. As people of commitment to Christ, of prayer, unity, and justice, we seek to have those values show in every decision and in every journey. Yet, life in Christ is also about movement. We are always on journey. How do we move if everything must go with is? We don’t. We stay in place wondering what we will do with it all. Life in Christ, prayer, unity, and justice in spiritual leadership is about starting the journey so that all those in your care will be given a chance to be on the journey, too. In all navigation, in order to start some things are left behind. Leaders must let go and leaders must start.
Packing for travel can illustrate the life of the spiritual leader for navigating change. We always go with and for one another and we always go with Christ.