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Flip The Wake | Confessions from the Leader-Ship

by Armando Heredia  
4/20/2009 / Leadership

I have a confession to make. I am in "leader-ship" and because of this I have spent my ministry until a few months ago trying to be in front of the people who I am called to "lead". I have tried to be the face that is seen and the voice that is heard. When the flag drops, my boat is the first off the line, leaving the wake that "my" team is supposed to follow in. The wake follows the path that my boat, my leader-ship, goes in. Where I point, that's where everybody follows. It's a nice and tidy little procession as long as everybody stays in the boundaries of the wake I set for them.

The problem with this is that it's a nice and tidy little procession. As much as I want to think I am great, as hard as I work, plan and develop myself my wake is only so wide. But this is the leader-ship model that I have inherited. I have followed in the wake of other leaders and while that can make the path seem easier it has narrowed much of my understanding about what ministry can and should be.

You're the pastor, youth pastor, head honcho, big cheese or whatever, so that automatically pushes you to the front, right? Wrong. Where did we ever get the idea that we were supposed to be the leader? Where do you find that the task of being a minister is the same as being the "man"? Jesus never said you and I were going to be the "man" if we were called into ministry, he said we would be the servants of all. When you put Greatest in front of Servant it changes the concept considerably.

Over the last few months I have become increasingly aware of my smallness. If this whole thing hinges on one person, it's a pretty small door.

And what in the world will I do with the whole "I must decrease so He can increase" idea that that revolutionary prophet, John, said?

Here are a few thoughts that have been making me rethink the whole concept about leader-ship.

Make Sure You Have On A Life Jacket
The alpha male concept becomes very apparent when you are focused on keeping the lead and owning the wake. This translates into aggression between leaders, not just hostility, aggression. I have seen some incredible maneuvers by good men who were focused on owning the wake. If you are called into ministry and you are working your way to the front of the line, make sure you're wearing a life jacket. "Man Overboard!" gets drowned out by the noise of the power motor too often. How many great men and women have been destroyed and/or thrown off the boat for the sake of one man/woman keeping his/her hands on the steering wheel?

The Wake Narrows Dramatically At The Front
The problem with leader-ship is that it doesn't transfer well. As long as there is one boat at the front there will also only be one steering wheel. This is a problem as stated above because of aggressiveness, but also because the transfer is usually an after thought. The intentional development of others is typically absent in the wake of the alpha leader. Take a look at most of the leadership classes and concepts that you have developed or favor, in their essence they are about developing people within the wake, not about releasing them into the Kingdom of God or unleashing their potential.

The Most Turbulent Waters Are Always Behind The Wake-Maker
Being close to the "leader-ship" is dangerous because the most turbulent waters are always behind the wake-maker. The larger the group, the larger the wake, the more powerful the leader has to become to keep everyone moving in the right direction. The bigger the wake the rougher the water directly behind the leader-ship must be. This is where the whole elitist mentality takes on the most definition. It's also why so many people who seem to have such potential are destroyed. They get caught in the current at the narrow behind the leader.

We expect that people close to the leader-ship are going to live by a higher code. Where do you think that comes from? If we are all kings and priests and called into the same kingdom, why is there a select few that must be somehow better than others? Here's my opinion, because the front of the wake is narrow and if you are going to be at the front, you better be the "best" or you don't "deserve" to be there. You can disagree, but look at it this way, we require less in graduation from the narrow front of the wake to the wide edges of the back of it, and we esteem the people in the back far less, if at all. Here's the danger in this mentality, there is always the tension between "the people" to move forward, to push into the narrow, to displace the chain. I have seen vicious people at the narrow, people who would step on your head and push you under to hold their place, and yes, I am talking about religious people. Are they evil? Maybe, but probably not, they are simply following the rules set by the leader-ship model. When you are drowning in troubled water your only thought is to keep your head above water, at all cost, and I'd like to see you swim in the turbulent water behind a power boat and not feel like you were drowning.

The Creative Becomes Dangerous As The Wake Crowds
Wake boarding is impressive and early on you may have a maverick doing flips inside of your wake. You can wave at the people watching as you go passed, brag about him/her to your friends, but the creativity and potential of this person tied to you becomes a liability as the crowd pushes into the narrow.

A neat and tidy procession will scorn the wake boarder. He is too unpredictable. Not to mention that he sometimes works above the wake, not outside of it, but above it, in plain sight of everyone. In fact, his best work is done in the wrong place. He doesn't work in the narrow, he trails along at the wider places, working back and forth, flying in the face of the people who despise his freedom and would cut his rope without a moment's hesitation. To them he is showy and irreverent, and he's having way too much fun.

The other thing that is bothersome it that he is not trying to move up like he's supposed to and the leader-ship seems to give him special license to trump the model, to work above the wake, to have the freedom without the price of the narrow all of the other potential leaders have to pay.

His freedom is false and his time is usually short because he is breaking the law of the narrow. As much as the leader-ship needs him and his energy there is no long term avenue for him. He will have to go for the sake of the wake. He's too dangerous.

Doesn't The Vision Caster Have To Be In Front?
Vision casting is about the vision, not the individual. Leader-ship demands that the vision be cast into the wake. When that happens there is no growth because the course sets the cast.

True vision casting goes ahead and out, never back. So, if we cast the vision back, into the wake, does it really matter? Yes, but only if the vision is about the leader-ship. What if the vision cast set the course? What if the vision was bigger than the leader-ship?

And if we cast the vision forward and out who will work in it? If the vision is bigger than the wake and spreads outside of the reach of the leader-ship it will float away from "the people" unless the leader-ship goes around in circles trying to catch it. I've seen countless leader-ships racing in circles, leaping their own wake, trying to catch the pieces of a vision that were too big for this model.

When a leader-ship casts too large a vision and circles to cross its own wake it becomes a danger to itself. A lot of people will be lost by what seems like a lack of direction, when, in fact, the zig zag and the circle are unavoidable. The people may not intentionally leave the group, usually they flounder until they drown because the direction of the wake is indiscernible. Others will leave out of frustration, how can they get to the narrow if they can't figure out which direction the narrow went?

Flip The Wake
I have had the distinct impression over the last few months that I am not called to lead. I am called to facilitate the potential of the people who God has placed in my life. My wake is too small to contain that because the potential of these people is much greater than mine. So, here's how this is translating in my life. I have to flip the wake. I can never do what God has called me to do if I insist on being in front. In fact, my position has shifted completely. When the flag drops there are a whole lot of people that move before I do. If you are looking for me, I'll be somewhere in the middle, "backing up" the potential.

My wake becomes a significant part of the process of development because I cease to be as dangerous when I don't have to have the power to stay in front. My wake is easy, my turbulence is light (sounds kind of like what Jesus said, huh?)

Do I lead? Yes, but not from the front of "the people" but from the heart. People are not and should never feel like they have to compete to exist in the narrow place behind my leadership. I am "the people" and so I don't feel compelled to push my way to the front. On the contrary, my wake is flipped and I follow in the path of the vision and the potential of those who God has blessed me to be a part of. Now we move in concert and in an unleashed potential.

When I cast the vision now, I don't cast it backward, into my own wake, because it's not about me. I cast it forward and out, where the potential is, and we don't have to go around in circles to try to catch it, because it lands where the potential is already working and the ones in front can respond and continue to move forward.

Everybody can continue to look forward. The vision cast sets the course, not the other way around. This is the whole point of vision and unleashes the power of God's creative Spirit to direct the church. The dictation has changed from my plan and my leader-ship, to His plan and purpose.

Wake boarders? Oh, yeah, they are necessary for the continued creativity and risk that is involved in changing the world. There have to be those that work above the wake in the widest areas. They are still tethered to the facilitator, the difference? They ride in the wake of potential, out front, where they can do the most good, where there is less traffic.

I've been a wake boarder most of my life, because of this I know that these people can do tremendous things for the kingdom, but they do it at great peril of completely running away from everything, so we'll keep them tethered for a while, on a long rope, not just to keep them safe, but to keep pulling us further, out to where the water meets the sky.

2009. Armando Heredia

Armando serves as co-pastor of Tapestry in Granite City, IL and is an artist and author.


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