Who are the right people to build around?
What potential leaders have “the right stuff” and what informs your assessment of what makes for “right stuff” in the first place?
The world I serve in has had a nice strategic sounding phrase that has succinctly defined much of the leadership selection mindset as well as some of the general ministry philosophy in the history of our ministry. That phrase is “Move with the movers.”
Move with the movers. Influence the influencers. Win the winners. Align the aligners. Lead the leaders…and you get the picture.
I don’t think such a commitment to the movers and influencers is a bad thing because everyone needs Jesus and it is important to be strategic about mobilizing people with capacity to shape culture. But doing college ministry (or any other kind) where you primarily relate to a certain class of people with certain capacities can impact whether or not we see the broader formational consequences of putting so much emphasis on who we see as the movers and shakers. Strategic thinking is important and well…strategic, but what happens when one day we wake up and realize that we’ve built our entire philosophy of leadership or ministry around who we see as the beautiful people?
I’ve done college ministry at a church, I’ve served at an Ivy League level university, and I’ve worked in organizational leadership capacities in different ways. I know what it’s like to want to build Sunday morning or a weekly meeting or a conference around people who will draw people in, who will impress, and essentially who are….”cool.” Conventional wisdom is to get the coolest, most popular, and most impressive people to draw in others “strategically” all the while subconsciously communicating in some way that this is the picture of who we think we are or who what we want to be like.
Athletes? Fraternity men? Sorority women? Wealthy? Charismatic? Funny? Tall? Well Dressed? Powerful? All can represent “Above” and tap into people’s subconscious desires to elevate their own sense of worth and significance through association. Is it wrong to “target” or focus on such people? Not necessarily. But how often do we even think about it? Has it ever crossed our minds that “coolness” is a power and status endorsed label for what’s desirable and ideal? It comes back to the question of how do we assess who has the “right stuff” to build around and platform as representative of who you’re called to be as a community and what you’re called to as a community.
I liked this tongue in cheek thought from Pastor Jonathan Martin in his recently published book Prototype:
“I wish Jesus had read Jim Collins’s Good to Great so He could have gotten the right people on the bus and then the right people in the right seats on the bus. At the very least, He should have run the Myers-Briggs profile on them to ensure that everyone had the right gift mix and He wasn’t accidentally putting an ESTJ together with an INFP and causing a personality conflict.”
I have a strategic orientation. It’s one of my strengthfinders themes so I can get with the right people on the bus philosophy. I still think it holds. It may be more of a question of what kind of bus we’re all on so we understand who the right people really are. Though the bus analogy may get old, think about this. If all the “right people on the bus” look a certain way, are impressive in the same ways, or are at a certain “status” or “above” then one of the realities will be that in no time at all there’s going to be a lot of people who look at the bus and realize that there’s either no room on that bus for them or worse, believe that they aren’t enough in who they are to be on the bus in the first place. And maybe the “right people in the right seats” is more a reflection of what’s most comfortable for leaders and those with power than a true reflection of who should be sitting where (Luke 12:12-14).
So winning winners and moving with movers ends up reproducing winners and movers who in turn move with more movers and win more winners. Sounds strategic right? What’s the problem?
Most of us aren’t winners. Not that most people are losers. But most of us aren’t winners in the sense that we can’t be the package of charisma, ideal physical presence, looks, and whatever other status builders exist today. Sometimes it’s social limitations, sometimes it’s marginalization based on gender, sometimes it’s marginalization based on ethnicity, sometimes it’s financial, and sometimes it’s character or life capacity – frankly few people can consistently claim they aren’t a mess in one way or another.
Jonathan Martin finishes his “Good to Great” thought saying,
Yet is seems as if everywhere Jesus went, the same people show up: those who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do. In the Gospels, Jesus is called to be the light of the world. Apparently, whores and thieves and the sick and demon-possessed are the moths He attracts.”
–Prototype, page 69
Why did these people flock to Jesus? The Scriptures are clear that there wasn’t “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isaiah 53:2) The light of the world evoked this response from Simon Peter when asked if he would leave others after a hard teaching, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
They didn’t follow Jesus because he had “the right stuff” but because they saw the source of life, the power of God, and the fulfillment of Scripture clearly in Jesus and the community He was mobilizing and shaping. When I think about the calling of the disciples I think of the great line from the movie Armaggedon when the trained and polished Astronaught played by William Fichtner sees Bruce Willis and his rag tag group of oil drillers and says condescendingly, “Talk about the wrong the stuff!”
I wonder how frequently we make “wrong stuff” assessments or the thoughts come across our minds. I know I’ve been more than guilty over the course of my ministry years. My criteria, while strategic, has often primarily been about what it takes to “grow” and I’ve been slow at points to realize that I’m skipping the questions about what it takes to “be” the type of place where people when asked if they would leave would say, “To whom shall we go?”
The thing about building things around “buzz” and entertainment or beautiful people or “coolness” is that it’s hard to sustain. Do our ministries reflect older celebrities or the many older women I see in this wonderful land of Orange County, California fighting what’s real and what’s authentic in favor of sustaining image and youth through botox and God knows what else in the effort of maintaining status as one of the “beautiful” people? Some ministries and church services seem to be relying on “botox” metaphorically to keep drawing people and “growing” while failing to move deeper into what type of place and community reflects “the light of the world” and “the words of life.” That’s not a call towards just “right doctrine” though it helps to be theologically sound! It’s a call to make sure that the words of Jesus and ministry of the Holy Spirit are concretely displayed in and through community.
It’s a “wrong stuff” judgment of condescension to believe that if you just focus on the cool and beautiful people then “everybody else” will just fall in line. It betrays the fundamental assumption, “Don’t you know that influence is all about power and status?” “Don’t you know that influence is earned through having superficial beauty and majesty to attract people to us?”
If you’ve read this and your thought at this point is, “Well then who am I supposed to have as my emcee at my weekly meeting or youth group?” or “Then how are we going to make our community the place to be?” then you haven’t connected with what I’m getting at. Meetings need capable people to make them work and I’m a fan of gifted people serving out of their gifts and this is a way. The question is about our assumptions about how we see power as a vehicle for achieving ministry results and the impact of that on who we reach and who we don’t reach with our message. It affects who feels welcome and who feels unwelcome…or worse, invisible. Power and status are only assets for the Kingdom through God’s sovereignty and when they are being used in “power-giving” types of ways. Yet we find a lot of ways to justify “strategic” ways to grow our ministries or even “brands” without taking hard and consistent inventory about what we are growing and who we are including or excluding in that process.
Visible and platformed individuals in community contexts can be quite charismatic, but Jesus himself and His mission calls us to at least think about how to ensure that Jesus’ accessibility and significance to the marginalized and powerless is platformed somehow even more so that people experience the light of the world…and also grow in their ability to recognize just what the “right stuff” for the Kingdom really is.
There’s times, because I work almost exclusively with college graduates and highly capable people – leaders, all the time, that when I find myself in other environments I end up with a wake up call that I’ve slowly developed an elitist paradigm of “the right stuff” because I’ve worked so often with “the best of the best” as it relates to skills and motivation. And even within that “class” there is often a more narrow class that is more closely associated with the “ideal.” Those wake up calls are important for me to stay in reality of what it means to be part of a larger, global Church. Kingdom leadership doesn’t get to be defined just by the best and the brightest. That’s what happens time and time again, yet the words and example of Jesus subvert that system every time.
In God’s economy He can make winners losers, and losers winners. So as I dream and envision the future, if there is to be a thriving future of any ministry and especially my own, I believe there will necessarily be greater focus on being people and movements that are both accessible to and powerful sources of life through Christ for those whom power and status has passed by in this world.
Frankly, we’ll have to become a movement that is known for that accessibility and the honoring of those that “coolness” labels the wrong stuff. And maybe we’ll discover what the first century Christians discovered – that maybe the rejects of society, the low status and low “buzz” people can be the ones with “the right stuff” after all when transformed by and infused with the power and love of Christ.
So whether you’ve been viewed as “the wrong stuff” or “the right stuff” in your life (or both!), what are you reproducing in your own leadership and ministry? Are you on a trajectory to only honor and include the beautiful people because it’s the fastest way to relevance and ‘growth?’ Are average men and women, or who you may see as “below average”, afterthoughts in your “strategy?” How do you keep the vision and ethics of the Kingdom and the person of Jesus central to your community when the temptations are there to primarily build around “cool?”
It seems truly a counter cultural perspective that a sign that we are on the right track is perhaps reaching the point that we can celebrate as a community that fact that we “have no beauty or majesty to attract” others to us. But is that too hard too stomach for us? Maybe “dying to self” means dying to “cool” or “image” in ways we are too afraid to face. Because at the end of the day, in our first world church context we seem to rely heavily on power and status for legitimacy – and maybe that’s why some ministries still fail to include others outside their “status” and thus fail to give proper and powerful witness to the One who sent them.
At the end of the day if we’re thinking we need to build around and focus on people with status and power for “growth” then maybe we have to face the hard truth that maybe we ourselves are not the right people to have Kingdom ministry built around.