Letting the Tension Stand

I learned one of the most important leadership lessons of my life (so far) as a teenager in a youth worship band. For one, when I tried to join our youth band, someone should have suggested that I be tied up with bands rather than trying to join one. That is not my area of gifting. I can “make a joyful noise” (Ps. 98:4) from the crowd without feeling the need to lead in singing or playing of any kind. (It helps that I married a singer).

Nonetheless, there I was worshiping Jesus with a tribal-looking hand drum in a room full of sweaty teenagers. Not only was I bad, but I knew I was bad, which led me to a crisis point where I had to make a decision. See, the reason I was in that position in the first place is because our band didn’t have a drummer. So, I stepped in (because I have hyper-responsibility issues). However, when it came time to face the facts, and either throw myself into mastering this instrument or quit, I talked with my youth pastor about it, and he gave me a leadership principle that I have used to sift through issues ever since: letting the tension stand.

Letting the tension stand is when there is a role that is not being filled, and a person who is not qualified, trained, or gifted for that role enters it to fill the need instead of letting there be a season where that need is unfilled in order to find the right person.

This kind of situation is a tricky one, and it happens often in organizations (especially in the world of ministry). It’s dangerous because, once someone takes a role or gets into a position, it is hard to remove that person without resulting in some kind of hurt or stress. Even though it would cause tension to let the role go unfilled for a season, that season would be much less painful, and would have a much better outcome in the end, than if an unfit person runs to fulfill that role just because there is a need.

In my own life, I have used this principal to temper myself when I see opportunities to serve somewhere. Whenever I am presented with an opportunity, I almost always ask myself, “Is there a person (or a kind of person) who is better equipped to do this than I am?” If so, even if that person has not appeared yet, I will let the opportunity go, because I know that it is better to leave the spot open so when that person does come, it will be ready for them.

The converse of this can be very awkward. Have you ever been in an environment where there were people who were clearly better at something than the person currently doing it? Maybe it was an area of music or teaching or management or sports. The natural result is that the right people won’t get fit into the right spots because someone else is already there. And if those people have character, they won’t be about lobbying for the other person’s position. Usually, what happens in these circumstances, is the people with real potential leave the organization (church, team, etc.) and go start or join another one where they can be used in their areas of gifting. When that happens, the original place starts the declining process, because they are losing, rather than using, talented and gifted people.

In order to master this principle, we have to be mature enough to be okay with tension. We have to be okay with a type of “pruning,” where we go without something good for a season, so that we can have something great later on.

Refresh Your Purpose

I ran across this parable this morning (a parable is a simple story full of symbolism used to make an effective point). It illustrates how organizations–churches included– experience what has been called mission drift. That is:

Organizations tend to move towards complacency over time, rather than urgency.[1]

In the Bible, we see this principle in the book of Revelation when Jesus says to the church at Ephesus:

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5)

The lampstand in Revelation is symbolic of the church’s status as a church. Or simply, their status as light-bearers. So Jesus seems to be saying that the church has become useless because they have forgotten why they exist. If they do not have a revitalization of purpose, they will no longer have the privilege of being called a church. Jesus is not being cruel, but he is holding them to a standard. To be a church should necessarily mean to be an organized group of people who are shining the light of Christ to the world. To call anything less a church would be dishonest and dishonoring to that title.

This principle does not only apply to churches, but I think can be applied to any group or individual with a purpose, whether it is stated or not. I pray every individual, every family, every business, every team, and every church would think about what that purpose is and how it might be threatened by too much comfort, too much past success, and/or complacency.

How might you be drifting towards complacency in your personal life? What about in your church, job, and family? Now might be a good time to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and be honest with yourself and with your team. If you are still alive, you still have purpose. If you are willing, revitalization is possible!

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

[1] Groeschel, Craig. “Institutionalizing Urgency, Part 1.” Life.Church. Accessed May 6, 2016. https://open.church/ideas/159-leadership-podcast-institutionalizing-urgency-part-1.