yesterday i had a great lunch with one of my teammates on our church’s adult ministry leadership team. we were discussing our leadership development plan for the rest of 2003 and 2004 which we are soon presenting to our entire team. during the meeting, i was reminded of lyndon johnson.
this past summer during the 2-3 hours a day i spend commuting between just south of baltimore and northern virginia, i’ve been listening to robert a caro’s wonderfully exhaustive biographies of lyndon johnson – The Path to Power, the Means of Ascent and Master of the Senate. Caro began studying and writing ab lyndon in 1975. and if he takes as long to finish volume 4 of his johnson library as he has spent with the first 3 volumes leading up to johnson’s presidency, he will have spent 4 decades studying and writing about his subject.
i think i will remember this past summer as “the summer of lyndon johnson.”
lyndon johnson, apparently, was a man who – as caro puts it – was not limited in his ascent to power by ideology or ethics! but he was a genius at politics and truly “a master of the Senate.” he was a far stronger senator than president. at the core of his formidable skillset was his ability to read men. he was a consummate strategist and an master salesman. he did not make a lot of speeches. most of his movements were not public ones. he hated reading books. he accomplished much of all that he achieved in the senate – and he achieved quite a bit, especially as a champion of civil rights – in one on one conversations. in the senate cloak room, on the telephone, in his senate office #231, etc.
caro’s interest in lyndon was motivated by his desire to see how government and politics really worked. caro is fascinated by power and wished to study it. in the process, i think he’s illustrated a principle not only for how government change occurs, but since government is nothing more than an aggregate of powerful people (plus rules, laws and tradition), caro has shown us how people-change occurs.
as i’ve listened to now tens of hours of these biographies over the last many weeks, as i’ve listened to how lyndon worked personally with folks to get done what he needed to get done, it’s made me even more convinced that when we think of leadership development we need to think small. ministry programs, leadership structures, development paths – I am convinced – are nothing more than contexts within which the more foundational one-on-one development occurs. and i’m certainly not against these contexts. we need a means of transferring critical information about leadership without – however – relying on the information transfer alone as the primary means of leadership development. we’ve often, i fear, gotten it backwards in leadership development programs (and there are analogies here with spiritual development programs – actually that’s primarily what i’m talking about). mentors and proteges don’t serve the programs, structures, and classes, etc. rather all of these formal structures exist to serve the mentors and proteges. every such formalized entity we develop (leadership hierarchies, leadership workshops, seminars, conferences, reporting structures, reportage modalities, effectiveness criteria tracking etc) only exists as tools for the mentors and proteges to use.
some months ago my lunch mate and i had the chance to meet with our church’s elders to talk about adult education. at that time i suggested to the team that when they thought of what had actually been spiritually transformative in their lives, what they principally thought about was not lectures or books or sermons, but faces and names. what has changed our lives has been people. books and articles and sermons and talks – and the contexts in which they occur – all have a place and are not to be depreciated. but they are not to be regarded, as we’ve said before, as the omnicompetent modality of spiritual transformation. we have to keep the main thing the main thing and those of us with leadership responsibilities in the church have to manage to relationships and not view relationships as being merely serendipitous to spiritual change. relationships are the very engine of spiritual change and we musn’t lose sight of that.
in the short term it will feel slower. it won’t be as dramatic as one person lecturing to 10,000. but in the long term, as we create a culture of leadership that includes as a primary value the critical necessity of constantly pouring our lives into future leaders, growth will become both exponential and holistic.
this is the best chance we have to recapture the past dynamism that Christ’s church has intermittently displayed.
leaders must make leaders and not rely on their institutions to make leaders. the institutions can and should provide contexts and tools. but the work itself is personal and intimate.