Leading from the right seat

The past few weeks have provided many opportunities for me to interact with leaders of the United Methodist Church at virtually all levels – local congregation, conference, and denomination. And through all of those meetings, I find my influence and enthusiasm spanning a wide range – from a great deal, to just a little, to seemingly none at all. It feels a little like riding in the right seat of a car – or a small plane.

You know what I mean. The person who rides in the right front seat isn’t really in charge. I’ve ridden in both seats of a car, and in my years flying small planes I’ve been in both seats there. Certainly the driver / pilot who sits on the left is the main leader who determines how the car / plane gets to its destination. The person on the right can help, even providing important directions and insight – IF the leader on the left is open to that. You know – “turn left at the light”. Or “watch out for that car pulling out!” Or “I see the airport over there.” The people riding in back may help too, but they aren’t in as good a position to provide as much help. They’re depending upon the leaders up front to get them safely where they’re going.

Leadership in the church is a little like that. The pastors / clergy leaders are like the drivers / pilots who sit on the left, steering the vehicles. Their leadership is vital to the success of the trip. Laity who serve in leadership may be in the right seat. Up front, with some influence, but really dependent upon the receptivity of the leader on the left to ask for and receive help. Just like the car or plane, the trip goes best when the leaders on the left and the right (clergy and laity) are working together, supporting each other.

The meetings I mentioned earlier left me with a sense that God IS doing something new through the United Methodist Church – congregations, our Missouri conference, and maybe the whole denomination. I saw it at Conference Mission Council, the annual meeting of the denomination’s Conference Lay Leaders, and a special denomination “Financial Leadership Forum” with bishops, conference lay leaders, finance officers, and connectional ministry directors. All three meetings left me feeling optimistic about our conference under the able leadership of Bishop Schnase (in the left seat). In all those, I’ve felt that my voice from the “right seat” was welcomed and helpful.

Then I returned to my home church. The congregation had its HCI consultation weekend, and now people are working through their reactions. They’ll be voting on the prescriptions soon. Many of you have been in that situation of uncertainty (or are now). Our pastor is providing leadership to steer the congregation toward understanding God’s outwardfocused mission, which will require changes. Some of those changes may be uncomfortable. I hear of anxiety about the HCI prescriptions and the uncertain future they create. Of course, we know that the future without some kind of revitalization is more of the same – comfort, familiarity, and some help for people. But gradual decline. I hope and pray that the leaders and people in all our congregations going through consultations will embrace the outreaching mission God has for them, risking uncertainty and change to move into the future with hope and God’s Spirit.

Many of you have experienced the mixed feelings of your congregations as you seek to lead from the right seat, concerned but unable to steer the vehicle yourself. Change can be traumatic. As lay leaders we sometimes feel more like voices in the back, competing with others in the vehicle who believe their way is better. I hope and pray that the congregation’s leaders who sit in the right seats up front will prayerfully consider the mission God has for the church in their community. I pray that they will work together with their pastor in helping the congregation get to where it needs to be in reaching people. Hebrews 12:1-2 is especially helpful in remembering to “run with perseverance . . .” keeping “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . . .”

So – Lay Leaders and all laity in leadership positions: Let’s recognize the vital importance of our roles in leading from the right seat, encouraging and helping our pastoral leaders as together we embrace the mission God has given – to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And let’s keep at it to bring those we lead to the destination: the kingdom of God alive and making a difference in our communities, our state, our nation, even our world.

THANKS again for your leadership!

Brian Hammons, Mo. Conference Lay Leader