Some periods in life seem to be filled with important lessons, and my last few weeks have been a reminder that we are never too old to learn new lessons (or at least be reminded of ones that we should already know). One of my recent commitments is to listen more carefully to my life and be more in tune with what is going on around me. As a result, the lessons that have come my direction have been rich.
Being extended grace is one of life’s biggest blessings
Recently, I found myself in a situation in which there was no good solution – either decision I made could end up offending someone and being costly. Finally, after several days of trying to discern the best way forward, I made a decision which involved placing a potentially difficult phone call. While I could have received harsh words and a cold and scolding tone, instead I was treated kindly and given understanding and gentle words.
Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re right
A few weeks back when the “Amen” of the benediction was still ringing throughout the worship space, a woman approached me with the dreaded words, “I just need to offer some constructive critique.” She continued, “We just can’t do this anymore. We can’t sing during communion again. It’s impossible to hear ‘the body of Christ,’ and ‘the blood of Christ shed for you’ with all that singing going on.”
While a part of me wanted to galvanize my position and sing during communion in a couple of weeks when we observed communion again, I eventually decided that holding onto my position in spite of her strong feelings would never help her to be more open to new ways of imagining communion music. So, last Sunday at communion we went all acoustic with just a couple of guitars playing and a viola.
While either way described above is completely acceptable, when misunderstood, either could also be wrong. Hopefully, through showing a fuller gamut of what is possible, we can continue to expand the scope of how we celebrate communion.
Allowing someone to give you advice is rarely a bad thing
A couple of days ago, a well-meaning congregant sent me a list of twenty songs/hymns that he suggested that we sing more regularly in our congregation. While a number of his recommendations have been sung in the last few months, for a wide range of reasons, most of them are not songs that our congregation sings very often. However, his taking the time to compile the list is a strong statement regarding his concern for our congregation’s worship and his love for congregational singing — qualities things that I, too, value.
While it would have been easy to have been annoyed by his sending the list partly because a number of the songs had been sung recently and because some of them are purposefully ignored for other reasons, his list was a reminder that others in our congregation likely also have their top twenty lists that they too, would like to sing more often.
Including everyone’s favorite songs in worship is neither possible nor is it a goal that should be attempted, yet there is a pastoral concern that must also not be diminished in the quest to both enliven the past and create spaces for ever-increasing newer congregational songs. Albeit our first thought is often to cast off uninvited advice as useless and offensive, receiving input from others nearly always benefits us in the long run.
Showing people you care goes a long way
In my work with the men of the Baylor Men’s Choir, our expectations are specific – most events are required and being excused for an event is not automatic. A few weeks back on our fall retreat, five guys (out of 104) didn’t show up for the retreat with no prior discussion of an extenuating circumstance.
Rather than ignore their absences, automatically penalize their grades, or make assumptions about their absences, I decided to make an appointment with each of them and hear their stories. What I found were freshmen guys who were struggling with significant challenges – homesickness, dysfunctional families, time management gone awry, moral issues, depression, and more.
Once I spent time with each of them and with their permission referred some of them to other campus assistance, none of these guys have missed another event or been absent from class. I’m reminded that showing someone we care often gives them the extra boost that they need to make important first steps.
Life is full of compromises and they are not as costly as we might first perceive
In working with a student leadership group on our campus, I recently received some significant push back from a couple of leaders on the team regarding a decision that I had made. Each of the students met with me and respectfully asked questions and pointed out places where their experiences and beliefs differed. The discussions that followed were thoughtful and productive. While many of my colleagues and peers would have viewed my original position as correct and valid, contextually, I was no longer convinced.
As a result of these conversations and the well-meaning way in which they were carried out, I became convinced that I needed to move the group in a different direction. When I announced my decision earlier this week, it was greeted with quiet respect. What might have appeared to be a costly decision for me actually resulted in my gaining deeper respect from the leadership team. My decision to compromise and show direct respect for their perspectives resulted in a win/win decision — always more significant than a potentially strained compromise.
Leadership is an art. We are always practicing and refining it. Whereas leadership requires the ability to make decisions and sometimes stick to hard choices, it also requires agility and flexibility. Continually listening to others and making decisions based on the broadest input that is available can help us avoid serious mistakes in the long run.
Do you have any lessons you’ve relearned? Please share them in the comments section below.