In January of 2007, I assumed the role of Lead Pastor at Pantano Christian Church. In preparation for the transition, my wife and I attended a rigorous intensive leadership assessment and development event. It was an intense three days.
When we arrived at the bed and breakfast, the team wasted no time and jumped in. They quickly drilled down to some issues. They gave me a label that was very helpful – “stormtrooper.” I actually liked it! I’m a take-charge kind of guy. I want to take the hill. The mission is all-important. I love challenges and risks. We all agreed that the label was accurate. But they also said the label was not complete. There was something missing. That something hurt my ability to lead well.
What was the missing piece? My guides started to give me direction. One of the guides talked about what he called “leader’s disease.” He suggested that the root of the dangerous disease of leaders is position, power and blind self-confidence. He referred to Mark 8:33 when Peter rebuked Jesus who suggested that spiritual victory would come through perceived “weakness” found in suffering and death. Jesus makes it clear that Peter did not have God’s interests, but man’s interests as foremost.
The first day they asked me to write a cohesive and comprehensive model of leadership heavily dependent on biblical elements. I spent hours that night, after everyone else went to bed, reflecting and searching the New Testament again about leadership. I began to notice some patterns that I had somehow missed. Then it hit me hard. The part I was missing was the brokenness piece. I saw it over and over in the Bible. I saw it in Jesus and in Paul. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:3 – “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” Again in 2 Corinthians 12:9, he said; “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.” You never hear leaders to that! God’s powerful and effective leaders were broken folks.
I made a list of the words that the New Testament leaders (particularly Paul) used in a leadership context. The list contained: humbled, broken, nothing, weak, inadequate, foolish, lowly, “not”, not equal to task, suffering, persecution, hard work, tears. This was not how I had lived out leadership or even my personhood.
Like most leaders, I want to control life. I’ve been hurt and wounded (some of us will do anything to not admit that). As an Enneagram 8, I don’t want anyone to control me. Control is a way to deal with and protect ourselves from pain. We choose different means of control – self-medicating, running over people, using anger, and staying busy – a million ways. That control becomes our identity, but it doesn’t work. And our leadership is diminished.
As I sat there in the dark of night at the bed and breakfast, I realized I had to confess that I have resisted being broken all my life. I liked being independent and self-sufficient. I was a stormtrooper after all. I had resisted being broken by God. I had been unwilling to admit that I’m weak at times. I compensated by being strong, impervious, competent. That last one – competence – that was my firm foundation. I made sure no one would ever call me incompetent, which for me was the ultimate sign of weakness!
So the label “stormtrooper” was accurate of the get-it-done leader that God had created me to be. I’m addicted to results and love tasks. While I was admired, I didn’t allow others to love me. Ouch! Some good friends over the years had tried to say that to me, but I didn’t get it. I probably even assumed that God admired me – but had I let him really love me? I had left God out of the deepest parts of my heart where there is real pain and aloneness. That’s the way stormtroopers are, you know.
That day I began a new journey. It’s a journey that is never finished. It is a journey that allows Jesus to be with me in my weakness, inadequacy, and brokenness that moves me toward interdependence.
But what really hit me was what Brennan Manning said in Abba’s Child – “The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi.” That’s the whole goal of life – to be like Jesus. Maybe the greatest tragedy in life is not dying before we die. Without a broken heart, we miss the real power of God that changes us and make us really useful to advance his kingdom. It is only through a broken heart that God can and will reveal his character and power. That was missing in my life and leadership.
The team at the bed and breakfast decided I was in fact ready for a new title – “wounded stormtrooper.” I’m still a stormtrooper. But I don’t fight hiding the wounds like I once did. I don’t mind leaning on others who fill my missing pieces in leadership. More and more, I like being a limping stormtrooper. There are even times when I’m a tearful stormtrooper.
Broken leaders can understand the pain of others and connect in powerful ways. Limping leaders need others and create an environment for real collaboration. Broken leaders become fertile ground for true discipleship (learners) as God can shape and form them as pliable clay. Yet, they still lead and with others take the hill. I’ve discovered that others really like following a wounded stormtrooper.
I continue to learn that leaders are relational influencers. We influence not by taking the hill but by leading others to take the hill through transparent, vulnerable relationships. Amazing collaboration can’t happen without authentic connections with the team. Leaders will never really empower and free others on the team to soar if they live in independence and on their strength alone.
Great leaders are broken. Yet, I’ve come to see over and over again that strong leaders, like me, fight brokenness. To be broken just feels like weakness and thus failure as a leader. But “broken” and “leader” are not antithetical concepts in leadership. They are not only complementary, they are essential partners. Jesus needs wounded stormtroopers to join him, the consummate wounded stormtrooper, to bring the kingdom that is in heaven to earth.
Here is my astonishing conclusion: I must do what I cannot do with what I don’t have for the rest of my life. How? Trust in God and others. Identity, significance, position, recognition, competence, and success can actually block what God can do through me. When I remain strong, ministry becomes as small as I am. When I am weak and broken, ministry can be as big as God is.