Have you ever noticed that those who help you the most in life are those who never really intend to help you? In fact, those helpful souls are rarely even aware of their helpfulness to you even when they are in the very act of
helping. I find that to be interesting and relevant to being a ministry leader or leader in general. If you have ever been “taken on” as a project and yet the one trying to help you seemed to make things even more difficult, you can clearly understand just how damaging that can be and the importance of not treating others this way. In our role as ministry leaders, we have to learn to become intentionally unintentional.
I recently read Eugene Peterson’s book, “Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity”, and he makes a great point about how ministry leaders are not encouraged to work this way. He states, “by the very nature (obscure, everyday, low profile, non-crisis) this is the work for which pastors need the most encouragement if we are to keep it at the center of our awareness and practice. It is in fact the work for which we get the least encouragement, for it is always being pushed to the sidelines by the hustling, career development mentality of our peers and the hurrying, stimulus-hunger demands of our parishioners.” It is amazing to me how relevant this 1987 book is to ministry leaders/pastors today.
As I read these words, I can’t help but think there are many leaders in ministry, business, and politics alike that could learn from this lesson in leadership intent. The bible says in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers…” And it is certainly easier to tell others what to do (guide) than to be with them in real relationship, encouraging them as they work it out (father).
It is easier to look for sin than to look for grace.
Here are four ways we can be more intentionally unintentional:
- Don’t treat people as projects. You can never forget how degrading and damaging it can be to have someone attempt to “fix” you. It starts with the assumption that you, as the helper, have it all together and it comes across as very condescending. People are common in a few areas: we all want to have a sense of belonging; we all want to be loved; and, we all want to feel we have value. When we take on a person as a “project”, we immediately take those basic things away and usually do more damage than good with our intentions of helping.
- Don’t have an agenda. I know that goes against most leadership teachings, but when it comes to helping others become all they can be, we must be more of a “father” and less of a “guide”. Many folks have tried to help me in my spiritual journey and have created obstacles that took years to get through or around. I think this occurred largely due to their pre-determined agenda as they attempted to help me grow. I’m not saying that all planning and agendas are bad, but I am saying that to go into a situation of helping someone, a real leader seeks first to understand, then be understood. Find out their agenda before having your own, and be open to different approaches.
- Don’t assume you know everything. You may not know what the other person needs, and even if you do know what they need, don’t assume you know how they will best receive it. Just because you’ve dealt with the same issue before doesn’t mean that you are dealing with the same person dealing with that issue. No two relationships are exactly the same, but all relationships have the potential to help or hurt.
- Don’t think you must be in a formal situation to help others. If your intent is to really help, then you will listen first before attempting to help. I think that is why we must be intentionally unintentional. If we feel we are supposed to help someone, there is pressure for us to come through for them. If we don’t assume that false responsibility, it seems easier to befriend and actually help them. When you are in line at the grocery store, or at work, or just about anywhere, there are opportunities to “lead”, but we must be intentional about these unintentional leadership situations if we want to be a real leader.
Proverbs 16:18 (ESV) “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Every day you and I are in situations where we can help others grow and become more of what God created them to be…if we are not concerned with who gets the credit. Many times, if we are honest, we like the recognition of helping others more than actually helping others in obscurity.