If you’re a sadist and enjoy seeing someone squirm with discomfort, I invite you to watch me suffer through a business meeting. In such a setting, one discovers I take on the desperate actions of a fish snatched out of the sea.
Flailing around, eyes bulging with panic, praying for a return to the deep blue or a quick and painless death. When discussing budgets, finances, and anything involving numbers, a prolonged excruciating demise for me is preferable.
Now, I want to tell you that other types of meetings are different.
I want to tell you I receive a healthy dose of self and vocational worth when discussing church attendance, the number of new member prospects, and outreach opportunities.
I want to tell you my disdain for meetings rest on Robert and his intolerable rules of order.
But the truth is I harbor ill feelings toward most meetings because of the expectations lauded upon me in such spaces. My designated roles and title conjures specific, shall we say, projected suppositions that leave me spiraling into a Lovecraftian abyss.
Those like Lead or Senior pastor. And God help me, the pretentious moniker Executive pastor. I find each a shallow descriptor pulled from corporate jargon.
I thought I walked willfully away from such lingo when I departed the manufacturing world over a decade ago, blissfully erecting a headstone over the dogma of all things Six Sigma. However, I have yet to bury the burdensome perception that I’m a little more than a religious office manager.
I admit, this isn’t all that surprising of a revelation. One needn’t look far to discover countless faith-based leadership books and programs pandering to churches looking to embody a very Wall Street concept of “bigger, stronger, faster” success.
Hell, even the current seminary experience offers a “lead or get out of the way” concentration track tacked on to its Master of Divinity degree. This has produced a modern ministry model that inevitably demands a pastor to operate more as a CEO than a system-challenging prophet.
In this office, one is continuously asked to manage and address a specific query. What’s your plan for us? What’s your vision for this church?
Since arriving at my new call, I’ve bobbed and weaved around this question with the grace of Muhammad Ali. So far, I’ve worked my way off the ropes by stating, “It would be a little pompous of me to believe I know what’s best for this community when I’m still getting to know it.” This sting would allow me to float away to fight again another day, but a retorting jab only works for so long.
There finally comes a time when the question must be answered. As I approached the end of my first year there, I thought of the concept of vision. As I did, I decided to reacquaint myself with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. He minces no words when dealing with most leaders’ supposed visions.
“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly,” he writes.
The martyred German’s words are with me as I grab a chair at a recent diaconate meeting. On cue, a board member tosses this loaded question at me again. With all the honesty, humbleness, and sincerity I can muster for an evening meeting, I deliver, “I don’t have a vision for you.”
There’s a pause, and all air goes out of the room. Eyes dart, making contact with one another before glancing down at shoes. I lean back and take a deep breath before continuing.
“I don’t have a vision because what will happen at this church isn’t up to me. It’s up to you all. You have to remember, I’m a Baptist minister. I can’t even vote at any of our meetings.
In fact, I’d argue I have the least amount of power in this church. My voice and opinion have a soft influence, but even that feels contrived.
I don’t want to influence or coerce you. I don’t want you to think like I think or believe what I believe. At best, my words and actions, I hope, inspire you to consider an alternative way of living out your faith.
My call is to point out multiple visions, possibilities, and paths you can choose to journey down. I can’t make these decisions for you, but I’ll be there as you and this community try to answer them.
I’m not your boss, I don’t have an agenda, and I certainly don’t hold all the answers. My presence is best used walking beside you, not in front or behind you. Not pushing you, or worse, dragging you across a line I determine is admirable.
I don’t have the energy to impose my will, and my shoulders aren’t looking to hold anything up alone. If changes occur, if there’s a vision to be had, it will be because of what the congregation decides, not me.”
A mighty wind sweeps through the room, and I can breathe again. I imagine my answer to this group differs from what Dale Carnegie would have delivered. Would Simon Sinek or Rick Warren say something similar? I doubt it.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s not a bad thing. There may need to be an anti-leadership TED Talk in the near future.
That’s a meeting I might consider sitting through.
Senior pastor of Second Baptist Church, Suffield, Connecticut. Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, baking and amateur gardening, most of his time is spent with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. Opinions and reflections are his own.