Two years ago I boarded a flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg with my wife of 13 years and my then 5 year old daughter. Nearly all of our earthly possessions were loaded into the cargo hold in 7 jam packed, well worn suitcases. That day our little family began the adventure of a lifetime. Sure moving 10,000 miles from home was an adventure, but the real thrill was the mission we felt compelled to give this chunk of our lives to. We were going to start a community.
There are lots of different kinds of communities. Ours is a group of Jesus followers who give our lives to developing others to lead families, churches, organizations and businesses in the way of Christ. Like most people, we had been part of different communities before – churches, the Army, families, colleagues, teams – you get the picture. But we envisioned that this would be a community like nothing we had experienced before. This would be a community that really loved people. This would be a community that resisted the natural drift to devolve into mere institution. This would be a community that would require a different sort of leadership.
Leading a true community is an enormous challenge. The significant obstacle for me was the lack of genuine examples or experiences either living in or leading communities. I had led teams, organizations, platoons, groups but in each of these cases the focus of my efforts primarily centered on the survival of the institution or the accomplishment of the mission. Never had I led in a context where I could truly say that the people in the community were the true objects of my efforts, thoughts, motivations and outcomes.
Fast forward two years and we are living out this dream of living in and leading a community. We haven’t “figured it out” yet and I’m not sure that we ever will. We are learning and growing both in our understanding of what community really is and what it personally costs to really live life alongside others.
The Army taught me that there are three areas where leaders must be competent: Be, Know and Do. Put another way leaders must have character, possess knowledge and also actually be capable of getting things done. In the last two years I learned the supreme importance of character. In my context I live my life in a very transparent environment. The people I shepherd are regularly in my home sharing meals, and countless conversations. They know my family and I know theirs. We work together, play together, worship together and serve together. In this sort of environment there is nowhere to hide. There is no opportunity for a double life. I think if you asked them my friends in our community could and would tell you my strengths, weaknesses, joys and sorrows. When I am unkind, unloving, impatient or unforgiving they know it and they very often help get me back on the right path. I do the same for them. When I succeed and do things well they smile and encourage me. When you lead in community you can’t pretend. You can’t hide. Who you are is who you are and everyone knows it.
I am both blessed and challenged in this reality. And I’m grateful for a place in leadership where I am really known and loved anyway. I’m praying that I’ll be known in even more depth in 2014 and that my ability to lead well will be a reflection of becoming more like the King I follow – my Lord Jesus, the Creator who put on flesh and came to live among us so that we might know him fully even as we are fully known.