Learning, Unlearning and Relearning

The view from our hotel during our “are we really doing this?” tour of Dublin in 2011.

When I first began thinking that a move to Ireland could be in our future, I sat down to write a list of why Elizabeth and I were unlikely people to move to Dublin and start churches.

I didn’t get to far into that exercise before I began to realise that my basic assumption was wrong. Not that we are anything special, but because we certain had backgrounds and experiences, it seemed that perhaps this did make some sense.

For example:

  • Although we have not been part of the Catholic church since before we were teens, Liz and I were both raised in the Catholic church and would have a similar religious background to many people in Ireland.
  • Liz actually has Irish citizenship. Without it, getting into this country long-term is nearly impossible.
  • Liz grew up in a large extended Irish family. Her parents and most people of that generation had grown up in Ireland and so she had a grasp on those dynamics.
  • Unlike most European countries, I actually speak the language.
  • We have spent the vast majority of our adult lives in cross-cultural ministry settings…

So you get the idea.  And while not everything with God has to make perfect sense from our point of view, it does seem that he often builds upon our experiences and gifts rather than sending us to do something for which we have zero background.

From a “who we are” perspective, this was helpful and encouraging.

At the same time, our last few of years in Ithaca were challenging and I had seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. And while there was a lot of good stuff that was accomplished while we were there, in moving here, there was a lot I wanted to see happen differently.

So between coming through a difficult three-year period, and wanting to do something different from what we’d done before, I  imagined that I would need to become a very different leader than I had been. At times I imagined I’d need to stop doing all of the things I was good at, and learn to do a number of things I had never been good at.

But over the past year, a couple of conversations made a huge impact.

I was talking to a spiritual director and mentioned that one of the things God had been working on in me on over the past few years was being less reactive. I shared how in the past something would go wrong and I’d jump into ‘control-freak’ mode and take charge.

He gave me an odd look and then questioned my use of the phrase ‘control freak’.

He sketched a picture of what Liz and I went through during our first two years in Ireland. Then pointed out that to be able to plan, strategize and make new connections in the midst of that was a good thing.

He said that taking such a tight grip on a situation that we wrestle control from God isn’t healthy, but, using gifts and talents he has given us, should be celebrated, and not be spoken of in a derogatory way.

A short time later, I was in a coaching meeting looking at the topic of discipleship and leadership. We each were asked where we were most comfortable leading. For me, that was easy. I am an L4 leader…I love to find people who are passionate about something at set them free to do it. (In case you want a bit more on what an L4 leader is, this post is well done.)

After that we talked about the “shadow side” of each style of leadership. For the L4 leader, while  it’s great that you are willing to release people to minister, there can be a tendency to not spend time with them. Our coach summarised this problem with the phrase, “Jesus said he’ll always be with you…so I don’t have to.”

That is something that I struggle with for numerous reasons. Among them; 1) I think if I’m contacting people I’m bothering them. 2) I like to be left alone when doing a task and not have someone looking over my shoulder, so I figure everyone is like that. 3) Or sometimes it’s just too much effort and I don’t feel like doing it.

There are other reasons too, but none of them are good…they are just excuses.

Being able to release people to do what they are gifted to do is a good thing. I can keep doing that, but in a healthier way.

There was a part of me that moved to Dublin thinking “I need to  learn brand new ways of leading.”  That was overwhelming. To think of spending all of your time working in areas where you feel weak, doing things don’t come naturally…that can be a bit exhausting.

But in these conversation, what I hit me was I didn’t need to reinvent myself, and act as though everything God had done in me in the past was somehow ‘bad’ or wasted. What I needed was to find ways to use the gifts and talents he’s already given me in healthy ways.

Reinventing yourself sounds more exciting…but doing the hard work of wrestling with those areas that God wants to strengthen are where real fruit is found.

Where is an area in your life where you could learn a healthier way of working?

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