Mutuality in Leadership

T. S. Eliot wrote a prayer: “Teach us to care and not to care.” I appreciate such candid, honest and real words to describe effective public service leadership. Applying to teachers, care-givers in medical institutions, spiritual guides, pastors and priests, service providers, etc. –to affirm the necessity for some degree of detachment from the service relationship is, quite frankly, refreshing and liberating. We get in trouble when we try to do too much, when we overextend, overfunction, and play God.

We, especially in the church, are burdened by a culture of intervention and control. We over-state our responsibility in “saving” the person from their undesirable, unfortunate situation, whatever it is. We thus create co-dependencies in our caregiving: The pastor has a need to be needed and is even unaware of this need, except feeling very smug and satisfied, taking all the acclaim for successfully intervening and making it better for the one “in need”; on the other hand, the one coming for help relinquishes most if not all responsbility for their own healing: “I felt healthy until the doctor told me I was sick.” (The doctor isn’t the source of your illness!)

In order for any relationship to work, including marriage, mutuality is the key. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Heard that before? What you want from another, you need to give to the other.

I notice that in healthy pastor-congregation relationships, where there is positive growth, where there is evidence of health and joy — usually both parties (pastor AND congregant) have taken some responsbility in building and maintaining that relationship. This is not a one-way street when it comes to positive care-giving. Henri Nouwen famously penned the term “the wounded healer” to describe the healing that occurs mutually between the one supposedly giving and the one supposedly receiving the care.

An important question I pursue in assessing and following through on any situation where some kind of service is requested, is :”What measure of responsibility is the seeker/client willing to give both into the process of their own health and into relationship with the one providing the care (i.e. the leader)?” By addressing the seeker’s willingness to engage personally and claim some degree of resposibility for the relationship of care-giving, I am able to determine often the overall effectiveness that work.

Because in care-giving, the outcome of any work is beyond the control, direction and intervention of any one individual. If anything, healing and
satisfaction come when all parties concerned do their part in the process.

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