Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shavon Starling-Louis is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
by Shavon Starling-Louis
“Oh crap!” “I can’t believe I got myself into this situation. (…. Again.)” “I can’t do this!”
Those are the words that I hear from the bell tower of my mind when the reality of my f– ahem…. flub-ups hit me like a ton of bricks.
Here’s a truth about me.
And when I do, I often feel like poop.
I don’t often share this sentiment so bluntly with others, but there it is – in black and white no less. On a regular basis we as leaders of faith communities find ourselves lonely, embarrassed, confused, and suffering in bad head and spiritual spaces in light of our fragility and failures.
In the church (and the wider society), we have a stigma around failing.
In the PC(USA), we have a tendency to call leaders who are the best of the best. While this is generally considered a good thing, this way of thinking about leadership means we can lose the creative and spirit-led openness to new types of leaders and leadership. The “best of the best” often equates to the safest of the safe.
But the other problem is that we, as leaders, internalize the pressure to be the “best of the best.” Which means we feel a pressure to perform and assimilate to expected norms of what the best looks like, acts like, leads like.
(Sidenote: As a creative, young woman of color, the unspoken yet acclaimed “best of the best” in the PC(USA) rarely looks, acts, or leads anything like me, and that can feels crappy!)
We can lose or minimize the God-given unique combinations of interest, talents, and gifts that make us who we are because we aren’t the best in certain areas.
We can feel like imposters, failures, and frauds. Everything but the sons and daughters of God.
It’s a reality that a part of being growing creative people means that we will fail – especially when we try new things.
Unfortunately, the reality that we can strangely attempt to avoid or hide. And it’s a reality that can quickly turn from guilt to shame.
Thankfully, we have the theological terminology to name the reality that that “all fallen short.” Through the words and wisdom of our reformed tradition, we can name that are we are all guilty; we all fail. And we can confess in our words and actions that it is only by God’s grace that were are able to move forward as forgiven people.
But the stench of guilt and shame for things done and things left undone as we lead others has the ability to stick to us. Yet, as seen over and over, the stench often dissipates when allowed to come to air and light, love, and compassion.
And in the greater mysteries of God the very situations that once made us say “Crap!” are where we discover the grace and power of God in new and exciting ways.
I am so grateful that as the body of Christ, we are empowered to wade into any place of fear or anxiety compassionately together with hope.
You are invited to join me and my friend Glen Bell at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering for an open conversation about leading change, embracing failure, and naming the gifts of Holy Spirit that arise.
Shavon Starling-Louis is co-pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Glen Bell is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. In spite of failures and falls (literally and figuratively), they are committed to developing their gifts in leading change with God’s help – but sure enough, they are as human as they come. Shavon and Glen’s workshop, “Leading Change: Epic Fails and Spirit Surprises“, is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday.