In the Beginning

Reflections sparked by Liz Bohannon’s GLS2019 Talk

I hate being a beginner.  I just hate it.  I don’t like not knowing what I am doing, not knowing the people I am doing it with and I really hate knowing I don’t know and being unable to do anything other than depend on others.  Yep!  I really hate asking for help, appearing stupid…maybe some of you resonate with those feelings.  Since emotion drives behaviors, here’s what happens to me when I am forced to be a beginner.  I grow silent, all my senses are on high alert so I can try and learn without having to reveal i don’t know, I listen for the answers to other people’s questions so I don’t have to ask them, and I fake certainty all the while sweating in uncertainty.

According to Liz Bohannon,1 all of that can (and should) be counteracted by choosing to cycle through the magical land of beginners, on purpose.  As I was listening to her, I was resisting.  ON PURPOSE be a beginner…regularly?!  But as she talked about what this provides leaders, I saw her point:  leaders need to be continuous learners who eschew the role of master and embrace the role of novice, consistently.  Why?  This posture mitigates against pride, against ivory tower thinking, against guru-itis (I just made that word up), and fosters curiosity that’s born from knowing you do not know.

The continuously learning, always-a-beginner leader delights in discovery, dreams small so that creativity flows quickly and abundantly and uses their power and privilege to foster everyone’s learning…because they are learning, too.  They are not afraid to ask questions, to hear multiple points of view, to share what they know and ask others to do the same.  These kind of leaders dive out of comfort in the company of others who are uncomfortable as well and in so doing, create environments where trust, innovation, teamwork and creativity flourish.  They create communities where the sacred dance of giving and receiving takes place and they see themselves not as gurus or subject-matter-experts but as inspirerers and equippers.

What does that mean for those of you who are ecclesial leaders?  Well, it means taking Jesus seriously when he said there is but one God, that we are not it, that we should not desire to be called Master or Teacher so much as to be called friend, brother and disciple…learner.  It means eschewing the pride of position or title in favor of a place at the real Master’s feet, where together with other disciples we learn, we inspire, we equip each other for ministry…and we give thanks and praise to the God who called us to this work.  It means being humble enough to say, “I don’t know.”  It means being vulnerable enough to say, “Can you help me?”  It means being honest enough to ask another if they can do something, because you do not know how.  It means learning how to give and to receive.

So maybe visiting the magical land of beginners regularly, on purpose is a good strategy after all!  Have to work on it…how about you?

1 Liz Bohannon.  Beginner’s Pluck:  Build your Life of Purpose and Impact Now.  To be released October 1, 2019



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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.