Remember the sport of curling from the Winter Olympics? Curling is the game from northern climates in which players slide polished granite stones with handles across a sheet of ice toward a target area. As the stone slowly moves across the surface, teammates furiously sweep the ice with brooms in order to influence the speed and direction of the stone. A talented and vigorous sweeper with a good eye can influence the trajectory of the stone by several degrees and can significantly affect the distance and accuracy toward the target.
I grew up in south Texas and I’ve never seen a curling competition in real life, so I feel like I’m skating on thin ice (excuse the pun!) to use the game as a metaphor for congregational leadership. However, I recently heard a US Army General do precisely this. He was speaking about leadership development in the military when he made the point that leadership is activity and involves actually moving an organization in a direction. Then he said that the leader of an organization is like the sweeper in curling, not the thrower. The leader is not the one who supplies all the energy and motivation; instead the leader influences the pathway and keeps the organization moving toward the target.
There’s something attractive to me about this description. Imagine viewing your role as pastor, congregational leader, or bible study teacher as addressing the challenge. How do we release the talent, energy, and contribution of more people for ministry? How do we make the path toward Christ, spiritual growth, and toward serving a smoother one? How do we help people increase their chances of hitting the target they’re already aiming for, a target of deeper life in Christ and more meaningful service in the world?
Such a view rests on the assumption that people desire to explore the spiritual life, that they want to serve Christ, and that learning to love and serve is a central and compelling motivation. Curiosity and delight propel us toward the riches of God’s grace. Christ offers a way of life that is irresistibly appealing and life-giving as we learn more about it. And the spiritual leader works vigorously, faithfully sweeping the path so that people more likely find the target.
I realize all metaphors have their limits, but before you cast this one aside, think about how it resonates with the words John the Baptist used to describe his purpose: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth….” (Luke 3: 4-5)
Prepare God’s arrival among and prepare our way to God by smoothing out all the ditches and bumps and detours and ruts so that everyone finds a way to God and to the life God intends us to live.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. By the way, the Lewis Center for Church Leadership recently interviewed me about Five Practices of Fruitful Living, as well as offered a book review. Check out those links for more information about the latest book.