When I was a young Christian, studying to be a pastor with dreams in my heart of changing the world, I had so much to say. I had theories, I had quotes, I had vision. I was reminded of this recently when I met with a young girl I am beginning to mentor who is also an American serving as a missionary in South Africa. She is just at the beginning of her journey, just landed in this foreign place and filled with ideals and ideas, fears and dreams. I can see myself in her idealized eyes.
Now that I have been serving as a missionary and living in a poor township community in Cape Town, South Africa for 9 years I am beginning to see things differently than I did when my feet first hit African soil. After years of bottled up ideas and tactical plans, I have realized that leadership among the poor is actually something very different than coming to change the world with the ideas that God has put in my heart.
Leadership is actually all about LISTENING.
I thought of this as I sat with this young and bright eyed missionary and asked her question after question about her plans, her vision, her theology, her heart. It was all about her, and understandably so as she just arrived and has her own future very much on her own mind. However, I left feeling like maybe I often am guilty of the same thing, thinking leadership and influence is about sharing ME rather than what it should be about, and that is knowing YOU.
True leadership, on whatever mission field God has called us to, means coming not with the answers, but rather with the questions.
True leadership, on whatever mission field God has called us to, means coming not with the answers, but rather with the questions. In my ministry among woman what I have realized is that the best way to influence is by helping people to open up and examine their own lives. And the best way to change the world is to come alongside OTHERS and help them uncover their callings to do so. Here in Africa, I serve as a missionary and am an outsider. Even when it’s 50 years from now and I still am in Africa serving as a missionary I will STILL be an outsider, and those who have walked these roads here as Africans are the ones with the keys inside them to change this continent. It’s THEIR ideas, THEIR passions, THEIR gifting, THEIR bravery, and THEIR dreams that will change Africa. Not mine. That is the role of a missionary. And the role of a true leader is to create space to LISTEN to others to help them find that gold within themselves that they might not know exists yet.
Recently I visited a friend in my community who was struggling with many issues in her life. As we chatted and I LISTENED she truly opened up her heart and allowed space for reflection and growth. I felt so privileged that she would open up her heart and life to me and was able to see her make real progress in that space. If I had just come and told her how to handle her health problems, church heartache, rebellious children difficulties, she would have heard my words but she would have never opened up her own heart for the development that needed to take place. Her growth and transformation came through my LISTENING.