Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Change and Likeability

I’ve been watching the political campaigns with a great deal of interest. I know our political system is cumbersome, expensive, tedious, complex and not overly fair. Nonetheless, it is free and open and everyone can express their opinions. I find this liberating and hopeful for us as a nation.

Two words keep coming to mind as I watch what is going on: “change” and “likeability.” Clearly, many if not just about everyone are unhappy or frustrated with something going on at a national or international level. The very real crisis in the housing industry, scarily high gas prices, a ridiculously expensive and not particularly effective health care system, and an unpopular war coupled with the need to be very supportive of our troops overseas add to much tension, fear, and need for significant change. It’s an ideal time for a leader to come forth who can lead the nation through this.

And that brings up the second word, “likeability.” Some people just have it. They have warmth, friendliness, connection, and the invisible but knowable quality we call “charisma” that pulls people in. It was one of the reasons that former president Bill Clinton won his presidential election in 1992. He’s got it. Unfortunately, that charisma, that powerful ability to be liked, often brings people into office or leadership without the underlying character or skills to support the hard work of integrity filled leadership. Happens in the church all the time. The rising star who packs ‘em in on Sundays way too often turns out to have a fatal character flaw that ends up destroying many as it becomes more and more evident.

The best leader is one who does indeed have the kind of charisma that encourages others to follow, and manages to wed that important likeability factor with extreme self-honesty, integrity, and a willingness to be held accountable for both public and private actions. Someone with strong internal character strength has the ability to stand alone when making unpopular decisions, but also works to hear the voices of those who radically disagree with those decisions. It’s a complex balance, and few do it well.

As a pastor, I keep thinking about Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection changed the world, and still does. He was both wildly popular, i.e., charismatic in the best sense of the word, and so completely unpopular that his death was arranged by those who were threatened by the light of his integrity and willingness to live, lead and speak faithfully out of that.

I don’t have some kind of neat and tidy ending to this series of thoughts here. Wish I did. Someway to wrap up what real leadership is both within and without the church that can lead to healthy and holy change. We’re a flawed people with a flawed system doing the best we can. Yet we also have a holy and unflawed God, our Creator and Sustainer, who calls each of us to live intentional lives leading to greater and greater Christ-likeness. That’s much more than just being likeable, and being able to lead to change. It’s a willingness to die for one’s beliefs, trusting in the resurrection on the other side. Definitely not neat and tidy; definitely ultimately transformational.

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