There are a small handful of outstanding Christian leaders I have come to know in recent years. One of them is Dale Meyer, current president of Concordia Seminary. I found Dr. Meyer to be both extremely competent but the very opposite of egotistical. He was approachable. He melted right into the crowd with the rest of us at chapel. Yet when I went to his office complaining that I was still waiting for a student ID/library card after six months (most students had gotten theirs after four months), they had one for me in less than a week. I could tell someone had given the order.
I haven’t always been enthusiastic about some decisions at Concordia. But, to use Stephen Covey’s terminology, Dr. Meyer had earned such a high “Emotional Bank Account” of credibility with me that I was able to defer willingly to his judgment, even when Concordia was compelled to make cuts that were costly to me. When Concordia went through the financial crisis that hit almost all colleges and seminaries, Dr. Meyer went the extra 10 miles to make it clear that students would be the last to be asked to sacrifice for the sake of the school’s finances. And the school recovered quickly.
Despite the fact that I could not take their communion or preach in their pulpits, the folks at Concordia were more welcoming and inclusive to a Calvinist like me than many in my own denomination have been. I am sure Dr. Meyer had a role to play in creating and maintaining that culture.
Another leader I have been greatly impressed with has been the founder of the college where I serve right now. Dr. Tim Morthland is known locally as a very competent medical doctor who also has an academic doctorate. He has been the carrier of a vision to start the first Christian college in Illinois in over a century (in the middle of a recession!), a college that seeks to recreate the classical tradition of colonial Harvard. Dr. Morthland likewise has been both competent and humble. He was genuinely embarrassed by how the college was named. He wanted to name the college after the town (West Frankfort), but his board sent him out of the room and decided that the college be named after its founder, namely him. Our college has a long way to go, but it has already come an amazing distance, thanks to the character of Dr. Morthland and his team.
Some of the best leaders I know in the PC(USA) include my current EP in Decatur, a leader much like Drs. Meyer and Morthland, and my stated clerk, who truly lives the justice and inclusiveness that she professes. I wish we had more leaders like them.
The reality is that the PC(USA)’s Emotional Bank Account of goodwill and credibility with me has been stretched almost (but not quite) to the breaking point, and theology is not what has pushed it to that point. Ask anybody who leaves a church to tell you why they left, and ultimately it is not theology that drove them out (although theology may undergo a conversion in the process). It is how they were treated.
It all boils down to leadership. As Bill Hybels says, we are all “boss-watchers.” We watch to see whether leaders are absorbed with their own self-importance. We watch to see whether leaders do what they say they will do. We watch to see whether leaders treat us with “the love and justice of Jesus Christ” to the degree to which they profess to do so. We watch to see whether leaders operate through a culture of power and control, or a culture of transparency and openness to the gifts that others have to offer. And if regional leaders have a track record of tolerating dishonesty, favoritism and authoritarian style, they will tend to attract the same kind of leaders at the local level.
It’s easy to find fault with leaders. The challenge is to prove that you can do a better job than those with whom you find fault. I have seen some wonderful examples of how not to treat those whom I serve. Can I be sure that I will treat people differently, to the glory of God? Can I be sure that I will not blow people off, that I will instead make sure that they feel truly heard, whether I concur with them or not? Can I model the justice, welcome and inclusiveness that others have failed to show me at times? Can I give employees what I would want as an employee? Can I give them both maximum discretion to do what they think best and direction when they need direction? Can I see to it that we find a place for everyone who offers their gifts to God?
If we wonder why we have unprecedented levels of discontent, perhaps one factor is an overdrawn Emotional Bank Account of credibility, trust, and goodwill. Such a bank account is hard to build. It cannot be done overnight. Nor can it be created by command. But having a huge positive balance in his Emotional Bank Account is what helped President Clinton survive when his credibility took a huge hit, while others will quickly crash and burn because they had no Emotional Bank Account to fall back on.
A substantial balance of credibility, trust and goodwill in our Emotional Bank Accounts with one another can do a lot to help us weather the kind of crises of theology and change that we find ourselves in at the moment.
TOM HOBSON of Belleville, Ill., a PC(USA) pastor for 29 years, is an adjunct professor at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill. and is currently seeking a call.