Healing to Lead, Part 1

“Every person is a leader in some form. Every person is influencing others to some degree – whether you’re a pastor or whether you’re managing your children’s soccer team, you are in the middle of something complex and difficult,” says Dr. Dan Allender, as he kicks off the conversation with Rachael Clinton Chen and Linda Royster.

In this week’s podcast episode, we consider the paradox of leadership that Moses experienced leading the Israelites. Being in a leadership position is an honor and a calling, but it often comes with significant challenges and complexities. How does a reluctant leader grapple with the lament they feel while being compelled by their calling and purpose?

“We can’t escape the call to lead because… there is hope for more. There’s hope for goodness. There is a call and a burden for people to experience freedom. That’s in part what makes it bearable for me… You move forward because hope abides and comfort does come,” shares Linda.

Next week, we’ll return to talk about the importance of leaders first experiencing their own healing in order to engage those they serve with kindness, goodness, and hope.


Episode Transcript:

Dan: In a day and age where a recent study indicated that 80% of pastors would leave the pastorate this day if they had a equivalent salary in another setting. We are in a day where leadership has increased and difficulty almost to a point of it being unimaginable. Leadership is always difficult, always, but we have to say that in a rage-filled, polarized, highly contemptuous day where the other side, whatever side that might be, needs to be excoriated, if not expunged from existence. Leaders are attempting to manage to grow and indeed resolve levels of conflict that exceed again anything that I’ve seen in my number of decades on this earth. So we want to open up the discussion, what it means to lead well, but we’re going to begin with this category healing to lead not a first. We’re going to address healing in a second conversation, but we want to first open the door to what’s the reality of leading and stating very clearly every person’s a leader in some form, every person is influencing others to some degree, but particularly those who are in more formal leadership positions. Whether you’re a pastor or whether you’re managing your children’s soccer team, you are in the middle of something complex and difficult. And I have the pleasure of course to be with Rachael Clinton Chen, who is back in the saddle. Rachael, I’m going to put you in the spot of introducing our beloved.

Racheal: Sure. Well, thankfully, this is someone you’ve heard from many times on the podcast. This we are thrilled to be joined by Linda Royster who has many titles, but she is the Manager of Strategic Alliances for the Allender Center, but also a core part of our instructional staff and team, our leadership team. She’s also a therapist among many other things because we’re not justified by our work. But I want to just make sure people know some of the many hats you wear, Linda, in our world.

Linda: Well, thank you for that sweet introduction. It’s wonderful to rejoin the podcast and be in conversation with the two of you. So thank you for the invitation.

Dan: Linda. I would only add that you wear so many different hats at so many different points that it’s almost like you’re a haberdashery of hats. So all to say I’d love for the two of you to begin by responding to what would be a somewhat, I don’t know, I think many people would assume to be a rather depressing beginning.

Racheal: I do think it is a very challenging, I mean, I think leadership in general is very challenging, and I’m always baffled when people say they want to be leaders because I do think most of us have really tried hard not to be. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times, even recently I’ve been like, whatever parts of me tend to find myself calling people to something or whatever. When I came to Mars Hill Graduate School, now the Seattle School, I said, I’m going to be a wallflower. I’m going to just be quiet in the classrooms. I’m reinventing myself. I’m going to find a way. So I do think in general leadership has very many challenges which we’ll get into. I do think this is a very complex time. People are traumatized. There are many reasons to be traumatized as we’ve said it. This is a very apocalyptic time in our world. And what I mean by that is, I mean, yes, if you want to go, I do think it is who knows where we are in the eras of biblical understanding of history. But I do think apocalyptic just means revelatory, unveiling, unveiling and bringing above ground what has maybe been underground but felt unknown by many if not seen by all. And so it’s not like we’re in a new time, but the complexities and the ways they’ve come above ground and the way people have been licensed to indulge in protective defenses is a very challenging time to lead, well. I think there are a lot of people leading at this time. I dunno how many people are leading well, and as you mentioned, Dan, the level of burnout when also everything’s changed. I mean when you look at even what the pandemic, we’re still in a pandemic, even though I know we don’t like to talk about that and we’re still feeling the ramifications of so much of the world changing. So I had said jokingly before we started, why would anyone lead? And this is where I’m going to turn it over to Linda because she had a very encouraging word and I felt like I really needed to hear that. Thank you for reminding me why we do this work, why we’re even having this conversation.

Linda: Oh, yeah, I can identify with what you began by naming as the concern or maybe even the fear or hesitancy around leadership and leading. And I often have thought of myself as being a reluctant leader and really often just saying yes, when I have run out of excuses and when the no kind of feels more like I am not being obedient to what I sense the spirit leading me to. But I’ve often put up the protest and will continue to say, no, no, no, until I cannot in good conscious say no anymore. And so leadership is very difficult. And my sense to what you were, were naming earlier about what we’re going through collectively is this sense. What came to mind was containment and un-containment. We’re people collectively who feel so uncontained and we long for a kind of containment that can help us settle, feel like we have some direction, feel like there’s someone that’s bigger, stronger, wiser, kinder as I heard a professor say that can help us, our bodies, our hearts settle. And when we are uncontained, we frail. We frail when we feel like we don’t have a boundary or we don’t have leadership that can help us feel settled and well contained. There is some security or parameter around us then I think, and I think we move more toward madness when we can’t feel the goodness of the boundary of what good leadership can provide.

Dan: With that picture for me that I have returned to many times as a result of feeling cast/thrown into leadership. I feel that the most appropriate stance toward leadership, as you put it so well, Linda, is to be reluctant. Moses was reluctant, Exodus 3, and God didn’t give a whole lot of ground for should we say, a highly attuned response. Essentially the fire is burning before you and I’m sending you, but I’ll send you with your brother I’ll send you with Aaron. So there is some degree even there of comfort. But I got a Numbers 11 through 16, chapter 11 through 16 is a rich and complex picture of what it means I think to be a leader. I’m just going to read a small section. This is in verse 10 of chapter 11, and that is Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance of their tents. Talk about trauma mean every single tent of millions of people are wailing. And just I to think about how even one child crying this is a sad piece of data, but regimes that torture people do one of two things. They put you in a room with total silence because silence is literally deafening and deadening or the second greatest sound that disrupts the human condition is people wailing. So it innovates, it disturbs our whole mirror neurons when there is that level of grief. And this is all over, we’re tired of manna, we’re tired of manna, we want meat. And this is Moses’ response. He says, why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you would put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors. I mean, we often have spoken about lament Psalms, complaint Psalms. This is not quite in a poetic structure, but it certainly is the kind of biting, cynical, angry, overwhelmed, fragmented stance in the face of what the people of God are literally mourning and crying over. Did I conceive them. Why am I having to carry them? Am I their nurse? And why have you put this burden on me? So that reality of what anyone who leads will eventually come to is I cannot bear the suffering that I cannot resolve and I cannot bear the burden of indeed changing the world, the situation, the complexities of what we’re in. So between that inner world, I can’t bear it and the outer world, I cannot carry you. I think that’s certainly a significant war for most leaders, that internal external war.

Linda: Yeah, I hear in Moses’ complaint, I hear so much of a mothering language, so much of a mothering language to nurture, to sooth, to comfort. And this protest is asking can he provide that kind of nurture, that kind of care and containment back to that word again. And the connector for me is just this sense of we are leading in a sense to serve and that service is to provide care. That service is to meet some of that deep longing, some of the cry, cries of the heart to provide a kind of relief, a kind of comfort that the people are longing for and maybe can’t name but are longing for. A cry, that might be nameless, but a cry nonetheless.

Dan: And I’m wondering, Rachael, what it’s like for you to not be able to bring comfort to your precious little one.

Racheal: I mean, I actually felt agony when you were reading this because it’s like I have one, well, three, I have three humans, three tiny humans, one who’s almost is taller than me now. So they’re not so tiny anymore, but one very tiny human. And I think you’re right, Linda, that mothering language. And even though did I conceive these people, it is so, it is such a just one tiny human needing something from me that I can’t, a need that I can’t meet it. I actually have to go back to therapy and maybe do some EMDR around because it sends me in into panic the way my biochemicals rise in longing and desiring because I do have a deep love for her and wanting to be able to bring soothing and containment. And when we hit those moments together where for whatever reason I can’t figure out exactly what she needs or maybe she’s just not going to be easily soothed for a minute. And so, I’m like, to hear, to think of, many, many people crying out in that way that stirs your heart to meet exactly what you both have named so well, to meet the cry of the heart, to meet the needs and yet not be able to. I genuinely right now, I’m like, okay, I need some… I need to rock. I need to go to my mindfulness practices that I have to do in the middle of the night as I’m sleep deprived. And it does feel very, I know all three of us could say that feels very palpable and tangible, that crying out the longing and the desire and the terror of the places where scarcity, where agony meets what sometimes feels like impossibility.

Dan: Well it, it’s not etymologically connected, but I’ve often thought of the word crisis as the context of those cries. And wherever there is that cry of just demand, I am sick of and I want or whatever is going on in the hearts of the people that you serve, there is the creation of confusion. And we’re not going to go through the whole passage, but if you do read it, you’ll see Moses’s confusion. And that often is a byproduct of crisis. But what also occurs is the creation of power struggles within the community. And that’s another thing that’s inevitable. Crises or trauma creates confusion, fragmentation, that’s normally how we speak about it. But also the politicalization where you go to one person, you align against the leader and you begin to see that this process is ancient. It’s part of the fabric of every human being for thousands of years, that wherever a leader exists, there will be some degree of complicity with others to undermine to politically overthrow, especially in the face of trauma. And the issue as it continues, chapter 12, Aaron and Miriam end up accusing Moses of being married to a kushite. And at least some interpreters would say, this is actually a racist move. The Kushites would probably be darker skinned. And so there’s an assault, not on his marriage only, but a demeaning of her heritage. And then the accusation of, wait a minute, God doesn’t speak just through you, Moses, he speaks through us as well. So now we’ve got comparison, we’ve got conflict. And again, no wonder Moses and a lot of leaders want out. And if we can just start with the reality that it’s inevitable. It’s inevitable. If you’re a leader, there will be moments of uprising, of rebellion, of people turning against you of good friends, even your own kin turning against you, accusations being made. And in that frame, the desire to quit is more than just real. It’s a, in one sense, a very understandable trauma response, a fight or flight or in certain cases freeze or fawn. But the fact is, what do we do with that implicit, I got to get out because you’re going to kill me. I’d just love for the two of you to ponder the moments in your own lives. You don’t have to go into particulars, but where something, in you just said, hell, I’m out of here. And yet that question of what kept you?

Linda: Yeah, that’s such a big question and so many memories. And that’s in part unfortunate, is that there are so many memories of being in positions of leadership. And I think all leaders wear a really big target on their backs like that. They become the place where all kinds of projections and all kinds of unhealed wounds are directed and sent flying toward the leader to capture all of the unhealed, all of the trauma art of all of the heartache. So the leader becomes the bin or the basket where all of that gets placed and unjustly so, but it gets placed there. And it’s such a revel, it’s such a revelation of what happens when harm goes unaddressed, what happens when they’re those deep places that they feel really afraid to attend to, and it just starts to show up and come sideways in one sense. So leaders wear really big targets on their backs, and it is, in one sense I don’t think we can escape that because of the nature of who we are as human beings. It feels inescapable. And when we can’t escape the call to lead because there is hope, that’s a, that’s abiding because there’s hope for more. There’s hope for goodness. There is a call and a burden for people to experience freedom and more to experience shalom, if you will. It. That’s in part what makes it bearable for me is for remembering that there is more and sometimes moving forward with wounds and cuts and sometimes feels like a limb is about to fall off, but you move forward because hope abides and comfort does come. Rachael.

Racheal: Oh yeah. I mean, I’m just laughing. So I feel like I’ve been in this season where I’ve been like, let this cup pass from me. I mean, Dan, I think we said this on the podcast, Linda, I know I’ve said it to you, I just want to open a bakery. I just want to open a tea shop. And what makes me laugh about that? And I do think leadership is a paradox, right? Because I think how we talked about in this verse of Moses, it is a calling and it is servanthood, and you don’t name yourself a leader. And sometimes a position, even though the structure might give you a leadership position, leadership is authorized because you actually have people following you or authorizing you. And so I’ve had many seasons where I have been screw this, I am done with organizational leadership or even pastoral ministry leadership or whatever. And then I go to context that I, in my head, I do not perceive to have any kind of leadership, a tea-arista at a tea shop. And I’m just doing my thing. And before I know it, I am functioning as a healer, pastor, hope-bringer in this space, betraying myself because I can’t help it. It’s coming to the Seattle School and talking, I think in the first class because I was so compelled to join the conversation that I couldn’t not do it. And so I think you’re right, Linda, and Dan, that sense of if you can’t shake the calling, if you can’t a fire shut up in your bones, if this desire to participate in the bringing of shalom and the co-creating with God and the spirit and community. And I think that that’s what keeps me staying is that I don’t want to play alone. I don’t want to do this work of the kingdom alone. I want, ultimately I want to join others doing that, which, I’m at odds with right now because I feel like, I’ve also known a lot of loss there. People leave people, like you said, people get mad in any context I’ve been in, every church I’ve been a part of has had some massive split or half the people leave or there is this sense of our humanity, like because that’s the thing, right? It’s not only if you can’t escape the calling, but you also can’t escape be a human, and it’s going to happen in your family. It’s going to happen in the places you find yourself. And so I do think in some ways I can relate to Moses’s sense of God, why have you burdened your servant so? Like I’m just wanting to be helpful and so much has been given to me so much and the desire to give that away or to see to faithfully steward what I have been given, even if I have fantasies of like, I’m never leaving my house again, I’m going to move to an island. No one will know me. And maybe someday that will get to be my reality. But it’s not this day.

Dan: Not today. Well, and what you quoted a few moments ago from Jeremiah 20:7, “I’ve been deceived and you deceive me, you overwhelm me and prevailed against me. Yet when I try and shut you out, you are like a fire that burns within me.” And that becomes the reality I think, of what we want to begin to move a little bit toward. And that’s the question of what’s the healing that needs to come in order for something of leadership to be played out? We need to come back to Linda’s comment about containment, what needs to grow within us to create a kind of containment that’s not control but does hold this ground ultimately of ambivalence. You deceive me and prevailed against me, but yet when I try to shut you out, I cannot do so. That’s, at least for the prophet Jeremiah, is holding something of the complexity of living deep in the fallen world and yet as well, even more deeply knowing something of the pulse of desire and indeed the need for comfort. So I think as we come to something of an end, I think we, in our beginning, Linda, you were talking about passage and 1st Corinthians that I think is just crucial for us to have to be able to say, why would we want to stay in this? Yes. What’s the joy

Linda: Grace to you in peace from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with a comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Dan: Yeah, we want comfort, but perhaps as much we want to be people who bring comfort. And that mutuality so clear in that passage, we are meant to receive and we are meant to give. And we can no more kill the hunger to receive than I believe. We can truly kill the hunger to be able to give. And that I think we would say is the core of leadership, and yet we need healing. So we’ll step soon into that conversation. What’s the healing that every good leader who’s reluctant, who has the ability to stand before God with lament, and yet with a clarity of I can’t escape what I know I’m made for.