Called and Sprawled into Leadership: Lessons from DeVos Urban Leadership

I experienced the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative this week. This training experience serves 50 urban faith based youth leaders from across the country with leadership development events and coaching.  It helps them find sanity, refocus on trusting God, and create development plans that not only help them lead better but empower followers and those they serve to do their own leading.

I went to learn what they do as a way to improve our Department of Leadership development programs at Andrews University.

In reality, my biggest take away was how messed up my own leadership is. I kinda knew that going there but it was reinforced in that truth but oddly found a solace in that reality.

The last 18 months have been very difficult for me. I took on a role I have resisted for decades: I became department chair. I have resisted this for several simple reasons: I love teaching and writing/research. I loath and flee conflict. I have an unsystematic way of being an academic that got me promoted but is horrible way to do leadership. Plus, 15 years ago I was baptized with the reality of my severe limits as a thinking person. I just can’t trust my own thinking! ever again!!!

While it is hard enough to live life without trusting my own mind, it is nearly impossible to create a convincing vision that others feel confidence in, especially when I can never really have confidence in it. I just can’t trust flesh—especially my own! How do you get people to follow a vision when you know your mind (and theirs) are debilitated by self-deception?

Basically, DeVos reinforced just how bad it is: went spent most of the week on self-deption.

I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t alone. And from the ashes we could find a shared community of grace where the broken pieces of our thinking can be knit together by the Holy Spirit to create a better vision.

Our bad leadership is deeply messed up….way down past bad behaviors to deeply estranged from God and reality.

So we all had a lot of catharsis and I have a list of people to contact and work through my discovery that my self-deception is even worse than I thought.

I guess that is helpful. Kind of just more of the same.

Self-deceived followers lead by self-deceived leaders into self-deceived visions.

Yes, leadership development that starts in a very depressing place.

Kind of the same place Joshua started his leadership journey.

We see his calling and his sprawling in Joshua 1.

“Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise…”

Joshua is sprawled out. He was a great assistant to Moses, but there is a whole lot different to lead. And with Moses being dead, it is basically just well…..overwhelming.
Being sprawled out as well as called out is a very painful leadership place.
The online dictionary tells us  Sprawl means to: 1. to be stretched or spread out in an unnatural or ungraceful manner
Contorted and distorted and confused and yet….. clearly told what to do.
cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.”
With such reassurance, it should have been a piece of cake for Joshua. Get up, and just start stepping everywhere you can….God has given you a blank check of success.
So why is he sprawled out.
It is because God is going to develop Joshua as he needs him to be developed along the way.
We don’t get trained any other way but as you walk….
“do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Oddly, the unnatural sprawl of Joshua needed to become a natural experience. He was inadequate but in that role he would find a natural place of receiving–instruction, courage, and power.
Oddly, that is the second definition of sprawl… “2. to sit or lie in a relaxed position with the limbs spread out carelessly or ungracefully.”

So, as unnatural and ungraceful as it was, it was to be both awkward and relaxed.
The third definition is even more powerful:  “ spread out, extend, or be distributed in a straggling or irregular manner” and “4. to crawl awkwardly with the aid of all the limbs; scramble.”
Most leaders want to soar or at least run, but walking and crawling seems a better place form which to lead.

This is Allender’s argument in Leading with a Limp a book I review elsewhere on this blog. See my Acts 15 blog or search my archives.

My biggest insight was….so what. So what if I am overwhelmed. So what if I am inadequate. So what I am totally incapable of leading like an eagle or running like a pro. I have to get used to crawling. Sprawling is a great place to start a new race type of leadership race….the race of crawling along with Jesus.

But who follows a crawling leader?


One Reply to “Called and Sprawled into Leadership: Lessons from DeVos Urban Leadership”

  1. Beautifully honest – but at the same time I think you underestimate your own capacity as a leader. What you see as flaws might be your greatest strengths indeed! Crawl on, my friend.


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