We are an impatient culture. Our hyper-fast technology has wired us to expect everything instantly–even transformation. While it's understandable to demand hyper-speed from our electronic devices, it's utterly unreasonable–and ungracious–when we have those expectations of ourselves or of the people we lead.
Though we all wish that it wasn't the case, profound and lasting change happens slowly. This complicates leadership. In order to lead well consistently, we need to be mature in our faith, "needing nothing" (James 1:4). We need to love well and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. However, all of us–as in all of us–are lacking and need to change. Regardless of how smart we are or how much motivation we have to grow, this change takes exponentially more time than any of us would like to admit.
I am a highly sensitive introvert. Due to some family dynamics and unfortunate circumstances early in my life, fear became a constant companion. It did not go away when I started to follow Jesus as a college freshman, or when I got married, and certainly not when I started leading. Though I became increasingly aware of how fear crippled and limited me, I simply could not shake it. It took a few years of counseling (and repeatedly confessing my lack of trust in God) before I could begin to untangle the behaviors and thoughts which actually contributed to my fear. This has been a 20-year process, and I am not yet completely free*–despite the fact that I desperately wish God would eradicate it from my life!
How Impatience Adversely Impacts Us
Type "church growth" into your search engine and literally thousands of sites will pop up. Upon close inspection, many of them belie the human tendency to want bigger, better, faster. Even in our spirituality. A pastor recently received a flyer in the mail boasting, "Make new converts into disciples in just 12 weeks!" When we homeschooled our boys, we did an extensive unit on plants and chose radish seeds for our experiments because they have a very quick and predictable growth cycle. Humans aren't radish seeds. We cannot quantify or schedule our maturation. When we try to impose an inorganic timeframe on our development, we run the risk of creating and perpetuating a false self and possibly sowing into self-hatred.
The false self is a façade that I don when I think someone won't approve of or like me. Not that this has ever happened to me (insert smiley face), but let's say, hypothetically, I'm not sleeping well because I'm anxious about preaching on Sunday. If someone asks how I'm doing, for me to reply, "Great! I'm so psyched to be sharing God's Word this morning" reveals my false self. My true self would humbly admit, "Actually, I am not doing so great. I feel anxious and I didn't sleep much. Would you pray for me before I go up?" This does not mean that we should reveal the depths of our heart with everyone but that routinely hiding or concealing an area of weakness causes us to lose track of who we actually are. We are more prone to hide behind the false self if we are uncomfortable with where we are in our process of growing toward Christ.
Self-hatred is both tricky and pernicious. If I measure myself against another's progress or perceived gifting and find myself lacking, I can easily become self critical. Though such harshness is not necessarily equivalent to self-hatred, it's a slippery slope. "Why can't I teach as powerfully as Joyce Meyer?" morphs into "I'm not really a very good speaker" if I fail to put the brakes on my faulty logic and ask God for his vision of who I am and how he has seen me grow.
How Our Impatience Can Impact Those Who Volunteer with Us
Parenting has rounded out my perspective on good leadership, including having godly expectations of others. Our firstborn son learned how to ride a bicycle days after he turned 5, in about five minutes. Our third son, who is the most natural athlete of all three boys, refused to even get on a bike until he was 8 and needed about a dozen lessons (and even then, there were gnashing of teeth and the shedding of many tears). Had I expected him to pick up this skill as quickly or as early as his brother did, I would have felt angry and he would have felt my disapproval. Humans can sniff out disapproval the way dogs can sniff out buried bones, especially from authority figures.
Leadership, like parenting, is neither convenient nor easy. We often have to dig deep and rely on the Lord to resource us as we partner with young and/or immature individuals. Feelings of frustration or impatience are completely normal, but if you find yourself in that space more often than not, hit the pause button. Dialogue with God and some trusted others about what might be going on for you. Are you expecting too much or yourself or of others you rely upon? Have you promoted someone too quickly and are you now having to pick up the person's slack? It is imperative that we contain any frustration or impatience as we wait for others to grow up.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord ... they are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
It takes most trees 30 to 40 years to reach their full height. We are ever so much more complicated and complex than anything else in the natural world. As such, we would do well to remember that God intends for us to spend our entire lives growing up into the fullness of who he created us to be.
*In truth, I may never be totally free from fear this side of heaven. Some areas of struggle, such as mental illness issues, may be with us for our entire lives. I do not believe God feels frustrated with how long the process is taking me. In fact, I think he is actually pleased that I have not quit or given up!
Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing, making photographs, and supporting others along their God journeys. She and her family live just outside of Boston, MA. You can find more of her words and images at www.dorothygreco.com or www.facebook.com/DorothyGrecoPhotography.