The last few months have involved me in quite a lot of introspective thinking, looking at myself, evaluating myself and trying to be honest with myself and others about myself. This is because I have been involved for various reasons in quite a few of those dreaded “could you describe for us your strengths and weaknesses?” conversations.
Now as a Scot, my weaknesses come into my consciousness with greater clarity and speed than my strengths. Us Scots don’t easily talk about what we are good at never mind horror of horrors great at. ( are we sure Trump’s mother is really Scottish?) I don’t really want to talk in specifics about what my strengths and weaknesses are here but about something that has become very apparent to me in thinking about strengths and weaknesses and leadership, especially in the church.
There is no doubt that for a leader discerning our own strengths and weaknesses is a vital part of the self awareness we need and is also essential knowledge for us and others to be able discern if we are a good “fit” for an organisation or congregation. However, I think the focus on organising into distinct groupings our “strengths” and our “weaknesses” may be blinding us to something incredibly important. I am increasingly coming to realise that in leadership our greatest strengths are all too often our most dangerous weaknesses.
King David had the heart of a warrior with the soul of a poet, these strengths gave him the potential to be a very powerful combination of King and spiritual leader among God’s people. Those strengths endowed him a charismatic personality and that wedded to a position of almost unaccountable power gave rise to his weakness for sexual sin. I suspect his strengths gave him the personality that made seducing women fairly easy and his position and power as a leader gave him the opportunity and we all know what happened as a result. Solomon had God given wisdom as a leader, a great strength but which on the flip side seems to have led him to become self reliant and arrogant eventually coming to trust his ways more than Gods ways. Paul had the great strength as a leader of being single minded and decisive but this created a weakness in him, at times he was intolerant with those with whom he didn’t agree or who didn’t reach his expectations, causing relationships to break down badly.
This idea of strengths being weaknesses isn’t confined to the lives of characters from the Bible. In fact, I think it’s seen even more clearly in the contemporary church. I knew an incredibly gifted and eloquent preacher who seemed to me to personify this. His great strength was his ability with words. His words could, inspire, lift spirits, shape minds and draw people to God but that ability was also a weakness. His eloquence meant he could use words as weapons that could deeply wound and drive people away. A pastor in my denomination had a very charismatic personality which he used as a strength to draw people to Christ but which ultimately caused his downfall when he used it to draw women into adulterous relationships with him , destroying marriages and churches.
It feels like there has been a domino effect among mega church pastors in recent years with one prominent high profile pastor after another falling. At the heart of each case I have seen that there has been a strength that’s been a weakness. A strong leader has become a bully, a gifted leader with a charismatic personality and the ability to influence people has used those strengths to build a church but also misused them apparently to try and influence women over whom he could exert power to have inappropriate relationships with him.
Well in this introspective period of my life reflecting on all of this I’m trying as a result not to sort my gifts and abilities into two firmly divided groups, strengths and weaknesses. I’m getting away from the idea that “strengths” give me the ability to fulfil my God given calling while “weaknesses ” can diminish or derail it, and so I need to be more “wary” of the danger posed by my weaknesses. I’ve been turning over in my mind that statement by Paul about Gods power being “perfected in weakness.” I’m wondering if my weaknesses may be the very areas where, by causing me to rely more deeply on God, that his power can be most at work through my ministry? Conversely, I’m facing up to the uncomfortable reality that my strengths may be for me the doorways i am most likely to walk through to be faced with temptation leading potentially to devastating effects for those I love and serve.
I think all of this also has implications for church leaderships. Elders, church boards, sessions, whatever you call your church leadership, they need to be more aware and wary of the strengths of the leaders they work with being also their weaknesses. There needs to be more accountability and deeper scrutiny of gifted leaders and whether their strengths are displaying a “dark side.” If leaderships don’t do this, they will learn the consequences the hard way, and as the elders in a certain Chicago suburb will tell you, the hard way really is hard.
Strange things to contemplate on a Monday morning but for me necessary things.