You may have noticed there was no blog post last Monday. I was in the midst of an epic camping trip with my son, Andrew. We spent a few nights in the Uwharrie Mountains (the little mountains) in North Carolina. It was a great outing.
During one of our hikes (we managed about 2 per day over the 3 days) I was struck by how our father/son relationship had changed. It also made me think that such changes may just be a natural course of leading others to become leaders.
Andrew took the lead on the first day out. He led us along the blazed path through the tall trees and the filtered sunlight. We talked as we went and had a great day. The next day it was my turn to lead – or so I thought. I put on the backpack that held our water and Gatorade and we made our way to one of the more strenuous trails. It wasn’t long before I noticed that Andrew was not falling in behind me. He was right off my shoulder most of the time. It dawned on me that he was itching to take the lead. I’m not sure he even realized it, but I did. So, I let him lead (nicely, I did not make him take the “leader” backpack).
It was along that hike on the second day that I began to think about how things have changed between he and I. There was a time when I did all the leading. I would take his hand and guide him to places. I would venture out in front and show him the way (physically, morally, philosophically). Sure, there were times when he would dart ahead and I would have to call him back. That was just part of the learning curve. But now, as we hiked and he led the way, I began to consider how things have changed.
I will say that it might have been easy for me to get nostalgic for the days when he wanted to follow my lead. It might have even been easy for me to feel a bit melancholy over the loss of our previous relationship. But, that wasn’t the case. I am proud of how my children have developed. I love that both Andrew and his sister, Rebecca, are becoming their own persons, ready to take on life. On this hike, that day, I began to understand my role had moved from leader to coach. Where I used to lead from the front, I now was being called to coach from behind.
The reality of my children growing into adulthood is not that they now can do life on their own without me. It’s just that they need me to be with them in a new way. Andrew led the way on the hike, but I had some input as to where we went and the best course of action. I did have to decide, at times, to give in to his opinion over mine, but that’s coaching. I had to either let him show me he knew what he was doing or let him learn from the mistake I thought he was making.
Those same lessons apply to other areas of his life as well. I am no longer there to lead him along the way. He lives in Aggieland, which is 2 hours away from me. While I may not be able to lead, I can coach. Andrew will call me and ask my advice, or I will call him to check on his progress in his work in the church or in his classes. We’ll talk about the challenges he faces and how he can best do that. I continually pray for God to give me the wisdom I need to be a good coach to him.
Then there was my leadership meeting yesterday afternoon. I have been in my current role as pastor of Asbury UMC for 7 years at the end of this month. There have been times when I had to take a clear role of leading from the front. I had to set the direction and convince people we needed to go down this path and not that path. Sometimes I got it right, other times, not so much. But, I took the lead and all the responsibility of that role. Yesterday as I sat with this group of leaders I began to understand that my role was changing. Maybe it already had I just had not yet accepted it – but either way, I realized it yesterday.
I am not currently called to lead from the front. Others are working to set the direction and to help others understand the way forward. I expect there are times when they will get it right and other times, well, not so much. Do I still have input as to our direction? Surely I do. Are there times when I will need to speak up due to my belief that we are making a harmful wrong turn? Surely there are. But, my task now is not to set the path and lead from the front. My job is to encourage and offer input and coach from behind.
I guess what happened for me yesterday was that I was trying to take the lead when I suddenly realized there were others just off my shoulder who were having a hard time following. It wasn’t because they didn’t trust me or that they wanted the lead role, it was just where they are at this time. The leaders of our church are stepping up and want to help manage the journey. So, I will fall in behind them and coach them from there. If the end result is anything like the week I spent in North Carolina being led by my son, then I will have a great time and experience life in a very meaningful and wonderful way.
Holy high-five to you,