Do you remember where you were when the Twin Towers were hit? I was getting ready to go into a church leadership meeting. The TVs in our worship office shown the first one hit, and it was chaos in our room with tears and gasps. I saw the second plane hit on TV and was feeling the shock live with Peter Jennings on ABC. My thoughts were that this is big, this is historic and we had better in our meeting address this since our people will be feeling much emotion from the attack. If anything, this would be a grand opportunity to teach our people since we might actually have your attention. Little did I know that I was in the minority with my thinking.
When our staff meeting begun, the events that were freshly unfolding were simply not going to thwart budget, calendar and our planning process. The spreadsheets were on the table and we were quickly turning to the appropriate page. A couple of us were dying inside. How could be ignore what people are feeling? Well, we have our plans. We are God’s church and must continue, regardless of what is going on in the news. The rigidity actually nauseated me. How could we miss this?
The short of it is that we missed the mark that day and week. We did not have empathy for what the community of our nation, city and church were feeling and thinking. All of us were hurt, changed and shocked. Now, I must say that even though we were a week behind in reacting to this event, the mistake was noted and corrected. We had one of the most moving memorial services. Imagine a gigantic 50 foot flag raised, our Marine officer in full dress with medals leading prayer–and kneeling. We sang “America the Beautiful” not “God Bless America” since we felt the need to say “may God thy gold refine” rather than simply “bless us.” Sermon series of the best quality addressing the various issues ensued with special prayer meetings and events.
The lesson here was that empathy is an important leadership quality. Feelings do matter, even though we do not lead from them, they are central to our humanity. They indicate the deepest longings and fears of the soul. This is the kind of leadership that lets people grieve and leads them to grieve. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse quoted in the Bible, but a powerful reminder that to lead well we must not be so driven by our agenda that the drive in our agenda overshadows the fact that people are the agenda.
The next time a church member is heard of being in crisis, a storm wipes out a town, a diagnosis of disease is confirmed the idea is to not be paralyzed. In fact, the idea is to be human as a leader. This is the model that Jesus left for us. He is human, coming from His lofty place to relate to us to lead us by serving us.