By Leah Fuller
A gunshot echoed across the hills as the other enthusiastic hikers and I started our trek in the BLAST! Hike-a-thon. BLAST! is a 24-hour, hiking fundraiser where endurance, challenge, and camaraderie join together to raise money for Discovery Ministries. I have logged many miles on this trail over the years. I might even consider myself a veteran of the hike-a-thon, a seasoned trekker with an understanding of endurance hiking.
As I prepared for BLAST!, I decided to invite a younger hiker to join me on my quest to hike 50+ miles. That’s how Emma and I became hiking buddies. Emma, who had been hiking in the 24-hour event since she was 6 years old, was now 14 and had not yet reached the goal of hiking 50 miles. When I invited her to take up the challenge, she didn’t really hesitate, simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sure, I’ll hike with you.” I was feeling good about this decision and started patting myself on the back for continuing to take up the mantle of challenging the next generation to do hard things. But a few weeks prior to the event, my mindset began to shift. What if in Emma’s youth she actually challenged me? Instead of my setting the pace for her, would she take the lead? I’ve been setting pace for other hikers for many years, but could I actually keep up with her youthful vigor?
It took only the first few miles to see that my fears were valid. Emma set a pace that I could barely match, and not once did her resolve, enthusiasm, or determination waver. Mile after mile we hiked, and as the day wore on, my aching muscles caused me to start lagging behind. Emma and I were still hiking “together,” but she stayed a few paces ahead of me. At times, I would jog to catch up with her, and not once did she give the appearance of fatigue or struggle. I would joke that the fountain of youth was on her side, and she would groan, assuring me that she was feeling some soreness, too. Feeling humbled, I discovered a string of thoughts flying through my mind. “I’m supposed to be leading her, teaching her what it costs to hike this far.” “She doesn’t need me to set a pace for her. In fact, I might actually be slowing her down. Maybe I should tell her to hike ahead?” “If she doesn’t need me, then what purpose am I fulfilling? What value am I adding to the event, to younger hikers?”
Amid this mental struggle, I realized God was showing me something about leadership that I know in my head, but struggle to live out in daily life. Generally, we leaders rise in our professions because of the value of our work. We become accustomed to letting others follow our lead, even finding ourselves thinking that everything and everyone depend on us. Training up younger leaders and giving them opportunities to go beyond our expertise threatens our value and even our futures. Fear of becoming inadequate and unneeded looms within even the most seasoned leader. I am much more comfortable staying in the lead or inviting others to walk alongside me than I am letting another break trail and providing space for them to grow into leadership. I have to ask myself, “Am I willing to let them succeed or fail and not believe that it says something about me and my own success or failure?”
When I look at the ways that Jesus led His disciples, I marvel at His example of humility. In Mark 1:17, Jesus invited his first disciples to “Come, follow me.” This was not only an invitation to follow His example, but also an invitation to relationship, to learning to live as Jesus lived. But Jesus knew that if the disciples only ever went where He went or did what He did, then they wouldn’t truly take ownership for the power and authority He was actually giving them. So, not long after He invited them to follow Him, He also “sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7). Jesus let them go out and do ministry in His name without hovering over them to make sure they did it the “right way.” And when they returned they told Jesus about all that they had done and seen, their successes and failures.
Even as they debriefed their experiences, a crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. The people were hungry, and the disciples who had just been out doing ministry turn to Jesus for what to do next. Jesus put the ball back in their court. He told them to “give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). He passed them the baton, giving them the opportunity to take the lead. Now, we know that the disciples fumbled this one as they struggled to grasp the difference between faith in God and physical reality. We know that Jesus, not the disciples, multiplied the bread and fish, and there was plenty to eat. This foible on the part of the disciples did not define their future ministry and leadership, though. We see after Christ’s death and resurrection that these men, who could barely grasp the vision Christ was setting before them, were filled with the Spirit’s power and became the bold and radical leaders who carried on the relentless truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us. And those men changed the world as they strode ahead and carried the gospel to places it had never been before.
You see, Jesus knew that these ordinary men would need to follow Him. They would need to walk alongside Him and learn from Him. But they would also need to be able to carry on the truth of His life and death when He was no longer physically with them.
What would it look like for me to let those who may be younger or less experienced take the lead? Can I trust that my value is not diminished by another’s ability to do what I can do and maybe a little more? Will I have the humility to learn from those who are younger or less experienced than I? Am I seeking to promote myself and my abilities, or am I simply being obedient to what God has called me to? Am I willing to lead from behind, as well as from the front?
These questions and more leave me in awe that God never stops transforming us and teaching us on our journey with Him. Will I stop and accept the discomfort of what He may be leading me to lay down, in order that He might be glorified?
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.