Two weeks ago, before the ice-pocalypse ground life at ASU to a 5-day halt, I used a puzzle to illustrate a point in a bible study. Almost as soon as we said the closing amen, one of our students was already reaching for the box.
“Let’s do the puzzle!” she cried, jumping up and down with excitement.
And so we got to work turning over pieces and separating out the borders. Half an hour later, we had the puzzle framed out and started looking for a way to tackle the interior.
That’s where progress stalled. As exciting as the venture was at the outset, we soon realized how daunting this puzzle—a 2000-piece mural of the Sistine Chapel—could be. This was not thirty-minute board game or a two-hour movie. This was a major creative undertaking that would take not hours, but days, even with many hands working.
If it were my puzzle in my house, I likely would have given up at that point. As a writer, I am used to tedious, solitary work. But as an extrovert, I can only handle so much. This mini masterpiece would have set me over the top.
Placed in a context among friends, however, the project remains enjoyable after two weeks of ice-induced non-progress. We’re hoping to have it finished before spring break.
The most interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that almost no one works on the puzzle alone. I find that surprising, given the number of introverts involved in our ministry. But even the most pensive and independent individuals at Wesley Foundation wait until a friend shows up to help them on the puzzle. They may not even talk as they work, but they almost always work together.
There are plenty of metaphors to be drawn from this story, but they all revolve around one common premise: complex tasks are best addressed together. Since the nature of the task means that no one has any particular advantage of skill or perspective, everyone’s eyes are important, everyone’s hands needed.
When it comes to Christian leadership, I think that’s more than a quaint parable for preachers to share. I think it’s a vital truth that we often miss, especially those of us charged with pastoral duties. When you are the one standing up to preach every week, leading most of the meetings, convening the vision councils, it’s easy to shut out voices that do not agree with your own. In fact, doing so is sometimes a necessary act for psychological survival.
In healthy Christian community, however, we who are leaders need to rediscover both the strength and humility, modeled by Jesus, that is required to work together effectively. He taught as one who had authority, but he lived as one who respected the choices, perspectives, and overall personhood of each one he met. I think of the sick man to whom Jesus asked, “Do you want to be healed?” It’s hard to imagine myself doing the same. I would want to fix the problem, and likely would act alone to do so. But Jesus asked permission, which at least implied a request for cooperation.
Working together means learning to both speak out and stay quiet. It means exercising authority, but more often exercising humility. It means putting the project ahead of our egos, and respecting what our co-workers have to offer.
Life is a tough enough puzzle as it is. We need each other to help make the pieces fit. And we Christian leaders need to learn to make space for all who want to play.