2 lessons in gospel-centered leadership I learned from working in the world

I just wrapped up my tenth run at the Austin Film Festival (the best festival in the whole wide world).

I am so overwhelmingly thankful for all that God has taught me through the people I’ve worked alongside for the past ten Octobers.

They’re crazy and funny and smart and passionate about writing and story and film.  You will probably never find them working at a church, but I tell you what – I’ve learned a lot about Gospel-centered leadership from them.

Here are two things He’s taught me:

1. Let people fail. At your expense.

My first year working for the film fest, I was fresh out of college and unbelievably arrogant.  I went through my first film festival and came up with a plan that I was confident would solve all our problems.  So I approached the head of the film fest and asked permission to plan and execute a project I believed would really help the fest.

She sat down with me and talked me through the potential pitfalls of my plans.  She explained – using all her experiences working on similar projects – how our resources could be better spent elsewhere.  And then she looked me in the eye and asked me what I thought.

I said I understood, but I thought my plan would work.

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So, she told me to go for it.

She invested money, time, resources into my plan.

It failed.

In the aftermath, we sat down and I braced myself for an ‘I told you so’ that never came.  Instead, she asked me questions and helped me process the things I would do differently in the future.   We wrapped up the conversation and the reprimand I was waiting for never came.

I asked her later:

Why?  Why would you invest time and energy and resources in a project that you knew would fail?  Why not just tell me: ‘no’? 

And she just shrugged and said:

This is how you learn.

I cannot tell you how that moment has shaped me.

She let me fail because she believed my growth was worth the investment of resources.  My development was paramount – even if it meant having her name attached to a project that didn’t work out perfectly.

It took me a long time to realize that what I loved so much about her leadership that day was that it reminded me so much of Jesus.

So often what holds us back from letting our teams make mistakes is fear: fear that our projects will get messed up and it will reflect badly on us.  We use Jesus as a cover, saying we want to be good stewards, but I think that maybe what we mean is that we think the success and failure of a project depends on us.

Jesus surely has taught us better.

Jesus: who entrusted this great Gospel to me – the least of all the saints – not because I’m capable, but because He is.

Jesus: who has let me fail left and right and has taken on my mistakes for eternity.

Jesus: who has given me His name, even when I fail to honor it as I should.

2. Treat everyone with equal dignity and worth.

One of my favorite things about the Austin Film Festival is there is no VIP room; no place for celebrities to hide away.  I think that’s what makes writers and filmmakers of every level of success flock to Austin every October: the promise that they can escape the false flattery of hollywood and just be regular people in love with stories.

That culture is just a trickle down of the DNA of the heart of the leadership.  The folks who run the show over there really believe that everybody has equal dignity and worth – regardless of what’s on their resume.

I love sitting in the registration room during the festival.  I love watching my friend, the executive director, respond to volunteers and VIP’s alike with the same patience, the same policy, the same excitement.  I love the way – no matter how busy she is – she will stand up and help someone with their problem without even considering their credits.

I want to be more like her.

Deep in my heart there’s this hunger for power. There’s this sick joy that floods my soul when the right people acknowledge me, tweet about me, mention me.  And I work for a church.

My heart responds to what I see in that registration room because my heart was made for the Gospel: the great leveler of all mankind and the ‘good news’ that there is nothing you can have on your resume that makes you more or less worthy of attention and honor.

My heart responds to what I see in that registration room because I was made to be a part of the Church: a place and a people where bearing the image of God makes every human worth my time.

And if I start thinking there are things beside His Gospel and His image that can increase the value of a soul, than I’m living in a dangerous world of religion that has no place in this world.

Especially in Austin in October at my favorite film festival 🙂

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