On Tuesday morning I opened my emails and saw an invitation. It was from the administrator at the pre-school associated with my church. I had just met with her for a one-to-one conversation and I thought the invitation was a good sign. I thought I should probably say "yes."
Then I noticed the fine print.
This was an invitation to do something called "indoor sky-diving", which I had never heard of before. I consider it sort of a bad sign when the invitation is to something I have not heard of. Also I have never ever heard anyone put the words "indoor" and "skydiving" in the same sentence, let alone right smack dab next to each other.
I thought about it some more. I mentioned the invitation to our office administrator. She thought it was 'really cool", so I went ahead and said "yes", although I will admit to having a few misgivings when they asked me to sign a number of waivers.
Whatever 'type' it is that thrives on adventure and taking risks? -- I'm not it. I thought coming to Texas was risky enough. But, like public speaking, once you get up in front of people and open your mouth, you can't run away. I had signed the waiver, so I was in.
We carpooled down to the iFly center (that's what it was called) where we were all going into a wind tunnel and learn to fly, or float. We had to have a short training, and learn a few hand signals. We needed a helmet, and a special suit (like real sky-divers wear). We were going to get two 'flights': one where we stayed near the ground and basically learn to float, and the other where we would fly higher up into the wind tunnel. Both times our instructor was with us, holding onto us and guiding us around. No one flew alone.
A few of us expressed misgivings and wondered what we were doing there. But, in the end, almost everyone decided to try it. There is safety in numbers, and the good instruction at the beginning didn't hurt, either. We all sat together and waited our turn, clapping for each other and giving each other high fives when we were done.
When it was time for the woman right before me to try her first flight, she looked at me and motioned for me to go ahead of her. I hesitated for a moment. She was just afraid, and she wanted to delay. But she motioned to me again, so I got up.
But you know what? Our instructor pushed me back. He wouldn't let her back out. And he wouldn't let me let her. He probably knew that if she delayed she might back out entirely. He may also have suspected that she would ultimately regret it. He knew she was afraid, but that fear shouldn't stop her.
I thought about that. I thought about my impulse to step in, because she asked me to. I understood her fear, and felt the same way. But it was actually a good impulse. It also wasn't a pastoral impulse, although I might have mistaken it for one.
Pastoral leadership isn't about stepping in with the answers. It's about letting people wrestle with the questions, actually giving people the opportunity to wrestle. It's about giving people the opportunity to fly, even if they will also sometimes fail or fall.
For a long time I think congregations thought that the pastor's job was to go into the tunnel and sky-dive, while they watched. I suspect a lot of pastors thought that too. But actually I think that the pastor's job is a lot more like our sky-diving coach's: To teach: here are the hand signals. I will teach you. I will be with you. And then to invite us to go into the wind tunnel, with some skills but without all of the answers, to not know exactly what is going to happen, and to trust God.