On July 2, 1881, James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington D.C. Neither of the shots that President Garfield was hit with should have been fatal, but tragically, he died 79 days later on Sept. 19, 1881.
Historians record different accounts of what actually caused Garfield’s death. However, Candice Millard writes in her book, Destiny of the Republic, “the international medical community forcefully condemned the decisions he (Doctor Willard Bliss) had made and the actions he had taken, particularly the repeated, unsterilized probing of the president’s wounds.”
Chief Physician Bliss made it clear that he was in charge of the President’s care and dismissed all other physicians that had come to lend aid, even Garfield’s own family physician and the chief medical purveyor of the army. Throughout the ordeal, Bliss was inflexible and stubborn in his theories about where the bullet was and the strategy of how to care for the President.
The way I see it…
There is a difference between stubbornness and determination. Stubbornness is the unwillingness to change while determination is an unwavering drive. Church leaders can be guilty of both. A stubborn leader may feel threatened by others ideas, expertise, and experience. They may develop tunnel vision, only willing to see things in a certain light. A determined leader can use people to accomplish a specific assignment, as a means to an end. Sometimes a determined leader leaves people behind being so focused on the goal.
Neither of these types of leaders are helpful in a church. What the church needs today is a flexible leader. I don’t mean wishy-washy, or lacking conviction. I’m not talking about compromising foundations of theology or doctrine. I’m talking about the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the culture.
Here are three attributes of a flexible leader.
Flexible Leaders Learn. They recognize “we’re not in Kansas anymore” and want to know how to better connect with the community around them. They are open to new methods to serve others and reach the lost and can adapt for the sake of the Gospel.
Flexible Leaders Listen. They are willing to hear the concerns, ideas and criticisms of others without being offended. They lay aside their preferences and can think critically about what others perceive, both inside and outside of their church.
Flexible Leaders Let Go. They invest in the development of other leaders and then turn them loose to do the ministry. They don’t dictate, they collaborate.
Dr. Bliss, the medical expert that he was, killed the president because of his stubbornness. Don’t be like Dr. Bliss. Be a leader that learns, listens and lets go all for the good of the church and the glory of God! What would you add to the list of flexible leader attributes?