We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Summer Reading (iii)

Nathaniel Philbrick's, Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (Penguin Books, 2003) tells the story of the United States Exploring Expedition or Ex.Ex., which sent a small American naval fleet into the Pacific to discover and chart the islands and shores of that ocean.  More than anything else, however, the book is about the leadership of the expedition's commander, Lt. Charles Wilkes, and the reaction of his officers and men to his leadership.  The book itself is a good read, well-written and well-researched.  History buffs will enjoy it.

Philbrick's account of the Ex. Ex. does give one pause to reflect on effective leadership styles.  Under Wilkes' leadership the expedition achieved a remarkable number of accomplishments under the most difficult of situations.  Wilkes' men, on the other hand, despised him.  He was a martinet who seemed to take delight in humiliating subordinates.  He chose favorites, always less competent men.  He was rash and absolutely insensitive to the feelings of others.  He made enemies that he didn't need to make, and he was by all accounts his own worst enemy.  It seems that the main reason that the Ex. Ex. is an obscure event in history even though it was a greater and more epic achievement than the Lewis & Clark Expedition was the antipathy Wilkes' naval and political superiors had for him.  Philbrick makes the point, however, that Wilkes' leadership was effective during the voyage of discovery and in the years after the voyage when Wilkes published its findings.  His stubborn determination to succeed and gain glory brought him a measure of the success, if not the glory.  He made bad decisions, but he still achieved his goals in spite of them.  He bludgeoned his way to those goals.  There was, of course, a high price for this style of leadership, which both he and his men had to pay.

Effective church leaders cannot exercise Wilkes' style of leadership, at least not for long.  One can hardly call it a Christ-like model, which is our fundamental benchmark in the church.  Still, Sea of Glory is a reminder that pastors and other church leaders are called to exercise effective leadership, which is something different from comfortable or "nice" leadership.  Discipline remains an issue in church life however much we tend to ignore it today.  Christ himself was not the nice guy leader popularly imagined in the pews.  Effectiveness in the church sometimes requires directness and even some bluntness, but of course a church leader has to be especially discerning and wise in exercising that kind of leadership.  Wilkes tended to confuse his own needs, wants, and fears with the larger goals of his expedition, a "luxury" we do not have in the church.