Doing it together

I once heard someone say that there is no such thing as “a sense of ownership”. That resonates with me as I think through all of the times I have seen a group with power create the image or illusion that that power is shared when the reality is that it is not. Put plainly, a “sense of ownership” is just that: the illusion of being a stakeholder.

The other night, I was at a meeting to evaluate a recent week-long ministry project we had done in partnership with Pasadena Covenant Church. Three youth from our church who had volunteered during the week showed up for the meeting (I was not expecting them), and each one actively shared their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions for what went well and what could be changed or improved for next year.

Our good friend and board chair was the facilitator of the meeting, and I so appreciated how he received these youth and their ideas. I have been in enough meetings where the leader is very obviously humoring some participant and not really taking seriously what they have to say, and that was not remotely our friend’s approach. He made sure that space was made for their comments; he listened intently and asked follow-up questions; he complimented them for their insights. They were never rushed; he never grew impatient or “accidentally” looked over their waving hands; they were treated with honor.

That meeting was a good reminder for me of the kind of listener and leader I want to be. I can be tempted by impatience, and as much as I say that I am not an “efficiency” person, I can be tempted there too.

I am reminded of the story Henri Nouwen tells at the beginning and end of his tiny book, In the Name of Jesus. It is the story of him being convicted by Jesus’ practice of sending out the disciples in two’s and thus making the decision to travel to deliver the series of lectures that became this book with Bill, one of the disabled members of his community. Nouwen shares honestly about the limitations in his imagination of what “doing it together” could really mean in this situation, and poignantly about Bill’s own sense of partnership with him in his work. The conclusion of the story always leaves me in tears: the vision of Nouwen standing before a prestigious gathering, Bill at his side, taking each page of Nouwen’s lecture as he would finish, and interjecting occasionally with a thought or comment to add to Nouwen’s powerful words.

Nouwen concludes the story with this thought: “Then I realized the full truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where two or three meet in my Name, I am among them’ (Matthew 18:19). In the past, I had always given lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I had wondered how much of what I had said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten.”

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