by Nicole Havelka
Minister for Resourcing, Networking and Creativity
I geek out for a ridiculously wide range of books. I do a little happy dance when I discover a new researcher writing about organizational change. I sit up and take notice when I hear a compelling review of the next young adult fantasy series. My pulse quickens when I find a book with a fresh take on leadership.
I have to say that I never geeked out about a parenting book before. Though I love children and think a lot about how to form them in faith, I don’t usually find myself searching that topic in Amazon for my next read.
One of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink, unexpectedly piqued my interest in a new parenting book in one of his recent newsletters. He typically writes about sales, marketing and what motivates people to perform their best. I subscribe to his occasional newsletter for the books, apps and resources he recommends. This time he suggested “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a mother of two children and the former Dean of Freshman at Stanford University. I wasn’t exactly sure where he was heading with the recommendation, but the description and a short interview with the author inspired my curiosity. So I downloaded the audiobook on my iPad and hit “play” during several of my drives through Ohio.
Lythocott-Haims writes that while she was the Dean of Freshman at Stanford, she saw that the young adults coming to college were almost completely incapable of managing their lives, their work, and (especially) their failures by themselves. Her colleagues saw the same thing at other schools. Then one night, while cutting her son’s meat at dinner (he was 10 at the time), she realized she was raising the same kind of kids.
So she began researching why the over-parenting that was crippling a certain class of kids was happening and what could be done to stop it. She wanted to know how we might raise children, equipping them to be adults who could handle life’s ups and downs — not to mention day-to-day tasks like cooking, doing laundry and making doctor’s appointments.
She suggests a rather simple remedy for teaching children (or really anyone) to do something independently in four steps:
- do it for them;
- do it with them;
- watch them do it;
- then they do it completely independently.
While reading this book, I saw just why Pink had recommended it — this problem and its solution applies to just about anything we do as leaders. How often do we do things for people and then bemoan the fact that they cannot to do the task on their own? If we don’t get to steps 2-4, the people around us won’t ever learn how to do it. It’s as simple as that.
In my work in Ohio as Minister for Resourcing, Networking and Creativity, I rely heavily on empowering teams to do the ministry of the wider church. After all, the Ohio Conference United Church of Christ is not a staff; the conference is the 360 churches and the people within them who embody Jesus’ vision for life and ministry everyday. I am more faithful to the call of Jesus when I am equipping people to do the work of ministry and then stepping out of the way as they do it. After all, even Jesus didn’t do it all himself. He called himself a group of disciples. He taught them. He sent them out on their own. They messed up. A lot.
If we take seriously following Jesus, he calls us to be equippers, not merely doers of ministry. If we are doing all the work, we diminish others’ ability to discern and hone their gift for ministry. Doing too much, taking too much onto our own shoulders as leaders, lulls us into believing that we can do it all ourselves; that we don’t need others. Or worse, we believe that others can ruin the good work we do on our own.
Maybe we can try this simple process described by Lythcott-Haims to teach people to do ministry. Yes, it takes longer than doing the work yourself. Yes, it requires that you trust other people. Yes, it demands that you pay attention to the gifts, hopes and dreams that other people have for ministry. Yes, it is just plain hard and frustrating work. Yes, you will have to stand back and watch someone else do something not exactly as you would have done it. You will have to let go, keep calm and get out of the way.
You will risk failure. You will risk seeing others be disappointed at their failures. You will risk having some of the balls drop that you know should stay in the air. But, as some wise person pointed out — we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.
Be faithful by equipping people to do things on their own. Then get out of the way.