The Call to Love

Please click here to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this sermon.

Perhaps you have heard or read somewhere about the differences between “management” and “leadership.”

Business consultants and community organizers say that managing is a focus on “doing things right,” making sure everybody knows what their job is, knows what they are responsible for. It is making sure everyone on your team has the right tools or right resources to get the project done. You are managing well if everybody is on the same page, is aware of the deadline, and gets the job done under cost and on time!

Leading is a little different. If you are leading, your focus is not on getting the job done right, but on making sure the right job is done. To be a leader is to inspire people to do the right thing to move the organization in the right direction; to always be listening for what calls us into the future.

All is well when great managers work for great leaders. Leaders make sure everyone is aware of where they are going. The managers are relieved when the organization has gotten there.

Yet every great leader always has their sights on the next place to be, and the next, and the next.

A leader is never done. There’s always another place to go, and another, and another.

Managers may be satisfied with a checklist that gets marked off as each task is completed.

Leaders inspire everyone to take off on the adventure. Inspiration comes in the form of stories and narratives, dreams, visions, metaphors.

Leaders are loyal to what could be, but isn’t quite yet. What isn’t quite yet can’t be described in concrete detail, so imagination is required. Leaders are loyal to a creative force that keeps pulling them onward.

A manager’s loyalty is to efficiency, smooth operations, and harmony. A leader knows that change and transformation, even conflict, and certainly a good measure of not knowing are required for moving into the future.

They say a manager assigns, while a leader inspires others to soar.

A manager gets a thrill from seeing what’s been accomplished.

Leaders are happy when everything is in process.

In every congregation, you have both the folks that lead and the folks that manage. In a small congregation, you sometimes have the same folks doing both. I think a lot of us are good at managing. There is a project to be done. We do it. We see it through. There are problems to solve, and we find the solution.

We are often good at being managers.

But we also need to be and become great leaders, inspiring each other for the journey ahead.

There is an energy—or a fire—that leaders have, that perhaps managers don’t. Congregational leadership is about more than mastering the details of “how to get things done.” It is asking, always asking, who needs us? To whom or to what are we accountable? To whom do we answer? Whose life is altered by our choices? Where are we going? What call are we answering?

These are spiritual, religious, theological questions.

In this congregation and in many others, those who have been around for a while can see that folks who have served in congregational leadership roles often suffer from burnout. When they do, they take a step back. Sometimes they leave congregational life altogether. Unpleasantness and conflict at your place of employment takes a toll for sure. The same sort of unresolved (sometimes unacknowledged) messiness in congregational life can end the membership of many a UU leader. Were they leaders who weren’t inspired? Or were they managers who had too great a task to accomplish?

We try hard to manage well. Perhaps we should also be teaching and learning the art of leadership.

Managers try to solve all the problems, so there is no conflict, just harmony. Leaders, on the other hand, cultivate a relationship with a source of sustenance, power, authority, creative energy beyond themselves, beyond the person sitting across from them in the (virtual) board room, or on any particular committee, even beyond the particular congregation they are a part of in any given time span.

Leaders freely explore to whom or to what they truly belong, to whom or to what are they committed to or loyal to. Leaders have a tolerance for, a healthy respect for, an understanding of a different perspective regarding conflict and change. 

Spiritual leadership allows a shift away from finding the “right” answer to lifting up the most worthwhile questions. Spiritual leaders are more enamored of learning than of action, of agility more than control, of experimentation and messiness more than neatness. Their devotion and loyalty are to the creative energy that is always available, always calling us into the future, the “what will be.”  

A congregation full of leaders learns to tell inspiring stories about who or what they belong to and are called by. They can create, from their own separate stories, a bold and powerful narrative with and for the congregation.

They are always asking who needs us? Who loves us? To whom are we accountable? To whom do we answer, or to whom ought we to answer? Whose life is altered by our choices? With whose life is ours all bound up with, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?

These are basic spiritual leadership questions.

To whom or to what do you belong? Is there a creative force larger than you, larger than us? If there is, how does this creative force make it possible to achieve truth, beauty, goodness? How does knowing to whom or to what we belong transform our behavior? How do we know what to do? How do we set priorities, goals? What is the purpose of our lives? How does knowing to whom or to what we belong inform our behavior? How do we answer the call of love together?

The Call of Love

In the midst of a world
marked by tragedy and beauty
there must be those
who bear witness
against unnecessary destruction
and who, with faith,
rise and lead
in freedom,
with grace and power.

There must be those who
speak honestly
and do not avoid seeing
what must be seen
of sorrow and outrage,
or tenderness,
and wonder.

There must be those whose
grief ­troubles the water
while their voices sing
and speak
refreshed worlds.

There must be those
whose exuberance
rises with lovely energy
that articulates
earth’s joys.

There must be those who
are restless for
respectful and loving
companionship among human beings,
whose presence invites ­people
to be themselves without fear.

There must be those
who gather with the congregation
of remembrance and compassion
draw water from
old wells,
and walk the ­simple path
of love for neighbor.

There must be communities of ­people
who seek to do justice
love kindness and walk humbly with God,
who call on the strength of
to heal,
and bless life.

—Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker

If you appreciated this reflection, please text to give or visit our Give Now page to support the UUCSH Share the Plate efforts to assist those in need.