I had a transition year between my last ministry assignment and coming to Italy. The major reason for the gap was to complete the needed financial support to live in Italy. It was an interesting year in many ways. God revealed some character issues that needed to change. One such issue was the recognition that I long to be indispensable. This became apparent to me when the phone quit ringing and the emails stopped because I was no longer in my former role. I felt like I had stepped into complete obscurity within my own organization-even though I had served there for some 25 years. Deep down I want to be needed-I want to be necessary. I actually think that all of us would admit to varying levels of this desire if we were completely honest. The Collins English Dictionary defines “indispensable” as that which is absolutely necessary or essential; that which is not to be disregarded or escaped.
The more I have contemplated this issue in my life it has hit me that this is contrary to the very nature of Christ-centered leadership. It’s ironic that much of our leadership endeavors, knowingly or unknowingly, go towards building our own platform or creating an environment where people seem to need us. But I think one of the primary goals of every leader should be to raise up more leaders. To do that you cannot be indispensable. If people absolutely need you for their own existence and success then they will never be fully empowered to effectively lead.
In coming to Italy this thinking became even more clear. By definition an expatriate missionary is to replace himself with a national. I don’t know of a single missionary who thinks that they as a cultural outsider can ultimately do the ministry better than someone who is from that very culture. Therefore the goal is to turn the mission over to nationals as soon as effectively possible. In a very exciting way we as an organization are going through a leadership transition even now-where an expatriate leader is giving way to an Italian national. To see true Italian thinking infused into the organization is amazing. But this would have never happened if that expatriate leader had seen himself as indispensable. On the contrary this expatriate leader saw himself as completely dispensable from day one. And that made all the difference. From early on he was looking for the right person to take his place. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is fine to want to matter in extending the kingdom of God-for His glory and honor. But when that desire crosses the fine line of being tied to your position, your unique gifts and abilities, or your platform-then you are heading down the path of indispensability and automatically limiting your ability to empower others.
In the midst of this current leadership transition in Italy-as exciting as it is-I can feel unnecessary-and at times it eats at me. In my weaker moments I still long to be indispensable. I want to be recognized. In my brokenness I need to be needed.
Where is your indispensability quotient today? Where are the new leaders around you that truly respect you-but don’t need you to be effective? Can you graciously give way to fresh leadership in your role if God calls you to?
1 Samuel 13 records that Saul, the first king of Israel, acted foolishly in his leadership life and the kingdom was taken away from him-theoretically. It took many more chapters of biblical history for Saul to relinquish the throne. He could not give way to God’s replacement. Ultimately he died a tragedy-and King David finally began to reign. May we know the seasons of our leadership lives and may we lead wisely as dispensable leaders.