Recently I attended a church meeting and stayed overnight at the beautiful Green Lake Conference Center here in Wisconsin. My room was in a dormitory about a third of a mile away from the meeting site, so I made the pleasant walk down a charming little road by the lake to get there. But by the time my meeting ended, it was 10:00 PM and I realized I would be walking back to my dorm in the dark.
Luckily, I chanced upon a young couple walking the same way I was. I told them I was headed back to my dorm and we walked together for a short while. Then they began to slow down, and I realized this was just a pleasure walk for them. They didn’t have to venture much farther. I excused myself and passed ahead of them down the shadowy lane.
By this time, the lights from the main buildings were no longer visible, and the way ahead had become a pitch black tunnel of trees. Behind me, I could still hear the young couple:
Have you ever been in a place so dark? the young man was asking his girlfriend. Do you think there are bears here?
You would think my eyes would adjust, but they didn’t. I gave up trying to see ahead of me and focused on the ground, watching my steps to be sure I didn’t trip on a pothole or rock. I plodded on, determined to get back to my room somehow. At least I could hear the comforting voices behind me.
After awhile, the woman called out from what seemed like a mile away.
We’re still behind you! she assured me.
And then, after a beat, the man’s voice echoed, But not for long!
That’s okay! I called back bravely, and I kept marching into the dark.
Welcome to leadership.
Sometimes leadership means stepping forward into the dark without knowing the way, pretending to be brave for the troops. Sometimes it means moving on without the troops.
Sometimes it means getting eaten by a bear.
I didn’t get eaten by a bear, and I did eventually make it back to my dorm, but I felt utterly alone the rest of the way.
The next morning, retracing my steps in the light, it was clear that, even though I was walking as if blind, the path was well worn by many people before me. Since 1943, when the Baptists first established that conference center, Christians have been walking that same lane, and each of their steps paved the way for mine.
If you are a leader in your church, lay or clergy, and the way seems dark, keep going, one step at a time, and don’t be afraid. It is your job to seek the most faithful way. Sometimes, someone will follow. Sometimes, you walk alone. But you can be sure others have been down this road before you. And one of them most certainly was Christ.