Leading as a professional


Brothers and sisters, we are not professionals.  So says Piper.*

But we are.

Or, at least, I am.  I am a professional.  After an idyllic three years at the ‘right’ university I walked into a job with a top three City law firm.  And there began my professional training.  I became a professional.  In ways I am still coming to recognise even now, six years after leaving the profession, the training formed me.  Perhaps forever.

It was a discerning friend who told me a year or so back that I have a high capacity both for intimidation and for intimacy.  As only some words can, this has entered deeply into my life.  You see, I knew that I have a high capacity for intimacy.  Get close to me and you will find that I am incredibly committed to you.  I will risk vulnerability with you because I trust you and, unless you break that trust, I will share my heart with you and listen hard for yours.  I will assume that you are trustworthy and that, like me, you desire to know fully and to be fully known.  I will cheer for you and fight for you and I will risk my heart by opening it to you as much as you have time to hear it.

Yes, a high capacity for intimacy.  But the revelation was the high capacity for intimidation.  I didn’t realise at first how I present to those who don’t know me.  I assumed that the lack of confidence, the sense of not being enough, ever, that plagues me was as obvious to the outsider as it is to me.  I never saw that people might be intimidated by me on first meeting.  I never saw the professional that they saw – the handshake as firm as most men’s(!), the purposeful walk, the make-up-on-and-every-hair-in-place look, the choice of clothes and shoes, the articulate intensity and speed with which I can tend to speak.  I never saw the City girl I had been made into because professional was not a mask I wore: it is the person I had become.  And I have lived comfortably in this skin for eleven years.

Yet lately this word from a friend and my academic reflections on the professionalisation of ecclesial leadership have led me to explore this deeply.  I stand firmly against the professionalisation of Christian leadership and the more I reflect upon it theologically the more I reject it.  But I also have to admit how deeply this model infects my own pursuit of church leadership.  My training, my socialisation as a professional makes it hard for me to deny these tendencies.  My life, the way I hold myself, my priorities, they all represent a commitment to the values of the professional.  Not only do I have to school my heart not to chase after the measures of success celebrated by my professional training, I also have to recognise that the very way I conduct myself screams professional – confident, untroubled by failure or feelings of insufficiency.  I have to recognise that a highly-developed ability to ‘blag’, perfected in client meetings where at not even 24 years old I had to look like I was worth the £250 per hour the client was paying for my time, this blag factor actually limits my ability to do ministry well, to connect with those whom I serve.

Somehow I am becoming increasingly convinced that I need to find a way to strip back this professional facade if I am genuinely committed to a model of ecclesial leadership which is decidedly non-professionalised.  And as I have said, to be fair to me, if you get close enough you see the real me.  You see that capacity for intimacy: you are invited into the intensity with which I think and feel, the struggles I have with identity and confidence, the laughter and joy which so characterise my heart – and its shadow side, the sadness which can sometimes overtake and engulf me.  If you get close enough, you see that the professional veneer is just that: veneer and a training in faking it till you make it!

But what if you don’t get close enough?  What if the thing which causes me to hide in silence in large groups where I am not known, that introversion – what if it only serves to amplify your perception of my professional confidence, if it makes you think I am stand-offish and unapproachable, intimidating even?  What if  I can’t modulate the way that I am in the world, that City girl thing, and so never manage to dispel that perception you have of me?  What if I serve as a leader in your church or community and yet never find a way to break down the perception of intimidation, to invite you into the intimacy of relationship?

Brothers and sisters, we are not professionals.  But some of us may always have to work at that, stripping back the intimidation factors and the preoccupation with measures of success which belong to the sphere of professionalism in order to enter fully into an ecclesial leadership which is relational and not professionalised.  This is the heart of my research project, to articulate a leadership model which is prophetic in its stance against a contemporary model of leadership founded in the culture of professionalism and big business.  Yet it is not just a dispassionate research project – I am finding that I have absolutely zero objective detachment from my work! – but also a heart journey for me: I read and write this at an academic level because I want to communicate it to others, of course, but also because I want to be sure that I will learn to live it.

So pray for me as I engage in this research, that I would not only articulate in words (and, one day, books and articles, lectures and talks!) the leadership story that the Spirit of God might be leading me to tell but also that I would articulate it in a life well-lived, a leadership story lived in hope of an ending worthy of a king.  And pray for the other Christian leaders whom you know too: that they also would live free from professionalisation, telling a different story with their leadership.

*  Well, not the sisters bit (but then you guessed that!)

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One thought on “Leading as a professional

  1. Thanks for sharing this Chloe. I’m asking some similar questions to those posed in this piece, only in the opposite direction! Would love to chat to you about it sometime, if we were every in proximity again!

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