Since we are home in America for a few months, I have had time to reflect upon some areas in my life that have changed since arriving in Portugal four years ago. One of the biggest lessons I am learning is to “let go and let others…”
What do I mean by this? Simply put, I like to control things. I don’t like surprises. I want order, and I want things done right. For example, at church I like to make sure all the chairs are perfectly aligned. I think people pay closer attention in an orderly room. I want the bulletin to look a certain way, and I want things at church to go as I plan. In big and small things, I like to have control. Can you tell that I don’t like to “let go”?
But I am learning to loosen my grip on the details of life and invite others to work with me. This learning process has stretched and challenged me, but the progress is encouraging.
In the early stages of our work in Montijo, we began meeting with three families that were interested in planting a church in our town. I began to develop a detailed plan of action for the launch of the church. I made a four page, full-color, professional looking proposal and presented it to everybody after having dinner together one night. I expected everybody to be on board with my ideas, but exactly the opposite happened. None of them thought my plan was the right thing to do, and they were vocal in telling me so. Going home that night, I felt discouraged and humiliated, but I had a choice to make. I could either “go it alone” and control everything, or I could listen, be patient, and work with the brothers and sisters God had placed in my life.
Thankfully, I chose to listen and be patient. As time went on, I began to see the wisdom of what they were saying, and in turn, they began to trust me more as a leader. In the end, we planted the church together and it is wonderful to see God work through us together.
It’s not always been easy. People let you down or forget to do what they promised. Other times, one person’s idea of how to do something is different than your own. But, I am also starting to see that this is a risk worth taking.
To let go and let others is risky because it means you yield control in exchange for partnership. You can either control everything or you can work with other people, but you can’t do both. As a result, allowing others to work with you means that you must often lead from behind or from beside rather than from the front. It means helping others succeed and get credit for something you ordinarily could have or would have done yourself. It is a process of enabling others to grow. It’s like the saying, “Good leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.” That’s the goal of letting go and letting others.
Also, I quickly discovered that “letting go” is not passivity. In fact, when you are a leader that works to create other leaders, it is often more time intensive and challenging. I can prepare a Bible message by myself much quicker than I can train somebody else to preach a sermon. It is much easier for me to make plans for the church by myself than it is to get other leaders in the church to reach a consensus on this matter. But then it would be my plan and my vision, not our plan and vision.
On the Sunday before we left Portugal to return home on furlough, I looked around the church grateful for the friends and co-laborers God had placed in my life. This was now the true test of the lesson I was learning. For six months I would be gone. Other people would be setting up the chairs, making the bulletins, planning the services, leading the Bible studies, and many other things that I would normally do. I had no option except to let go and let others. At that moment, I thanked God for patiently teaching me this important life lesson. I was leaving, but the work would continue on.
And that’s just the way it should be.