by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister

This reflection is fourth in a series on leadership competencies featured in training at the Kansas Leadership Center.  WDC is partnering with South Central Conference to offer this training to congregational leaders.  Today’s column is on the topic of “Managing Self.”

As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, my reflections turn to the Biblical accounts of Mary and Joseph, and their important role in preparing a home for Jesus – God’s Word made flesh on earth.   They demonstrated a concept often quoted in Kansas Leadership Center training: “Leadership is an activity, not a position.”  Mary and Joseph did not occupy powerful positions in their society.  Mary was just a teen-age girl, engaged to be married. She had very little control over her own life.  Joseph was “descended from the house and family of David,” but was not wealthy or influential.  When the time came to present their child to the Lord in the temple, they offered sacrifices fitting for the poor: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  It was not their position of power or wealth that impacted the world, but their willingness to offer themselves for God’s purposes.  Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels reveal how Mary and Joseph demonstrated the ability to “Manage Self,” one of the areas of leadership identified by the Kansas Leadership Center.  This includes the following competencies:

Know your strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers; and Know the story others tell about you – When Mary received the announcement from the angel that she would bear a child to be the Son of God she was frightened and perplexed.  When Joseph learned that his fiancée was pregnant, he was worried what people would say; hoping to avoid public disgrace he “resolved to quietly break the engagement….” Yet, in the face of vulnerability Mary and Joseph also chose to exercise their strengths:  Mary trusted in God’s promise, and Joseph obeyed divine instructions to continue to care for Mary in marriage.  They also listened to other voices, which helped them comprehend their experience and the identity of Jesus:  When the pregnant Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth cried out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  After the birth of Jesus, the angel said to shepherds in the fields, “To you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  The wise men asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” The elderly Simeon, blessed the infant Jesus in the temple, and said to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The sobering prophecy by Simeon points to another set of leadership competencies that are crucial in “managing self:” Choose among competing values and Get used to uncertainty and conflict.  As the earthly parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph encountered difficult choices and danger.  The night of Jesus’ birth there was no room for them in the inn, and later this young family became refugees fleeing for their life from the threat of Herod’s tyranny and violence.   They showed us that God is present in the midst of the world’s realities and suffering.

Finally, Joseph and Mary’s experience invite us to embrace the complementary leadership practices of Experimenting beyond your comfort zone and Taking care of yourself.  Christmas is a time to enjoy the comforts of family, food, familiar traditions and cozy surroundings.  Yet, it is also a time to open our lives to new experiences of God’s presence and purpose.  Like Mary and Joseph, may we too recognize how God is calling us to become a home for the Word made Flesh.