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The Leadership Labyrinth: Negotiating the Paradoxes of Ministry

Author – Judson Edwards

ISBN: 1-57312-441-9

–Review by Douglas Balzer


   Personally, the inclusion of labyrinth in the title of this book appealed to me. A labyrinth is known to be an intricate maze or network of tunnels. The word itself brings to mind the Labyrinth built by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. The story King Minos and the Minotaur itself elicit the sense of being caught in the cunning maze that Daedalus, who constructed it, almost did not escape it himself. The title of this book took my mind directly to this story. It may not have been the author’s intention to reference this story of Greek mythology. Still, as a reader, the mythological story became my semiotic reference point. It made me laugh, and the memories of my experiences in The Leadership Labyrinth were refreshed with all the beautiful, good, bad, and ugliness of the experiences of finding my way through.

   Judson Edwards has a pleasant and readable writing style. It gives the reader the sense of a relaxed conversation in full view of a beautiful sunset. The insightfulness, humor, and encouragement present a level of uncommon humble wisdom. He weaves a tapestry of his experiences together that any pastor, at any level of experience or tenure, is able to resonate. The book has a sense of being a form of wisdom literature. The approach of the book is focused on the dynamics of human relationships within the context of a spiritual community. If anyone has experience with the church, you know it can be messy and yet beautiful at the same time. Edwards makes an excellent presentation that would give even the downhearted hope in what God is doing in the Church.

   If the contents of the book were to be placed in a category, I would recommend it be placed in your library prominently in the semiotics of emotional intelligence. In my opinion, as humble as it may be, it is a book to be often referenced to keep any minister, pastor, business owner, and anyone engaged in leadership able to practice the semiotics of reading the relationships you encounter daily. It is useful as a self-reflective tool as well to gain insight into oneself.

   Edwards presents 21 of the paradoxes typically navigated by leaders in ministry. He indicates the list is not necessarily comprehensive. He presents the Labyrinth and defines it as the “relationship paradox.” He notes where people lose sight of the most important aspect of the church is the critical need for trusted relationship (my paraphrase). Of course, it is good to be reminded of the beautiful, good, bad, and ugliness of negotiating the Labyrinth of ministry.

   Edwards impression is three types or basic categories of people who are present in every church and how their relationship the leader and leadership affect or infect the atmosphere and life of the congregation. The first category is the energizers; these people are noted as being the ones who support and make the leadership feel better, feel good, they sustain the spirit and recharge the fuel in the tanks of the leaders. Leadership needs energizers. The second category of people are the regular folks; he describes them as people who may not necessarily sustain the leader’s spirit, but they do not demoralize the leadership either. This group is generally the largest group in any congregation. The third category of people are the drainers; They are the problematic, energy sapping, take your joy stomp on it, and ruin your day people.

   The difference between the energizers and drainers are the levels of expectations they have of leadership. Essentially, energizers take an approach of lower expectations while the drainers have various levels of high expectations. Edwards’ shares his experience with drainers as the people for whom we will never measure up to their expectations. Whether it is preaching, counseling, leading, availability, or vision, it is never good enough. The kicker is the drainers’ activities that undermine the leadership are not over the top but instead are subtle and subversive. The subtleness of their unmet expectations is expressed through relationships that drag the regular folk into the drag and sweep of their net. It is problematic if leadership is not careful to take care of the issue quickly. Leaders need to practice reading the signs of their congregation by paying attention to the ebb and flow of the currents surrounding the relationships of the community, in order that if a whirlpool starts to form it doesn’t have the opportunity to become a maelstrom.

   Edwards states, we will never be able to measure up to the drainers expectations. When a leader allows themselves to form around “I am as you desire me,” the most important aspect of one’s individuality and ministry is lost, authenticity. The authenticity of Christ at work in me, you, our community and in the world. Frankly, Edwards’ warning is viable and noteworthy as leadership faces turbulent times in the 21st century (all you have to do is look at the news) and going forward into the 22nd century if the Lord waits. So, what is a leader to do? Is it damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Edwards suggests it doesn’t have to be either. Instead, he instructs the reader to remember we follow Jesus, the Anointed One.

   There are three insights Edwards encourages leadership to use in response to the paradoxes of negotiating the Labyrinth. He suggests following Jesus into times of refreshment and seeking God. Jesus modeled a pattern of renewal and refreshment. You are not able to take care of others if you don’t first take care of yourself. His approach reminded me of the air mask instructions the flight attendants give before take off. Take care of placing the mask on yourself before you help anyone else. Otherwise, the results could be catastrophic for both people. He notes there is a serious lack of self-care amidst church leadership. After all isn’t it the sacrificial life, serving the church? Wrong altar to sacrifice your life on.

   Second, follow Jesus by harmonizing drainers with energizers. There is a saying, “Where focus goes energy flows, and results show.” Jesus harmonized his detractors and supporters in order to keep himself from being distracted from his mission and ministry, proclaiming the Kingdom of God was here. The efforts of the drainer/detractors in Jesus’ ministry were significant, and a huge amount of effort was used to move him away from his focus. Yet, it was His laser focus that kept him balancing his drainers and energizers. Leaders in the church should learn from whom they follow, Jesus.

   Third, follow Jesus by staying focused on the plan and purpose God has leadership engaged in. No detours or distractions. Jesus practiced a rhythm of renewal. He intentionally took time away from both his energizers and drainers/detractors for times of solitude. Even with his intentional rhythm, Jesus did not shake off all of his drainers. He still had to deal and contend with them, and leadership in the church today still is dealing and contending. Edwards reminds the leadership of the church, pastors especially, that not everyone liked Jesus. So, it will be with Pastors; not everyone will like you. In the end, it is God’s grace that gives the strength and what is needed to serve in diverse communities with all three of these categories of people. He will provide the grace to serve even the drainers.

   If you liked this review, share it, and leave a comment. It is my hope that if you are in leadership in any capacity in the church or leadership in the community, you will pick up this book as a handy resource of encouragement and inspiration to continue to pursue God’s grace in your leadership.