Role Reversal: The Sweet Surrender of Following


It hit me one morning recently … “THAT” is the one thing I would work on this year. THAT is the area of significant growth for me in 2016. (More on THAT in a minute.)

I have never been a “New Year’s Resolution” guy. But in recent years I have tended to pick an area where I wanted to be formed spiritually … an area where I believe God might want to shape me. I believe one of the huge purposes in my everyday life is being formed and changed in character. But it’s hard. And I’ll concede it’s easier for me to amble along instead of consciously partnering with God – and others – for my growth.

This idea of focusing on one area for formation came from pondering Paul’s words to the Philippians, when he was talking about working toward the goal of heaven and being spiritually prepared and formed for that day. In this context, he writes, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal.”

Back to THAT. For this year, the one thing I want to do for my spiritual formation is learn how not to be the boss. For more than 30 years, I was the leader. As a senior pastor, I set the direction, agenda, values and priorities for our church. And I loved it. I enjoyed being the driver. The one in control.

And this season, for virtually the first time ever, I am not the leader. I’m a member of the team. The roles are reversed. And I have been failing miserably at living in my new role. In my head, I am constantly arguing with my boss and defending myself against his imagined (and sometimes real) criticisms. Too easily, I join my colleagues in criticizing what my manager has done or said. I would have done it differently, I tell myself. My blood pressure goes up and I lack peace.

I am a hospital chaplain and I love what I get to do. I love being with people in their crises. I want to keep doing this work. But I dislike the internal storm that is constantly raging inside me. The tension of being a member of the team versus being the leader. I could quit my job. I could keep focusing on my manager’s character and leadership style and blaming him for how I feel.

But, thanks to the radical truth and grace that The Crucible Project teaches us, I was reminded that my inner tension isn’t really about my boss. It is about me.  

And I want something different for myself. I want to become a God-honoring follower. I want to learn how to be helpful to my manager. In dialogue with my colleagues, I want to stop feeding my internal tension and respond in a way that honors God, my boss and my own growth. God put me here, after all. I’m no longer driving the bus. I’m a passenger. I want to learn how I can serve with joy from the back seat.

And, as we say in our work … the journey continues. Now when I feel that inner tension, I’m reminded of God’s words in Psalm 16:  “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” After Peter denied his Lord, Jesus sought out this disciple and called him by name, “Peter.” When I am criticizing myself or imagining my boss’s criticism, I whisper to myself, “John” reminding me of Jesus’ loving acceptance of me in my frail humanness.

I’m doing some other things, too:

  • I ordered a new journal. Writing out my thoughts helps me to focus on my growth, not my manger.
  • Twice, I have called my friend Mike and received his help to refocus me.
  • From an old 12-step meditation book, I am reading on “letting go of control.”
  • I am practicing imagery exercises of being a leaf that peacefully floats down the stream, gently moving around obstacles, rather than becoming stuck.
  • I am going to call up one of my former staff members and get his discernment and wisdom on how I can serve from the rear instead of the front. He modeled that well when he worked for me. And how, he will be the teacher and I’ll be the student.

I am consciously partnering with God – and others – for my growth. It is not always easy. And I’m experiencing more peace than a few weeks ago, when I choose to live in the bondage of my inner conflict.

So, whatever — or with whomever — your tension may be … my prayer is that you too, will begin the hard work to release it and allow Jesus to whisper to His beloved disciple. [Insert your name here.]

By John Casey

John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.

Photo Credit: Jason Eppink via Creative Commons.