Making Your Bed and Other Lessons in Leadership

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A few years ago, the University of Texas invited one of its distinguished alumni to deliver a commencement address to the school’s graduating class. They selected Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander of the United States Special Operations Command. A Navy Seal for more than 36 years, Admiral McRaven focused his remarks not on his long military career but instead on what he learned during the first six months of his training. His insightful observations about his early career may prove helpful for church leaders.

Make Your Bed

Each and every day of training, members of the military begin with a simple task: making their bed. To many of those who, as Admiral McRaven says, are “aspiring to be warriors,” this mundane chore may seem far from germane.  Yet, the very first inspection conducted each morning focuses on this simple, detailed activity.  Why? Admiral McRaven explains the philosophy behind this daily ritual by noting that anyone can do this simple task. Making your bed reinforces the fact that little things in life matter, and it provides a modest sense of accomplishment at the start of your day.  He notes, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. […] If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.”

There is no doubt in my mind that dedicated church leaders engage in their work because they want to make a difference in the world. Yet, in this calling, many will find that the labors are few, the stakes are high, and the tasks can be overwhelming. When faced with stressful situations in matters of church leadership, remember the wisdom of concentrating on the small details of your assignment, not only to provide a sense of accomplishment and momentum but also as a matter of faithfulness to the work of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus honors the servant who has been faithful with the small things. As Admiral McRaven explains, “If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”

Find a Teammate

Admiral McRaven also observes that his training taught him the value of teamwork.  Navy Seal recruits are required to engage in tasks that are bigger than a single person can accomplish on their own. They must learn to rely on and value the contributions of others. Describing an activity in which the recruits were required to paddle against the powerful currents of the ocean, Admiral McRaven says, “Everyone must paddle.  You cannot do it alone.  If you want to change the world, find someone else to help you paddle.” Do you remember in the Gospels how Jesus deploys his disciples in ministry? He sends them out in pairs as if to teach them the essential value that community plays in the work of ministry. The concept of “solo-ministry” is an oxymoron in the Christian tradition. Who do you have to hold you accountable? Who are you bringing alongside to participate in the work of ministry? As Ecclesiastes 4 says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Keep on Singing

Finally, at the conclusion of his address, Admiral McRaven described one of the most exhausting nights of his training. The recruits were required to remain in the chilling waters of the pacific for hours on end. The task was agonizingly painful. The men were weary. Many were reaching their breaking point, and the instructors assured the group that if just five people would give up then the remaining recruits could return to their warm barracks for the night.  Just then, one of Admiral McRaven’s comrades began singing a song (out of tune) at the top of his lungs. One voice joined after another. The men sang throughout the night. Admiral McRaven says, “If you want to change the world, start singing.”

The most powerful and effective means of leadership is inspiration. As heralds of a gospel message that is focused on good news, one of the primary tasks of a church leader is to motivate and inspire others. By offering an encouraging word, writing a thank you note, and remaining optimistically committed to the work of God, you may help someone find the motivation they need.

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