Last week, in a coaching call with a young pastor, we were discussing what a healthy missional approach to leadership looks like.
In the traditional approach to leadership (especially in pioneering situations) we normally think in terms of birthing a new vision. But when leaders – more notably spiritually leaders – think like equippers we shift in our approach: we begin to help others give birth to their vision. We begin to ask questions like, How are we helping other leaders who are ‘pregnant’? How can we walk alongside of them during the birthing process – while not trying to do it ourselves? Where and when can be of most help and support – and when can I get out of the way?
Several years ago I hear Bill Easum say an effective spiritual leader serves in a role as midwife. I’ve found this not only interesting, but also incredibly helpful. Much of it strikingly counter-intuitive to modern Western approaches to leadership – and yet, much of it is in line with the servant leadership style of Jesus. What I love about the metaphor is that Easum uses the phrase Expectant for “mother,” which carries with it an assumption of a culture of anticipation.
Here is what he means by this metaphor:
1. The primary role of a leader is to provide an environment in which Expectants are encouraged to give birth to the potential within them.
2. Spiritual Midwives take most of their leadership clues from the expectant.
3. Spiritual Midwives work primarily with people who expect to be more than they are.
4. Spiritual Midwives spend most of their time with those most likely to carry on the vision of transformation.
5. Spiritual Midwives never ask the expectants if they wish to give birth; it is assumed. The same is true with how they relate to the church.
6. Spiritual Midwife leadership is both a process and an event that involves more than one person. (Think of all the people involved in the birth of a child.)
7. Spiritual Midwives exercise a strong nurturing presence before, during, and after the birth.
8. Spiritual Midwives give the new birth back to the expectant and do not take care of them.
9. Spiritual Midwives are grown, not born or made.
10. Spiritual Midwives lead by authenticity and influence.
11. Spiritual Midwives embrace change because they know it is the prelude to growth.
12. Spiritual Midwives are always servants.
13. Spiritual Midwives work in teams.
14. Spiritual Midwives avoid the following like the plague:
While compelling, the list is far from comprehensive. I would add a few more components:
15. Spiritual Midwives understand that their sacred roles involve messy tasks and lots of cleanup when the birthing process is finished (its not the mother who cleans up the post-birth fluid!)
16. Spiritual Midwives have a keen sense of when to take charge and get intimately involved in the process – and when to back away, encourage from afar and create space for the Expectant to work on their own.
17. Spiritual Midwives come to expect pain and discomfort in the birthing process, but also remembers the end result of new life, which brings great joy.
18. Though the role is crucial to the birthing process, Spiritual Midwives do not seek attention or expect to get the credit for what has been birthed. (Few – if any – have a picture of the midwife in the baby book).
19. Spiritual Midwives come to expect pain and discomfort in the birthing process, but also remembers the end result of new life, which brings great joy.
I’ve talked with other leaders over the past few years about this metaphor. Here’s what they (including some women who have used in-home nurse midwives to give birth to their own children) described about role of midwife.
What other elements of the metaphor would you add to the list?
And leaders, in what ways does this apply to your context? How might you shift to think much more like a midwife than an expecting mother? What fruit might that shift bear?