Posted by: riverchilde | July 6, 2011

Ears and nose and knees and toes

I love summer learning. Don’t get me wrong, I love classroom learning too. But summer learning is special. It comes unexpectedly, bringing gifts of consolidation, clarity and connectivity. What I’ve learned in the classroom over the winter somehow always seems to crystalize through concrete examples during the summer. Plus, I gotta admit, summer learning is a lot of fun!

Over the course of three days in June, I led something like 200 Girl Scouts (in groups of 15-18, thankfully!) through teamwork/problem-solving activities on the challenge course  at our regional day camp. I’ve had the privilege of doing this ever since I was trained eight years ago, and I learn Big Important Stuff every time I facilitate a group. (I also learn small, so-obvious-I-smack-my-head stuff too, but those things are embarassing to relate, so I’ll keep them to myself.) Someday, I swear, I’m going to write a book entitled “Everything I Learned Watching Young Girls Navigate a Challenge Course”.

Fortunately, learning is shared experience, and I entertain hopes that the girls learn almost as much as I do from their problem-solving processes.

Three years ago, we shared the experience of truly understanding issues of social justice. Two years ago, we learned about how people (particularly women) can get bogged down in talking more about how to solve a problem than actually moving forward in solving it. (I’m still wrestling with how best to communicate the idea that while everyone deserves to be heard, a group cannot implement every idea–many of which conflict and some of which are just plain flawed–and that being overly protective of people’s feelings isn’t necessarily productive). Last year, as we watched a physically unstable girl with Down Syndrome help a blindfolded girl navigate a narrow board bridge, we were vividly exposed to the truth of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and the reality that a person’s limitations don’t make them any less valuable of a team member.

This year, as part of my spiel about how each person has unique gifts to bring to the team and how it would be ridiculous to put someone down because of different talents and strengths, I made the girls laugh when I used the example of the ear telling the knee that it was useless because it couldn’t hear. I was mentally applauding my own cleverness in illustrating how they had to work like one body, when I realized that I had unconsciously tapped 1 cor 12:12-31.

I began thinking about how this might relate to leadership as I watched three girls in one group hang back from physical participation and verbal problem-solving, providing instead only moral support and verbal encouragement. All three were obviously a year of two older than the others in the group, and yet they chose not to offer the benefits of all their abilities to the group. I talked with them privately after the exercise was over, and they explained that they had chosen to be the last off the “sinking ship” because they knew how upset younger girls might get in that position. While an admirable expression of compassion and understanding, their team would have benefitted more from a judicious use of their physical strength and advanced problem-solving skills. And yet, their choice hinted at a maturity, restraint and strength of character that would serve them well the next year when they moved up into counselor positions. As I told them, they will make wonderful leaders, but they must remain attentive to how they can subtly share their talents and abilities for the greatest good of the group.

As with all good learning experiences, I’m still chewing over this lesson and the conundrum inherent in it, particularly in light of my continued interest in the idea of crowd-sourcing the church. How does one share one’s strengths without overpowering others? How are individual strengths most beneficially balanced and utilized within a group/team? What does it really mean to be a leader? Can a team be constructed so that it doesn’t rely too heavily upon just one leader? What does being the body of Christ really look like?

Fortuitously, I found this Leading on Purpose blog that addresses just those questions (and in image-laden language I can understand). I love seredipity almost as much as I love summer learning!

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