Monday, May 9, 2016

Ending Warm Body Thinking

I spent the past year being a warm body.

Being a warm body usually carries negative connotations, except for cold winter nights when my wife finds it challenging to stay functionally warm. Then I can be a snuggling assistant.

No volunteer organization wants to have leadership filled with warm bodies, but that is the running joke. There are committee and constitutional responsibilities, and it seems that any warm body will do. It's gravy if that warm body comes with some degree of competency and leadership skills.


I have some leadership skills and other competencies. I can run a meeting. I can take the long view. I want to help others. I am willing to make difficult decisions, be unpopular, and make challenging statements. But leadership skills and competencies mean little without relationships. Unlike certain people in the public eye, I cannot merely declare my love for a certain group of people, eat some version of their food, and call it good. That's not a relationship; that's turning people into commodities. No one wants to be a commodity.

In the past year I served as a president at a community swimming pool, and on a parent/teacher organization of a school. I had responded to requests to serve in leadership. In both situations, no one was willing to serve as president. But someone had to. My lack of experience in local leadership and minimal connections with neighbors did not seem to matter. There had to be a president!

Time investment is essential to build relationships, and after being a relative newbie in the city and neighborhood, the title of my position seemed to matter little. While serving as president in the two volunteer organizations, I felt paralyzed. I had no relational capital and little influence. One thing I have learned as a pastor is that people don't respond to calls to action without some degree of trust. Trust takes time to build. I have served my congregation for almost five years, and it is only in the past year or two that I have felt we can have some real traction to our actions. We are still getting to know each other, but there has been trust built over time. We are present for each other through difficult times, and share something sacramental in the midst of those difficulties, as our faith call us to do. My qualifications and credentials may be important, but the relationships create movement. I may take my experience and qualifications to other organizations; without the relationships, I am but a warm body. Could I have done more? Yes. Could the organizations have done more? Yes. But we go nowhere without building relationships. Some of our organizations may have to fail, or take a sabbatical, until those relationships can be built.

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