Ding. Ding. Ding. Another round has started. I’m strapping on my boxing gloves, climbing over the ropes and bouncing on my toes around the ring. 

Leadership. Sometimes it feels like a boxing match. It’s all swings and jabs, bobbing and weaving. Not so sure this is what I signed up for…

Leading people means getting into the ring. Sometimes you are fighting for people. Sometimes you are fighting with them. It means taking punches, using strategy, having good people in your corner to coach you, and going the distance no matter how many rounds it requires of you.

In the past season of my life, God has stretched me in this area of leadership. I was scrambling as far from this reality as I could get. If our instincts tell us fight or flight, mine were screaming “FLY!” But the truth is, true leadership does require that of us at some point. We have to learn to fight well because, well, that’s what makes us a good leader. 

In my reflections on this I have come to realize that, although I am no masochist, I deeply appreciate the friction I encounter. It is exactly when we are in tension that our lines of connection pull tightest. Intimacy is established in our weaknesses, not our strengths. We can lead very sincerely but as soon as we encounter an uppercut to our good intentions, we are tested. We are required in that moment to engage with people in a manner that is so familial you are flashing back to the back seat of the family vacation road trip with all its crammed space, “she-did-this-he-did-that”, and huffing and puffing that drove our parents crazy. 

…THAT’S THE POINT! Suddenly, in the friction and the fight, we have the opportunity to treat each other like family. We’re in this for the long haul, duking it out every round, because family is fight club and fight club is family. Friction is bound to happen and the test of our leadership is how we choose to engage with it. When we love people we fight FOR them even when they swing at us. We take the punches. We sometimes get knocked out. We have the difficult conversations, we challenge the bad behaviour, we take the honest feedback, we check ourselves, we have coaches who keep us balanced and we take the blows.

As leaders we have the onus to healthy conflict. We must lead the way in our maturity, growth and courage. To step into the ring means to be present with those we lead even when there is tension. To step into the ring means we are valuing relationship over results. To step into the ring means exposing our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Paul alludes to this as he presents the word picture of an athlete in training in 1 Corinthians. He says “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:26-27)

This is it: practicing what we preach so WE will not be disqualified. We aren’t just shadowboxing and making a show of what it means to be in the ring, we are actually in the ring with people. We are in with the swings and the jabs, the bobbing and weaving of real relationship and real life. Being in the tension reveals our true character. It tests us and refines us. Do we really love those we lead? For what is more disqualifying in the Kingdom of God than ministry done without love?

“If I do not have love I have nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2b

Real people come with real friction. Real faith is applied to the raw, the gritty, the imperfect parts of life.  We don’t walk away from them. We don’t ignore what’s going on. We don’t lash out.

We get in the ring.

We develop endurance.

We measure ourselves.

We engage in relationship.

We stay in the boundaries of God’s Word.

We love people enough to do the hard things.

We join the fight club.

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