“Show, Don’t Tell” Leadership

A week ago, Pope Francis made headlines of all sorts with this one photo:

pope wall

He made an unscheduled stop to pray at a wall during his trip to the Holy Land.

He didn’t pray first at the wailing wall, he prayed first at one of the dividing barrier walls constructed by the Israeli government between Israel and the Palestinian territories. He was followed to the wall as he got out of the Popemobile by children.

He put his hand on the wall and he prayed.

And then the internet blew up with this photo being posted all over the place.

Sure, tons of other photos of his first trip as Pope to the Holy Land were taken.

But this is the one everyone will remember.

Time Magazine dubbed the moment, “Buckle up People!”  I think it is more than that, it is a seed of an idea for us to ponder deeply as those who lead religious communities today in the “show me, don’t tell me” world we live in.  What images are we projecting about ourselves, our faith, our communities, or even God?  We want our moments of holy authenticity to garner attention, for all the right reasons, and invite others to come alongside.  And the ways they garner attention might not be in the ways we expect or are used to.  How will we manage that?

I’m not Roman Catholic, but I am a serious admirer of Pope Francis. He understands some key things about leadership and his role and the opportunity images present to him as a religious leader:

Images are Everything

Leadership is visible. How we project our leadership, how we show what we do and what church is connects people.

For example, here is Peter’s Square in 2005 when Pope Benedict was announced:


Here it is in 2013 when Pope Francis was announced.

francisThe world has changed. Yet so many of our congregations are behind on visual culture and underestimate its power. Pope Francis doesn’t. He uses it to tell and message what he wants to get across. He realizes he is under that microscope.  How can we embrace that culture, and use it to tell the Story we hold so dear?

Cameras are Candles

We light candles all the time in religious community.

I love candles.

But cameras are how a new generation connects.

Last year I went through the Atlanta Aquarium with my daughter who was ten at the time. I walked through the aquarium, looking at the animals, reading the signs. She went through, looked at the signs a bit—but she photographed everything with her camera phone. And then she spent hours poring over the photos in the car, at home, and later on the plane.  She showed them to all of us a zillion times.  She uploaded them to Instagram and talked about the beautiful seas animals with her friends.  They commented on her photos and reposted the ones that spoke to them.

She kept a huge piece of the day with her in a different way than I did.

Many want to do this in church.

But oftentimes we say something like, “Don’t take photos during the worship service, so we can maintain a spirit of reverence.”

People want to take photos to share them, to post them, and to tell others what the connected with. It’s a way of sharing their faith. Show and tell.   They also like to text and tweet during worship.  This past Sunday I participated in a worship service.  An hour later via Facebook I had a post from a clergy-friend of mine who lives halfway across the country, but whose college-aged son attended the service.  What did he text his pastor-mom?  “Shannan preaches like a bada**.”  My husband tells me that is a compliment from a young adult.  Perhaps we are not used to hearing descriptions of ourselves like this, but what does it mean to move into the newness of how different persons/generations relate to ministry?

Maybe we should let go of our need to control photos in worship and learn how to welcome not restrict. I know it is hard when we have traditions, etc., but people want to share, and don’t we want them to tell the story of our communities as it moves them?

It’s Not Just About The Images

The reason Pope Francis’ photo at the dividing wall went viral wasn’t because it was a nice picture of an important person.

It went viral because it about an authentic, heartfelt, beautiful, real and daring moment.

People do not take and share photos just because they are of something pretty.

It’s about the emotion behind the image, and when they post something about us—hopefully it is because what we are doing is authentic, moving and helps them catch a glimpse of God’s Spirit.

They want to see us take risks, be bold, be prophetic, and make everyone else “buckle up” because we are filled with Spirit in a new way.

So how is this impacting/not impacting your ministry?


2 responses

  1. I have been very impressed by this Pope’s actions, and inviting the leaders of Israel and Palestine to a prayer meeting at the White House is indeed a brave move.

  2. I love the connection between the visual leadership of the Pope and the visual way your daughter made sense and meaning out of the trip to the aquarium. Nice to ponder!

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