How You Lead a Movement

Philippians 1:12-14

Friends, know that what’s happened has increased the momentum of our cause. Everyone, even the goon squad, knows that I’m a political prisoner, that my allegiance to Jesus is the reason they locked me up. And because of that, our brothers and sisters in the movement have more confidence and speak out with greater courage.

Movements need leaders. Many of the leadership gurus focus on technique, strategy, all of that. But what’s really needed is a leader who is willing to put his or her own skin in the game. After that, technique and strategy are incidental.

Last week Bill McKibben did it for the climate change movement: he was arrested during an act of mass civil disobedience outside the White House and spent two days in jail. But even he was following the leadership of a lesser known leader. In July, Tim DeChristopher went to jail for two years for his protest against big oil.

Again and again, the most significant movements happen when leaders lead from the front line rather than the corner office. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, César Chávez, Oscar Romero, Paul, Jesus, Elijah, Moses. None of them were technically or tactically perfect. But we remember their names without having to look them up, which is more than we can say for whoever happened to be the last CEO of General Motors. (It was Rick Wagoner, resigned 2009 as a condition for receiving a Federal bailout.)

Leaders who put themselves on the front line of their cause demonstrate that the cause is worth the effort, that it is even worth the discomfort, the inconvenience, and especially the risk. After all, if you aren’t willing to take the risk, why should I? On the other hand, if you’re willing stand with me, to go to jail, to suffer, to take the time – then I just might be convinced.

Want me to join your movement? Show me some skin.