Singing the song

It was one of the most bizarre stories coming out of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.  The $100 million dollar opening ceremony was simply spectacular.  Clearly, China wanted to put its best foot forward – and did.  The person who stole the show may have been 9 year old Lin Miaoke, who sang, “I Sing For My Country,” as the Chinese flag was brought into the national stadium.  Miaoke was dubbed a “smiling angel.”

Several days later, the world learned that Miaoke was only lip-synching and that the girl who actually sang the song was 7 year old Yang Peiyi.  Peiyi was supposed to perform in person, but she was replaced by Miaoke at the last minute because her teeth were crooked.  Commenting on the incident, Chen Qigang, the ceremony’s music director said, “It was for the national interest.  The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression.”

When the truth was finally revealed, the Chinese Internet lit up with citizens weighing in with their opinions.  One person wrote, “Fake singing for national honor?  What kind of lessons are we giving such a small child?  Is this national honor or national shame?” China spent many years preparing for the Olympics and was determined to show the world that they were worthy hosts.  They were obsessed with making everything perfect. 

On the Monday following the opening ceremonies, Yang Peiyi appeared on China Central Television, the state network, and said, “I’m OK with it.  My voice was used in the performance.  I think that’s enough.”  When Lin Miaoke’s father told her that it was now public that she did not really sing the song, Maioke said she was not upset.  She claimed that she and Peiyi are good friends and that she “doesn’t care who sang the song, as long as she performed.”  My question is, “Are you really performing if you don’t sing the song?”

Right now thousands of United Methodist churches around the connection, including the Grand Rapids District, are discerning how best to “sing the song” in their local churches.  According to The Book of Discipline, the Lay Leadership Committee is charged with discerning the right leadership for the coming year.  A complaint I hear from more pastors than I’d like is, “No one wants to be a leader.  I can’t get people to chair committees.  All they want to do is lip-synch and let others do the work.  How can we develop leaders?”

What can we do to foster strong lay leadership in our churches?  First, we need to create the right environment for people to sing the song.

  • Do you have a current job description for each committee and leadership position in the church so that people know exactly what they are being asked to do?
  • Do you provide training and mentoring for people in how to effectively lead committees, including the importance of agenda, minutes and follow-through?
  • Are your leaders aware of how their particular committee or ministry contributes to the vision and mission of the church?
  • Do you give your leaders the freedom to lead by not micro-managing?
  • Are you constantly coaching, encouraging and thanking your leaders?
  • Are you careful to avoid burn-out by rotating leadership and having a succession plan for new leaders?

Second, no one can sing the song without first finding their voice.  “Singing the song” is helping people discover their gifts, not simply filling slots. 

  • Do you have a consistent process for inviting all members and constituents to discern their spiritual gifts?
  • Is gifts discernment an integral part of every new member class?
  • Do you have an intentional program of Christian discipleship so that leaders can be identified and nurtured?
  • Are you looking for the right qualities in a leader: spiritual maturity, vision, generosity, leading from the heart, a willingness to change and grow?  
  • Do you continually provide opportunities for people to choose ministries in which they are interested?  Some churches have a ministry sign-up sheet in the bulletin every Sunday.

Third, we need to sing the song ourselves.  How do you lead in a way that is bold, yet authentic, especially in these troubled times?  I just finished Lee Iacocca’s latest book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?  In his typically provocative way, Iacocca writes about leaders, “The job of a leader is to accomplish goals that advance the common good.  Anyone can take up space.  Here’s the test of a leader: when he/she leaves office, we should be better off than when he/she started.  It’s that simple.”

  • We sing the song when we have a vision, establish priorities, set goals, then stick with them.
  • We sing the song when we practice what we preach.  We can’t expect others to sing when we only lip-synch. 
  • We sing the song by not being afraid to tackle difficult issues, regardless of the personal cost. 
  • We sing the song by embodying hope, not just taking up space in the pulpit.  In the words of St. Francis, “Preach the gospel.  Use words, if necessary.”
  • In a time when people have come to expect that those in power will lie, cheat and misrepresent the truth, we sing the song by being transparent and genuine. 

In order to advance the common good and bring in God’s kingdom, everyone must be equipped and empowered to sing the song, from lay people to pastors to congregations.  Even though China pulled off the bait and switch for a few days, you and I and our lay leaders will never be “flawless in image, internal feelings and expression.”  Fortunately, the good news of the gospel is that there’s simply no need to lip-synch, fix our crooked teeth or pretend to be perfect.  God’s grace is enough.

Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi, thank you for the joy you brought to us during the Olympics.  Despite the decisions others made for you, you did advance the common good.  Never forget that you are both fearfully and wonderfully made.  May you always sing the sing with the voice God gave you.   

Blessings, Laurie

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