By Brian Dodridge
Growing up in Tucson, we had an alley behind our house. On one side of the alley there was a cement wash for flood waters. On the other side, wooden fences to houses. During the day, this was a great area to play in. We’d ride bikes in the cement wash (even though we were told not to because of flooding [our parents forgot we lived in the desert]).
But in the alley was also our trash can. It was located about 100 feet down as we shared a big trash can with several neighbors. One of my chores was taking out the trash. I’d have to pack it up, drag it through our gravel back yard, and dispense in the alley’s trash can. This task was fine during the day, but at night, it was a long and scary 100 foot walk. And since I procrastinated, this was often a chore done in the dark.
I’d walk as calmly as possible lugging the trash bag over my shoulder while telling myself no one was out there to get me. But as soon as I heaved the trash bag in the can, fearing there might be someone out to get me, I’d sprint back to the house, sliding through the gate, and tossing gravel in multiple directions. Inside our fence, I’d always feel safe (except the times my Dad thought it was funny to hide just inside the fence to scare me).
So with that history, when my wife told me this week someone was outside our door, on the side of our house, in our trash can area I was a little alarmed. My first response was to be the “man of the house” and check it out. But then I thought, why would someone be in our trash? Why would they be that close to my house, my doors? It was unsettling to think about the person, who under dark’s cover, would be so close to my house.
Although reticent, acting brave, I said to my wife “I’ll check it out” (just like the walk down the alley in my childhood, I feigned bravery).
So in my pajama pants, out into the rain drizzle I went as my wife peered through the window blinds. Speaking loudly the universal accepted warning to intruders, I proclaimed, “I’ve called the Police and I’m armed with a baseball bat!”
I’ll leave what happened next for another blog, but I write all this to say: leaders don’t shy away from bad, hard, or scary work.
It’s our job to go out first. If something needs to be discovered, we need to discover it. If you’ve been given the role of a leader, go outside your office, and investigate the hard things. In a church setting, there’s so much at stake. And ignoring the possibility of dangerous things can literally have eternal consequences.
So whether you feign bravery, or even sprint back to safety after your discovery in the dark, check it out. Don’t send others to do your role as a leader (in my case, my wife is faster than me, so I did consider sending her to check out the trash can area).
Leaders check out the trash can in the darkness.
What’s the scary trash can for you? The hard conversation with someone on your team who’s not treating people kindly? The larger donor to the church who dictates how the church is run? The friend who is flirting with dangerous sins? Facing the reality that your church’s strategies aren’t working? A staff member who’s theology is wavering?
Even if you have to feign bravery, take the walk to your “trash can.”
Brian Dodridge serves as executive pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, TN.