Growing up, my all-time favorite action hero was Indiana Jones, an audacious archaeologist who traveled the world looking for treasures and lost artifacts, including the Ark of the Covenant and sacred stones. On his last crusade, Jones is searching for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ reputably used at the Last Supper. To aid him in his journey, Jones uses an ancient book to help him navigate through a maze of tunnels and various obstacles that impede the way to the Holy Grail.
At the very end of the maze, Jones reaches a chasm that is deeper than the visible eye can see. He stands precariously on the edge of the rocky cliff, his face contorted with bewilderment. Had he gone the wrong way? Had he made a mistake? There was no visible way to cross the chasm; the other side was utterly beyond his reach. Gripped with fear, he anxiously thumbs through the pages of the ancient book until he understands the obstacle: it’s a leap of faith, an invisible bridge. Jones scatters sand over the invisible bridge, closes his eyes, and steps out over the chasm with both feet. Once he realizes his footing is secure, he rushes across the invisible bridge to retrieve the Holy Grail.
Inevitably, every Christian leader, even those among us who appear to be the most fearless, must face their own chasm, the chasm between our calling as Christian leaders and our own personal resources.
Whether we are preachers, professors, speakers, writers, or teachers, our aim, our calling, as Christian leaders is to reach the lost and build up the body of Christ. This is the task to which God has called us, and it is a task that is utterly beyond our reach. In 2 Corinthians 2:16, the apostle Paul addresses this chasm, exclaiming, “And who is adequate for these things?” The chasm is deeper than the visible eye can see.
The chasm cuts straight across our calling, and we may face it at various times throughout our lives as Christian leaders. When we step up to a podium. When we stare at a blank page. When we look into a face that is eager to grow and learn. Such moments may cause us to think we went the wrong way, that we’re not a leader after all. Rather than stepping out on the invisible bridge, we may be tempted to retreat and look for a safer route. It takes courage to cross invisible bridges.
Courage doesn’t get much press in contemporary culture, and even when it is discussed, it is often poorly defined. “Courage” is often reduced to “bravery,” something that is useful on the battleground, but not necessarily useful in leadership. Yet, prior to 1980, Webster’s dictionary defined “courage” as “the heart, the seat of one’s emotions and thoughts.” In the Scriptures, to “take heart” or to “be courageous” was to set one’s will in accordance to the will of God, no matter outside circumstances, no matter how deep the chasm.
In Roman Catholicism, courage was understood to be so pivotal to the Christian life that it was considered one of the four cardinal virtues and the virtue upon which all the other virtues were dependent. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.” Courage is not simply the absence of fear, but the force of moving forward despite fear. In leadership, courage is the audacious act of stepping out onto invisible bridges, recognizing and trusting that God is working even in our weaknesses.
Like Indiana Jones, I want to be courageous and step out on invisible bridges. I don’t want to get distracted or deterred from God’s will and calling by how things appear on the surface. And so I wonder, fellow woman leaders, what chasms have you been confronted with? What invisible bridges have you crossed? And how can we encourage one another to lead more courageously?