Being Boldly Understated

112It finally dawned on me a few months ago. I don’t do bravado well. I’m quite happy to let other, more extroverted, more dynamic people do the talking while I sit back. I’ve got opinions for sure, and, as one recent assessment of my leadership style pointed out, I’m a “driver”, but when I’m in a room and other people are in the driver’s seat, I’ll sit in the back seat until it’s my turn to drive. I really do enjoy being the driver (ask my wife) but I just can’t do bravado.

I was brought up in ministry by mentors who modeled bold leadership. But these mentors also valued being understated in their boldness. They had a vision but weren’t jerks about it. They knew how to ignore misguided critics but would still listen to critique. They led worship with authority but derived that authority from God’s anointing, not their own accomplishment. They ran tight meetings with a firm hand but a soft heart. They contributed to meetings not by talking the most, but by talking when they really had something to say.

To be boldly understated is to possess the power of the Holy Spirit and the humility of Christ. Both and. To move in the power of the Holy Spirit without the humility of Christ is a contradiction. It’s arrogance.

There is far too much value placed on being bold these days, to the point that bravado is applauded and mistaken for boldness. This is true all over the world, including the worship-leading world. And there is far too little value placed on being understated, to the point that it’s seen as being weak. This is sad.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last few years to observe, either from afar (thanks in large part to correspondence and conversations with worship leaders through this blog and my family of Anglican churches) or up close, the inner workings of churches and denominations and organizations that are quite different from mine. In many of those settings, understatedness doesn’t get you very far. This isn’t a good thing.

Jesus modeled understated boldness. There was no mistaking his power and boldness (it got him killed) but there was also no mistaking his humility (it got him mocked).

And one of the keys to the effectiveness of the boldness of Jesus (and this is crucial for us) was that, since he wasn’t constantly walking around being bold all the time, when he did display unapologetic boldness, people paid attention. Then he’d go right back to washing feet (which was a pretty bold thing to do in an understated kind of way).

One of my favorite Will Ferrell skits from Saturday Night Live was when he played the character Jacob Silj, who suffered from “voice immodulation syndrome”. He was physically unable to change the inflection of his voice. He constantly yelled. The result was that no one wanted to listen to him. It was all loud, all the time.

Worship leaders who walk around in a constant state of boldness run the risk of canceling out their own effectiveness because it’s just too much for people to handle. It might get you to the front of certain lines, but it’s exhausting for people after a while. It’s bravado. It’s empty.

Temper your boldness by being understated. This might seem counter-intuitive. This might mean you have to tape your mouth shut from time to time. This might mean you sit back and let other people take the wheel while you enjoy the view from the passenger’s seat for a few minutes. This probably means you have to learn the art of good timing: when to be bold and when to be quiet.

Worship leaders: don’t do bravado. Yes, do boldness. But be understated about it. Be more comfortable with the background than the foreground. Step forward when needed but then step back again.

Pastors: don’t confuse bravado for boldness. And don’t be so quick to assume that someone who’s a bit understated might not be a driver in disguise.

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