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Leadership Comes from the Bottom

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Leaders have convinced themselves that leadership comes from the top. Just as often it comes from the bottom. A case in point.

On October 20, 1986, twelve Christian writers converged in the Colorado Rockies at a modest inn with an immodest name, Christhaven. Few knew each other. Confusion reigned in the rustic lobby. Some couldn't stop their nosebleeds.

Three of them had cooked up the conference. One of them had even scrounged a grant of $10,000. They wanted to start a sort of Christian writers' guild, for want of a better name, to counterbalance the secular stranglehold on American humanities. In more practical terms, they hoped for a sure-fire way to get their Christian books onto the New York Times bestseller list.

For two days they haggled but couldn't come to an agreement about how to meet their primary goal or any other goals. One of the three who prided himself at his ability to reconcile complete opposites eventually tore his hair out. Shouting "It's like asking anarchists to form a government!" he ran outside and flung himself into a snow drift.

The twelve writers were estimable Christians in their own right. One would have expected them to be like the twelve in the Upper Room or the twelve in Da Vinci's The Last Supper. Instead, they were like the ten little indians from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, all capable of the most heinous crime of all, murder.

At the very last minute of the very last session, the loudest but certainly not the brightest among them, an editor at a New York publishing house, proposed they do something nice together. “Like write a serial mystery novel.”

In the months that followed, he wrote the first chapter. Each member of the writing group became a character in the story, and he knocked one of us off just to get the novel off to a fast start. He sent it to another member, who refused to contribute. A quick rewrite, and the character based on that member became the victim at the end of chapter one. No one else refused to contribute.

What's the moral?

Not all leadership comes from the top. In this real-life story, the top three, all competent in so many ways, failed. And the least likely, who'd failed so many times in his own life, noodled his way into the group’s confidence. Drawing on his little wit and less wisdom, he brought the group together with a humble project.

The result was a fairly decent serial mystery, which turned out also to be a sort of comedy of religious manners in the late 1980s. The project brought in a royalty advance of $25,000, money that would fund future meetings. Some members did get their books on the New York Times list. And in March 2006, the group, no less unruly than when they first met, celebrated its twentieth anniversary at Laity Lodge.

Noodling . . . it's what leadership is all about!
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