It was a casual aside by Seth Godin, during a recent interview with Debbie Millman. Talking about leadership that is resilient and bold, Godin pointed to the actor Gene Kelly in his iconic performance in Singing in the Rain. He noted that Kelly closes the umbrella—and then dances. Kelly expresses exuberant joy, without protection or shelter, in those classic four minutes of film. The only time in the dance that the umbrella is opened is when he uses it as a prop or a pinwheel or a dancing partner.
Ministry has never been more challenging than in this strained and divided moment in our culture. Any leader who dares to ask a church board to exercise foresight—to seek to discern together what lies ‘around the next corner’ and deploy resources in anticipation of that future (in contrast to providing continuing support for programs that have long since ceased to serve well)—engages in significant risk. But if that is not our calling as followers of Jesus, what is?
Psalm 27 begins with a flourish of rhetorical questions that express audacious trust:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
But verse 5 offers insight into the art of leading from that trust:
For God will hide me in God’s shelter
in the day of trouble;
God will conceal me under the cover of God’s tent;
God will set me high on a rock.
At first, we get the ‘umbrella’ of God’s shelter, the protection of God’s tent. But then the umbrella closes. God will set me high on a rock.
The Psalmist suggests that, sooner or later, the solid rock of God’s promises under our feet is more important than the protection of God’s tent above our heads. If we are going to lead congregations into the urgent storm enveloping our culture and our churches, we need to stand on the rock. Trying to lead boldly and faithfully while sheltering under an umbrella ultimately will hold us back. Leading today means closing our umbrellas.
Three and a half minutes into Gene Kelly’s singing and dancing in the rain, a wary police officer encounters him. Kelly folds his umbrella and offers it to a grateful passerby, then waves at the officer and walks on down the street … unsheltered and joyful.
Watching Kelly’s famous four-minute clip, what details stand out to you? What questions do you find yourself asking?
How would you answer those questions in Psalm 27: Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?
When as a church board have you sought the shelter of God’s tent? What was going on that made seeking shelter especially wise or necessary?
When as a church board have you felt yourselves set high on a rock?
When, as a congregation, have you closed your umbrella and offered it to a grateful world?