Unprecedented (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 3)

A few months ago we experienced in much of our country an extraordinary winter weather event. In Fort Worth, Texas, there was the kind of multi-car pile-up that we just never see in our part of the world. The icy road conditions were far worse than anticipated in a place that rarely sees icy roads at all. More than 130 cars were involved. 6 people lost their lives.

If you’re from much colder places than the southwest, it might be easy to criticize the lack of driving skills or experience in such conditions, but the kind of unexpectedly treacherous and often virtually invisible ice on the roads on that day were, to use an over-worked adjective, unprecedented to the good folks on the highway that morning.

We’ve had a belly full of “unprecedented” over the last couple of years. There isn’t a leader in the world that had been in a leadership role during a global pandemic. I just finished a master’s degree in leadership a couple of years ago, but we never covered anything remotely resembling what we experienced in 2020.

I’ve suggested to you that leadership is a lot like driving a bus. Somebody has to take the wheel for the group to get anywhere.

But imagine being a bus driver with a full load of kids on that icy morning in Fort Worth. The huge beast of a vehicle doesn’t respond the same way as it always has. The road may not even look too much different but the brakes don’t grab like before. Stopping to pick up that last kid is a terrifying thought. Turning on to the expressway seems unwise, but you’re expected to arrive in a timely manner.

Meanwhile… any teacher will tell you that you don’t have to look out the window to know that the weather is crazy. The behavior of the kids reflects it long before any weather warnings pop up on our smartphones. They sense something is strange and their unconsciously nervous energy causes a lot of behavior that needs to be monitored closely, redirected gently, corrected firmly.

Now think about the weight in that driver’s seat. This person has taken on the responsibility to transport safely, monitor attentively, and manage effectively the precious cargo—each of which is the most precious treasure of their parents and family. And they must do it while trying to navigate the same streets that are causing others to crash. They must do it without allowing the reckless behavior of others around them to affect their task.

Every decision could have tragic costs. Every action and reaction is questioned in their own head and will likely be questioned at length by others around them.

My friends, that tension you can imagine in your gut when you imagine yourself in that driver’s seat is exactly what most leaders have been living with over the past year and a half. We’ve never led through a pandemic. We’ve never seen anything like this.

Many leaders have been constantly criticized (whether spoken or just through stern looks) for driving too close to one ditch or too close to the other. Some want us to hole up in our bunkers and wait for the storm to pass. Others want us to live freely as though the storm was a smokescreen to cover the leeching away of our freedoms. And those who seek to find the wise path between these extremes get pummeled from both sides.

I know ministry leaders that have had families that refused to participate if they were asked to wear masks and other families that refused to participate unless everyone did wear masks. All we can do is seek to walk a path of prudence which is, in most cases, somewhere between the extremes.

Why am I drawing this to your attention?

I want you to understand that leaders are facing pressures and circumstances we’ve never seen before. I want you to remember that relationships matter more than our politics and theology. And let’s be honest; if either of those cause you to hate people, it’s broken

Please, my friends, have a little grace for the bus drivers in your world—literal and otherwise.

Feeling the Weight (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 2)

The first time I found myself in the driver’s seat of a bus full of kids it hit me like a truck. I looked up at that special bus driver rear view mirror and felt the weight of the responsibility I suddenly carried. A careless mistake now had exponentially greater ramifications than it had a few moments prior.

Driving a bus is a huge responsibility.

When you go through the training process and learn all of the regulations and particular laws for your area that govern this task, it can seem a little overwhelming. But the responsibility of driving the school bus doesn’t hit you until a bunch of kids—other people’s kids, mind you—pile onto that bus. 

Leadership, in so many ways, feels a lot like driving a bus. We’re taking responsibility to steer an organization or team or group. We will be held in some way accountable for what takes place, the success or failure, the growth or decay, the profit or loss. In my leadership context of ministry, the weight can swell upon our hearts when we consider the potential impact of our leadership and the implications into eternity.

When a leader has the heart of a shepherd, the weight of their responsibility may not be heavier than other leaders, but he will surely feel it heavily. But… IF you’ve never felt that, you really can’t grasp the feeling of it. You can understand that it’s there, but you can’t really know how it feels until you’ve been there.

When you drive a bus, you have a lot more to your charge than simply operating the vehicle in a manner that will safely arrive at the appropriate destination. You have a responsibility to see that your passengers remain safely seated. You must watch out for inappropriate behavior—that they’re not mistreating one another, not throwing things out the window, not displaying offensive gestures or body parts to others along the road—and countless other behavioral, interpersonal, and biological circumstances.

Why bother to bring this to your attention?

It’s simple, really. I am begging you to try to understand the unseen weight bearing upon the leaders you are called upon to follow. I want to urge you to at least hold up on your criticism of your leaders long enough to consider the responsibility they have and the way it may be affecting them. I implore you to go back and look at those decisions you didn’t agree with and see how that responsibility might impact the leader’s steps. 

And then, when you still disagree, would you have the character to stand up and say to them (personally, not publicly) that you don’t agree, but you appreciate the weight they carry. I can say from personal experience that it makes all of the difference in the world when someone is honest enough to express their disagreement but gracious enough to support you anyway. In fact, if your leader is a person of integrity, it will push them to strive even more for wise, healthy decisions for everyone involved.

I want to personally add this somewhat public apology for all of the nonsense I have ever been a part of on a school bus… especially Mr. Herschel Nichols—possibly the most patient bus driver I have ever known.

In The Driver’s Seat (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 1)

You’ve probably ridden on a bus at some point in your life.

But have you ever driven a bus?

From the perspective of simply operating the vehicle, it’s not terribly complicated to make it go and stop. The pedals and the steering wheel and the turn signals all operate pretty much the same as most cars or trucks. The transmission may be different than you’re used to, but most of them have automatic transmissions and really function in a familiar manner to a driver of any experience.

But when you see that big console of switches and realize there are a lot more lights on this thing than your car, it starts to get a little more challenging. What are those flashing yellow lights and what’s up with the stop sign attached to the side and what are the places you have to stop where other vehicles may not?

But those are mostly simple details that just have to be learned. It’s not a huge hill to climb.

Back in my public school teaching days, I had to get my school bus license. I had to learn all of the unique regulations for large passenger vehicles. But then I had to learn all of the particular regulations and operational practices for driving a school bus… such as all of the proper safety procedures of stopping on the side of the road for passengers to enter or exit the vehicle and what must be done to ensure that your precious cargo would arrive at its appropriate destination (and in proper working order, of course).

We had to study all of the regulations and talk through all of the strange situations we would likely encounter. But then we had to actually get in the bus and go practice. We had to drive around town learning how to make right turns with climbing the curbs or knocking down mail boxes. We had to learn how to back up a 40-foot vehicle without somehow going sideways. We had to practice the very important sequence of steps for crossing a railroad track.

Continue reading In The Driver’s Seat (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 1)