But it’s not because he was the first, or the fastest, that makes him my hero. It’s what he chose to do to make that happen that makes him a parable of leadership.
Many other people had tried before him, and it wasn’t that their machines were slow, or that they were gutless. Those were brave men with top kit.
But as they approached the speed of sound, and the sound waves bunched in front of the aircraft, it felt as though their planes were falling apart with the turbulence. Many of the planes did, in fact – this was a potentially fatal experiment.
Yeager experienced that same terrifying turbulence. But what he and his team decided to try was not slowing down at that point, but to find a way to speed up, and fly through the barrier. He held his nerve, and the joystick, and pushed through the wall. He became the fastest man alive.
Just occasionally, leadership involves us in a really tough period. We make a right but hard decision, but then as the implications begin to break in on us, the criticism mount, and the emails start to pile in, we can identify with those test pilots. The church is shaking, pitching and bouncing as though it’s about to shatter because of that single decision. It might be an issue of standing for an unpopular truth. Or asking a popular person to stand down from leadership. Or, just being worn down by the mounting burdens of pastoral care and dreaming of greener grass.
The temptation is to be like all the other pilots and slow down, ease off, and go back to safety. Maybe the issue wasn’t that critical after all. Maybe it’s time to move. Do that, though, and you’ve started a cycle that others (especially your critics) will spot – that you quit.
But Yeager models another way. That we can continue to act with consistency, keep going and push through the pain, even though it seems to be getting worse, and every ‘sensible’ person around you tells you to slow down.
Of course, you might be being stupid, pig-headed and harsh. That may well be true, and you’d be wise to double- and triple-check. I bet Yeager did that, too.
But what if your’e right after all? Would you still push through the barrier?
I can’t promise you’d be the fastest pastor on the planet. But you’d almost definitely leave that turbulence behind you, and move into a more fruitful time.
- Can you identify with the metaphor of the plane being bounced apart by the sound waves? What were or are the issues for you?
- Is this a live issue for you at the moment? How sure are you that you’re right and that this matters? Double check with some trusted friends that you should be pressing on, and then get them to support you in prayer and action.
- What does it take to keep a steady grip and keep going?
- Do you think you’re ever tempted to slow down and duck the challenge?
- Perhaps the greatest battle like this we face is when we confront sin – ours, or others. So think through these words, slowly: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)