The Circle of Safety

Does Success Require Leaving Others Behind?

by Scott Hagan

For many leaders, a silent and lengthy space occurs between the struggle and song. The conductor looks their way, tips his baton, but no sound follows. God, however, is after that space of silence in a leader’s life. God never designed the song to lag slowly behind the struggle. They are meant to be one moment in time. The example that alters an atmosphere or creates a culture is when a leader is able to absorb and reflect during crisis, yet still offer authentic praise.

Far too many leaders rely on outside leadership to help them worship. Their “cue” to worship goes something like this. At precisely the same time, as he did 7 days earlier, the rigid well-dressed gentleman stands up to say, “I invite you to turn to hymn 286. Please stand and join in as we sing the first and third stanzas.” The gentleman behind the pulpit then inhales, lifts his right arm, and on the downward thrust everyone, including the leader of the church, joins in and sings.

But let’s face it, without someone pointing out the page and without lifting that right arm, many well-meaning Christians would lose their starting point for worship. This is a sad commentary. On their way to seeing God, most people glance at their leader first. The leader sets the passion and priority for everything.

God delights in faithfulness. He despises rhetoric. He separates the two through conditions of trials and tests. Spontaneous praise in the face of real-life difficulty is God’s way of teaching us to praise on cue. With our bow to the string … with our lips to the reed … with our eyes fixed on the maestro … suffering becomes the downward stroke of the conductor’s baton. Sudden suffering is God’s cue that instructs the symphony of the redeemed to begin praising their measure. In other words, learning God’s cues for spontaneous praise is what separates mature worship from religious repletion. And more important, it is what creates influence. When that happens, the singular influence of the leader soars exponentially.

Nineteen verses in Acts 16 play the above-mentioned symphony. For two badly beaten friends and leaders, the space between the pain and the praise was nonexistent. These verses involve a small cast. The primary two were men: Silas; the other, his friend, Paul. By the way, did that sound funny? This sounds unfamiliar to your ear because Silas is always the second half when it comes to himself and Paul. The New Testament mentions Silas (or Silvanus — same guy) 17 times. Only twice does the New Testament mention him by himself. Eleven of those times mention him with Paul, and four times in connection with Timothy. In all 11 references with Paul, his name comes in second.

Like the center on the football team, Silas put his hands on the ball on every play but never got the recognition for the touchdown. His role was supportive.

Twice the New Testament mentions Silas alone. It is nearly impossible to talk about Silas without mentioning someone else. Something tells me that this is the mark of a healthy leader. Silas only piloted with a copilot. The “faithful brother,” as Peter described him, had the ability to push people over the top toward greatness. But let’s face it, it is tough for any of us to be one of the invisible strands Solomon talks about in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (ESV).1

Paul was a more celebrated strand than Silas. Yet Silas never abandoned his circle of safety. What is that circle? A life of worship and a life of relationship characterize this circle. When leaders combine those two, their circle of safety remains strong and enduring.

Jealousy could have destroyed Silas’ circle of safety. Instead, Silas served out his relational assignments joyfully. Sometimes standing out means standing with. And sometimes God asks us to submit our individualism to the blurry lines of togetherness. Never is that commitment to camaraderie more tested then when you are facing your last night on earth.

The intent of the magistrates who threw Silas and Paul in prison was death by daybreak. It would be a message — death to other would-be Christ-followers. Simply beating up Christians was a worn-out method. Bloodshed was the new strategy. Stephen took stones, James the blade. Now it was Silas and Paul’s turn to die. Bloody and beaten the magistrates place them in Roman stocks for security. These were not the kind you and I have put ourselves or the kids into at the theme park for pictures. These stocks stretched the legs and arms so the splits in the flesh caused by the flogging would not be able to close.

That would be the choir chair from which they would sing.

A life of worship.

A life of relationship.

The circle of safety was well in place for Silas and Paul. As they worshipped together that night, mesmerizing their fellow inmates, God sent a standing ovation. His Richter-ripping applause proved He could shake their planet without messing up their hair. God provided pinpoint accuracy. He split open iron chains, yet kept the clay walls intact.

Silas and Paul, for all we know, could have been cowards had they not had a comrade. Sometimes you find yourself alone and God’s presence is your partner. Doing life alone is a crazy choice. Doing leadership alone is even crazier. An effective leader must deal with two spaces. The first is the space between the struggle and the song. The second space is between one’s self and one’s brother. Great leaders close the gaps on both.


1. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.