The High Calling of the Representative

By David Williamson.

Looking at the website of a business attorney, I noticed how often the word “representative” was listed as the professional qualifications for this person: “represented X…represented Y…represented Z.”

A representative begins by adequately understanding the needs and expectations of the client. The representative is an advocate for the entity being represented, and needs to plead their position to the other party. The representative pleads the client’s case to a party that has something desirable to give. This requires the representative to understand sufficiently and accurately the needs and expectations of the party she or he is representing, in order to advocate effectively.

Thus the representative needs to understand the hopes, needs and wants of the client. This is the professional and ethical responsibility of the representative. To do this thoroughly and adequately involves teamwork between the representative and client. Effective collaboration leading to mutual satisfaction – not to mention an agreement that will last, and can stand the examination of decision makers and beneficiaries on each side – requires diligence and skilled communication. So the representative is skilled at forming and leading a team.

David Brooks’ concluding chapter in The Second Mountain provides a “Relationalist Manifesto,” over against “hyper-individualism.” The manifesto puts the relationship ahead of individual achievement. It is a collaborative process that seeks to benefit the participating organizations more than the “representative.” It is a process both of skilled communication and of effectively working together. All parities benefit. Individual achievement gives way to building together a shared relationship of trust, in which each allows others to make their best contributions.

I am reminded here of the apostle Paul’s challenge to the Philippians in chapter 2, to “have the mind of Christ, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself and became obedient to God’s higher and divine purpose.” This is self-giving in place of self-sufficiency, where wellbeing and success are the primary objective, working toward an accurate and adequate representation.

The process of team-work is joyful, but not utopian. Mutual benefit as a goal is often inefficient in the short term, even though it can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. Realistically, this is being done on behalf of the company, organization or client being represented, with a contract to do this work in an ethical, professional and skilled manner.

But it is really a network of relationships, and reflects a kingdom higher purpose, consciously intended or not. God’s kingdom is displayed through these kind of representatives: good neighbors and fellow citizens.

Working to tangibly to express this kind of relationship also shapes and builds up the worker. The “relationalist is not trying to dominate by sheer willpower,” writes Brooks (p. 304). The relationalist is building community, enhancing human dignity, respectfully acknowledging common or shared struggles. This involves a continual commitment to communicate deeply, safely and respectfully.

In the end, concluding the deal, ideally one does not see merely individuals who have achieved something for themselves, but organizations that have formed relationships of mutual benefit. Together they are helping in a tangible way to form community.

All are echoes of the voice of God, who wants us to come together for mutual benefit. Joy is found on the far side of sacrificial service. People bend toward each other, intertwine with one another, and some mystical contribution happens. Brooks concludes that “Love emerges” (p. 311).

Another attorney highlighted the words, “work collaboratively…to solve problems,” which requires due diligence and clarity. High-level communication skills are involved, both those of listening and communicating.

I am reminded again of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s challenge in Life Together. Bonhoeffer calls the small company of Christians to remember that the first service one owes to others consists in listening. Listening carefully, accurately, for understanding first, before even the internal response of agreement or disagreement. This is the beginning of loving, respectful and effective understanding and relationship building. When we accurately understand the other, then we can communicate that we genuinely care for the other, and position our side of the relationship to respond effectively to the needs of the other. This is an ideal, yet it has practical importance.

Bonhoeffer also speaks of the ministry of bearing: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law.” Bearing involves forbearing and sustaining; helping both parties understand and suffer the other. The other is not to be manipulated. Bonhoeffer writes that “it is the freedom of the other that must be endured” (p. 100). Respecting the freedom of the other must be endured, perhaps even reinforced: the freedom of the other’s nature, their individual endowment, including to some extent even the peculiarities, limitations, frailties, idiosyncrasies, and oddities, which are to be understood and borne.

Again, this is hard work, and a high and holy work; kingdom work that affirms the particular uniqueness of the one being represented. It images Jesus as our representative and advocate. The writer of Hebrews says we have an advocate, a great high priest who represents us before God the Father. He knows our frame – our limitations, failures and inadequacies – yet fully represents us, advocates for us thoroughly, exactly as we are.

The skilled and effective attorney will be well received by both sides and may be invited into this special space again and again. Both parties benefit and rejoice. This is advocacy, representation, following the example of Jesus our advocate.

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