In the last few weeks, I read two articles in the Financial Post on leadership. One article, quoting Dr Rowe, said: “I am not actually sure leadership is something that can be taught in the classroom …” It continued “many of the characteristics seen in good leaders, such as self-awareness, reliability, sensitivity to the strengths and weaknesses of colleagues, are also features of good followers.” The other suggested that a leader “thrived by thinking through clashing priorities and potential options, rather than hewing a pre-planned strategy.”
These are not incompatible ideas. But they do suggest that the literature on leadership reflects the changing circumstances and demands on leadership. Naming precisely what leadership is and what it requires is difficult. Leadership is many sided, living in dynamic changing relationships in highly variable circumstances, with the constant possibility of surprising events.
Yet these complexities ought not to frighten us. In Leadership we position ourselves in relationship to God and others for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Some basic relatively simple principles keep us on the right track.
- Leaders listen to their Master. We are servants of Jesus Christ, who is Head of the Church. This listening requires attention to the Word and the Spirit. This cannot be emphasized enough. It is quite easy to become so wrapped up in the organizational matters of church life that we forget that the Lord of the church also has something to say to us on the decisions we are called to make. Listening is a quality of church leadership that requires cultivation. It is not done “on our own” but in the collegiality of the leadership and the church.
- Leaders have character and are an example. Many will give some of the characteristics found in good leaders. As Christians we follow Christ and are called to take on the “image of Christ.” (Consider 1 Cor. 13, Col. 3, or Gal. 5) As leaders we can look at chapters that speak of the qualifications for those in the various offices. Clearly, character matters. Continuing to develop these characteristics in our lives a worthy pursuit.
- Leaders work together. We have a collegial form of leadership. It requires that we find ways to listen to God together. We sort out matters out together. We speak together. The shared works requires that we find the spiritual resources necessary to work as a Team and develop processes that encourage our common work.
- Leaders attend to the vision and mission of the church. This is not so much finding one as responding to the calls of God we find in Scripture. See On Vision: A Brief Reflection
- Leaders free people to serve in ways that respects their unique humanity. People are created unique. They share with us “being created in the image and likeness of God”. We can stifle the creativity and responsibility of members of the community. Our purpose is to encourage them.
- Leaders hold people to account. (called discipline in the Belgic Confession). We all get sloppy, get distracted, get sidetracked and get tired. Accountability reminds us to stay on course. While at times we may need to deal with error, immorality and other difficult matters, most often accountability is reminder, encouragement and mutual working.
- Leaders learn. The world is ever changing. It is dynamic, variable and at times surprising. Most of the things we are changing the way we do church was not imagined 100 years ago. This is not condemnation of the modern world as much as it is observation. Whether it is incorporating new technologies or recognizing the changing patterns of vacations, the circumstances of our life with God have changed. Learning is required in order to respond as faithful people of the Lord.
- Leaders develop and maintain organizational structures that respect communal decision making and personal responsibility. Organizations (communities) have structures for decision making, accountability and responsibilities. From time to time they change. What does not change is our tendency to make them dysfunctional by bypassing committees, going over people’s heads, doing tasks of others, etc. Leaders need to show proper respect for boundaries and so people as they go about their work. Between the church order and the organizational mandates of the church, we have the beginnings of our understanding of how things are formally done in the particular congregation.
- Leaders are faithful to covenant relationships. As elders you made promises when ordained into this ministry. Faithfulness to covenants is one of the gifts leaders need to give. (Moses Pava, Leading with Meaning)
In the articles under this section, I hope to direct you to resources and provide articles that will help you reflect on your leadership in the life of the church.