(This post first appeared at Arrow Leadership)
I remember very well the time that a wonderful elderly lady from the church I was leading, made an appointment to see me. On the day, she came to my office holding a scrumptious cake she had made so we could eat together. She sat down, then proceeded to tell me what a terrible pastor I was. Even though this scenario sounds terrible, it actually wasn’t a bad experience, we had a good discussion- and there was cake! However I did find it interesting to hear her rationale regarding why she thought I could do a little better at pastoring. The issue lay with my title. Since my title was Senior Pastor, the logic went, that meant that I was the one responsible for the overall care of the congregation. The care of the congregation was ultimately up to me and no other. It didn’t matter that we had a Care Pastor and a care team who were responsible for and gifted to care for the congregation, because I was the Senior Pastor, it was basically up to me. That day I became aware of the expectations that some in the congregation may have had around my role and also that I did not share those expectations. The responsibility was all on me and there was little room for a shared sense of ministry with other leaders in the church. I remember feeling burdened by that sense of responsibility. Of course, a role which oversees an organisation will always have that sense of weight and pressure that comes with it, however I feel that leadership should and can be shared. Essentially, there was a dissonance in this encounter around how my friend and I defined church leadership.
I share this story not at all to blame the congregation for the expectations that were placed around my role, but rather, in order to convey that this incident made me think a lot about the innovation that is still needed around the area of leadership design. We need more creative thinking around the actual framework of leadership so that the relationship between leaders and the people they lead is clarified and improved. We need more original thinking around the shape of leadership so that an organisation is able to thrive. But most of all, we need better thinking around the form of leadership so that God is glorified and his kingdom extends as we work with him.
Here are some areas where I think we need more innovative thinking in leadership design which is based on my experience in church leadership for over 15 years.
Mechanical or Romantic?
Most leaders know there is a dichotomy that exists regarding leadership styles and practices that tend towards the structured and those moving towards the more organic. These two versions of leadership style and practice depend on issues such as the personality of the leader, the kind of organisation which is being led, and also the prevailing culture. Mark Sayers in his book Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence and Creating in a Cultural Storm, writes about this dichotomy. He writes that the ‘Mechanical’ view stems from the Enlightenment which focused on rationality and science. The ‘organic’ view comes from the reaction to the Enlightenment- the period of Romanticism.
He also confesses that he was a leader who leaned towards the organic end of this spectrum of leadership style and praxis. However, after years of living in this posture he says about his church which was based on this organic style, ‘Although strong on the fluid, the relational and the creative, we did not have the organisational strength or resilience to continue. We were recognised for our revolutionary spirit , our imagination, hipness and creativity, but we didn’t have the structures and the leadership to sustain, cultivate and grow it over the long haul’1. I have heard similar stories from leaders who are more comfortable at the mechanical end of the spectrum in their leadership praxis, yet unsurprisingly they say the opposite in that they need more fluidity in their churches and people were leaving the organisation because there was a perceived lack of ‘relationality’ within the body. I think we need more creative thinking to work through this tension. Sayers points to a new paradigm that must be reaffirmed which rejects the heroic (Mechanical) or the creative genius (Organic or Romantic) models of leadership. Instead ‘We must rediscover the truly radical vision of leadership found within the Bible’2. However, What does this look like considering the Bible says relatively little about leadership specifically? Rather than perpetuating this unhelpful dichotomy how can we be more creative and Christlike so that our leadership praxis is not swayed by cultural trends, personality styles or mere leadership preferences?
Practicing Missional Spiritual Disciplines
Relating to the point above about moving away from dichotomising structured approaches to leadership and more organic expressions, what we can learn perhaps from the more organic expressions of leadership, is to slow down and place importance on spiritual disciplines. As a leader I know that my intention is to practice spiritual disciplines that will transform me into the missional leader God wants me to be. So why is it then that often everything in an organisation can stop us from practicing those disciplines? I recognise that this has to do with the distracted culture that we live in. However, what can we do to make sure that this culture of distraction does not infiltrate our organisations and churches that we lead? I really love what the authors of Slow Church have to say here. They recognise that becoming more intentional about building relationships and being missional will not be a quick process but rather requires ‘…a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighbourhoods’.3 This kind of reflective posture cannot emerge within an organisation that is busy, distracted and focuses on efficiency above relationship. Sometimes I wonder if we are unable to discern what God is up to in our neighbourhoods and unable to connect with Christ’s heart because we have been infected by this preoccupied culture. Sayers says ‘When today’s leader rejects the culture of distraction, she must then encounter the pain and brokenness that was present all along- drowned out by reality TV, social networking, and the constant hum of advertising. This is profoundly counterintuitive, but it is the true call of a leader.’4 When will we boldly and with innovation restructure our organisations so that there is space as leaders to take seriously the role of spiritual disciplines?
Creative Titles and Role Descriptions
One of the reasons that this elderly lady who I mentioned at the beginning of this article was struggling, was because of her perception of the title ‘Senior Pastor’. I wonder if we then need more innovation in the area of role titles and descriptions. Many more creative churches have stopped using the title ‘Senior Pastor’ which can sometimes give energy to the ‘heroic’ leader image and myth that Sayers describes. Instead what about titles that convey a sense of team and which put forward a model of shared leadership? Moreover, how can we engage in that most boring but necessary of processes for any organisation, designing a role description, so that the description sets up right expectations for the leader? Following on from the last point about spiritual missional practices, what about if we stated in a job description that slowing down in ministry and engaging in spiritual practices was a necessary part of the role? This could then be something that the leadership team uses together to keep one another accountable as they grow into disciples of Christ in the organisation or church.
The Tension Between Cruciformity and Hierarchy
There have been several books written recently which question and deconstruct the concept of leadership.5 There is a suspicion in some Christian circles that the church has taken too freely from our culture’s obsession with leadership and applied it uncritically to the church. Moreover, combined with the fact that Jesus focused more on servanthood than leadership, some people are then advocating that the word not even be used at all. There is a tension here (which sadly has sometimes led to the polarisation between some Christian camps), that we need to recognise and explore further. The term leadership, does convey a distinction between leaders and followers which, while this may only apply to roles, still contains a connotation of hierarchy which contradicts Christ’s posture of servanthood. This is an uncomfortable tension that I feel as a leader. Once again I don’t think it is helpful to polarise here and I’m not sure the solution is to replace the word leadership with something else, but it is an area within the framework of leadership which creative Christians must keep discussing and exploring. Michael Gorman who writes extensively on cruciformity says ‘To be in Christ is to be a living exegesis of the narrative of Christ, a new performance of the original drama of exaltation following humiliation, of humiliation as the voluntary renunciation of rights and selfish gain in order to serve and obey.”6 How can we live as cruciform leaders, a ‘living exegesis’ of our cruciform Lord? I think there is still a long way to go here if we are to avoid polarisations and if we are to help practitioners embody this cruciformity as leaders in organisations and churches.
The framework and design of Christian leadership still needs much dialogue between practitioners and theologians who are ready to present innovative models which reflect our cruciform Lord so that we see his kingdom extend in our world. My prayer is that Arrow will continue now and in the future to be a part of these crucial discussions as it has been in the past.
1.Mark Sayers Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence and Creating in a Cultural Storm, Chicago; Moody Publishers, 2014. p23.
2. Ibid, p29
3. Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Downers Grove, Intervarsity, 2014.
4. Facing Leviathan, p62
5. Two examples are Unleader by Lance Ford and Servantship edited by Graham Hill.
6. Michael Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.