Friday, 10 September 2010

Growing Leaders - Part 1

It's been a very busy week so I haven't had much time to read. The middle of the week was spent at the Living Leadership conference, 'Formation', which was excellent - watch this space for some reflections!

For now though, here is a brief overview and some thoughts on Part 1 of the book 'Growing Leaders', by James Lawrence.

Part 1, 'Leadership Today' was answering two questions; what is Christian leadership and what are the challenges faced by leaders today?

Chapter 1, 'What is Christian Leadership', started by addressing the issue of what a leader actually is. It was a useful exercise, particularly for me to think about. We all have ideas of what a leader is - whether that's the alpha male who is strong, does 100 things a day, never sleeps, is incredibly confident and talented (and a little bit annoying), or if it's the tired, ineffectual, out of touch person (who we want to replace with an alpha male visionary!).

I guess I sometimes compare myself to other leaders in the church, or even other apprentices, and I see people that are very different to me. It leads me often to wish that I was more like them - more confident etc. I think it's helpful to think however that being able to lead isn't restricted to one personality type - it is simply that you might lead in different ways and in different contexts, depending on what your personality is.

Lawrence helpfully pointed out that a leader is much broader than the alpha male stereotype. He started by defining leadership - anyone who influences someone else is actually a leader. But leadership is, in the end, something that you either can or can't do - a talent - rather than something that you can learn. (Though you can get better at it, and he does go on later to say that it is a gift given by God.

So you find leaders at whole different levels - leading a small team or group, overseeing other teams or small groups or overall leaders who oversee all the leaders beneath them. The key is to place people in leadership positions at a level that is aligned with their talents, to enable them to lead effectively. Someone gifted at coordinating different housegroup leaders won't necessarily be good at leading a church, or leading a housegroup themselves.

So if that's what a leader is, what is distinctive about Christian leadership? What should shape the way that a Christian exercises leadership?

1. Christian leadership is founded in relationship with God as trinity.

2. Christian leadership is rooted in the Bible and directed by the Spirit.

The Bible and the Spirit help us as leaders to see our part in God's bigger story, the salvation history of the world, the kingdom of God. This perspective prevents us from getting stuck in our own limited context. It reminds us of the wider world Church, and assures us that, no matter what we face, God is working his purposes out. The temptation to become cynical or disillusioned is countered by a healthy understanding of the bigger story of what God is doing, whose focus is on his kingdom. This will shape how we lead the local church, as an outpost of God's kingdom. If leaders focus anywhere else, they end up following something or someone other than Christ, and they end up serving an agenda other than the kingdom of God's agenda. Christian leaders are kingdom seekers, not empire builders.

3. Christian leadership is marked by servanthood.

(There was a really helpful thought in this section - i'll save it for another post!)

4. Christian leadership is shaped by the cross and resurrection.

5. Christian leadership is sustained by prayer.

6. Christian leadership is lived out personally as part of the community of the church.

Ministry at a distance, be it physical or relational, is simply not an option for Christian leadership. Jesus became one of us; we are called to do the costly work of integrating our lives with the people we lead. It is possible to be physically present but relationally absent... The constant knocks and carping criticism, the betrayed trust, broken promises and failed dreams, the draining pastoral situations, the shredding gossip, all become bricks in the wall of defence that gradually builds over the years. Eventually the Christian leader becomes insulated from further damage, but also isolated from others.

All of this is to be done in the context of grace. Even with all the struggles and failures to do it properly, God still wants to use people like us!

That was longer than anticipated - I've less to say on the second part of part one, and i'll do that in another post!

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