Magazine article The Christian Century

Lessons in Leadership

Magazine article The Christian Century

Lessons in Leadership

Article excerpt

AMONG THE congregations I know, two challenges loom especially large for leaders: maintaining a clear focus amid competing agendas, and bringing about needed change when people are resistant or at best ambivalent about change. With that context in mind, here are ten rules of leadership, more or less in the order in which I learned them.

1) Give responsibility back: Early in my ministry I would listen closely when people said, "The church should be doing this," or "The church ought to do that," and I would immediately put the idea in my pastoral backpack. After a while the load became so heavy that I collapsed. I began to learn to give responsibility back. I found myself learning to say things like, "That's an important need all right. How do you think you can respond to it?" If I wanted to be even more blunt, I would say, "I am not especially interested in hearing what you think the church should be doing, but I am very interested in hearing what you believe God is calling you to do."

2) Expect trouble: I found myself puzzled that new ideas or challenges to the status quo proved so upsetting to some people. I thought, "Gosh, I'm not an evil person. Why are some people so angry, even vicious?" I laid my complaint before a friend, who said, "If you aren't making some enemies, you're probably not doing your job."

Most clergy want to be liked. But if we make being liked the overriding rule for our ministry, not much is likely to happen. This is not to indulge a persecution complex or to delight in opposition. It is to recognize the paradoxical wisdom of the aphorism, "No good deed goes unpunished." It is to recognize that in the church, just as in the world, power is zealously guarded, and not all that glitters is gold.

3) Value small steps: The long-term vision may be one of fundamental change, but you get there by looking for and valuing small steps along the way. Sometimes very small steps. For example, you may hope to see your congregation develop a full-orbed teaching ministry for adults, giving as much or more emphasis to adult education as to the Sunday school for children. Keep the vision alive, but look for small steps--for example, the church board studying a relevant book, key leaders beginning to share the vision, a special task force grappling with the ideas, and individuals in the congregation who long for serious biblical study openly articulating their hope. The Exodus did not just happen one day. There were a host of steps, over a number of years, that built toward it.

4) Plan: Both long-range, strategic planning and an annual calendar planning can help a congregation as well as clergy to focus energies and avoid getting distracted. Planning that is done well will begin with the question, What are we trying to accomplish? Periodic strategic planning (every five years is about right), followed by action and accomplishment, heightens congregational energy and self-confidence. On the other hand, nothing dissipates congregational energy more than discussing an issue year after year without taking action.

5) Identify the vital few: Part of good planning is asking the question,"What are the vital few things we must do in order to get the job done? Often congregations try to do too much and resist asking, What is really critical? What are the vital few things we must do if we are to be a faithful Christian congregation? The "vital few" question can be employed with boards and staff, as well as with the congregation as a whole. …

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