The (Invisible) Face of Church Leadership
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."
- Lao Tze
I'm thinking about leadership in ministry today; particularly leadership in Congregational churches.
When I was in seminary, one of the best things one of my professors ever said to us was that when we finally got into our churches, the best way to get things done was to give people enough time, space and guidance to make it seem like your great idea was really theirs in the first place. It takes longer, but it is generally more successful a process and it doesn't make the minister seem like a dictator (or worse).
I resonate with that leadership style, as I've always been more of a collaborative/empowerment kind of person, myself. Would I love to be able to come up with an idea and feel like I had the kind of power to say, "Now, do this!" and watch it get done? Sometimes, maybe. But that never flies too well for too long in churches - particularly Congregational churches where the power rests in the body of the church and not the in spiritual leader.
The little picture above is a great visualization of exactly the process of this style of leadership. When an important issue arises, the minister can be an excellent catalyst for awareness and a valuable resource helping guide people through reflection. This can happen through any number of means: Bible study, forums with small groups, sermons, weekly emails or blogs, newsletters....you name it.
Insight is where the minister can begin to step back and let the process organically blossom. The reason a step back at this point is so vital is that everyone's insight, as a result of the awareness and reflection, is probably going to be different. In order to arrive at any kind of consensus, the leader needs to empower everyone to feel like they can speak, share, disagree, and express doubts in safety and trust. This way, everyone feels that they were authentically heard, even if the outcome isn't exactly what their vision was.
The action that is a result of this insight is also something that should be gently guided by the minister, but is truly done by the laity. Whether that be a committee, the Board or Trustees, whatever it is....if the action taken to address the issue stems from the body and not perceived as a direct action of the minister, it will usually resonate very differently with the congregation and generally is better received over the course of time.
This is a tricky business, and it takes enormous patience and the power of effective communication to make it work. Yet the best ministers I know, and the ones that leave the best legacies in their churches, are the ones that lead their congregations this way.
That isn't to say those ministers don't take strong stands on issues, because of course they do; often when no one else will. Yet challenging people to consider something with compassionate conviction in one's voice is very different than basically telling people "My way or the highway." That never ends well in the church circles I run in.
Leadership, like everything else, looks different to different people. Private sector folk often have certain leadership-style expectations of their spiritual leaders based upon models that work in the private sector but would be a train wreck in the work and polity of the local church. Gently helping the laity understand that is also an important task of the minister if they want their tenure with any congregation to be a relatively healthy and productive one.
The face of spiritual leadership is often a very different kind of animal than most laity are used to or expect. Learning that lesson is an ongoing one for this minister, yet if I and my Brothers and Sisters in ministry are to take the call to Empower the Laity to heart, then we have to be willing to humbly step aside and allow our churches to make their own decisions guided by our best energy, insight and compassion.
What kind of leader are you?