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Essence of Christian leadership

Just recently a church asked me to facilitate leadership training for parish leaders who had just been elected into office. It got me wondering whether there was any differences between leadership in the church and leadership in any other sphere of life.

People Management Issues: Robert Mandeya

The experience was quite revealing and helped me get some intriguing and fascinating insights on Christian leadership vs corporate, civic and social leadership. Firstly when I researched on Christian leadership I found out that:

“Effective Christian leadership is the process of helping a group embody in its corporate life the practices that shape vital Christian life, community, and witness in ways that are faithful to Jesus Christ and the gospel and appropriate to the particular group’s setting, resources, and purpose.”

It also became clear to me that, “Effective Christian leadership is the process of helping a congregation embody in its corporate life the practices that shape vital Christian life, community, and witness in ways that are faithful to Jesus Christ and the gospel and appropriate to the particular congregation’s setting, resources, and purpose.”

I then went back to the definition of leadership as propounded by John C Maxwell in his 21 irrefutable leadership laws book for a comparative analysis.

According to John C Maxwell, leadership is leadership no matter where you go or what you do. Times change, technology marches forward, cultures vary from place to place but the true principles of leadership are constant, they are irrefutable and stand the test of time. While these laws can be learnt and some are easier to understand and apply than others, every one of them can be acquired.

However, a closer analysis of Christian leadership showed me that, the Bible teaches us many things about the nature and quality of Christian leadership. Perhaps the most profound insight comes from the life of Christ himself and Christ’s clear teaching regarding servant leadership.

It appeared to me that Christ is the model of servant leadership. In his incarnation, Christ embodies the message of servant love. The cross is the ultimate message of self-giving love (Phil 2:1-11; John 13:12-17).

Further I also learnt that Authority in the New Testament entails both power and servanthood. Jesus Christ himself exemplifies both: he rules with power “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:21), but he also stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples (John 13).

We can see this same example of power combined with servanthood in the role of parenting. In their relationship with children, parents have authority that includes right and power; good parents also love their children with a servant love, and use their authority through this love. Is there a difference between leadership in the church and leadership in other spheres of society?

To some extent there are differences as well as similarities. There is similarity in terms of laws of human behaviour, social laws, psychological laws, and organisational laws that are rooted in creation and apply to all organisations, including the church. The best of Christian wisdom discerns these deep and universal patterns to human life and community. God’s common grace makes it possible for a person who may not be a Christian to be an effective leader in an organisation. Christians are always aware that God has created and still works in the whole world, not just the church.

But there is also a difference. The church is a unique organism in which Christ and the Spirit dwell. The church has a unique source of life, is directed toward particular ends and goals, and is governed by particular commitments and practices — such as prayer, worship, study, witness, and service — that give peculiar shape to the church’s life and ministry.

The church cannot be explained in organisational terms alone and must guard against approaches to leadership that merely accommodate to the broader culture (A Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry by William Willimon [Abingdon, 2002], p. 70).

Apparently, some churches over-emphasize the differences between the church and other organisations and miss out on valuable things they could learn from the way other organisations are led. Other churches underemphasise the uniqueness of the church.

Here is a story:

Pastor Pete was disturbed with himself. The end of the worship planning meeting was near. He felt anxious; he guessed the other members did too. In the awkward silence, he wondered what to say. Before he became pastor, First Church had a history of letting the pastor make almost all the decisions in the church, especially about planning and leading worship. The council had generally communicated the boundaries, but the pastor had led the way in everything. Then Pastor Pete came and encouraged members of the congregation to help plan and lead in worship. He asked a dozen people to join him, some from the council and some not. He called them the “worship committee” and held regular meetings to tell them his plans for sermons and to ask them their ideas for music, Bible readings, and prayer. Slowly the committee began offering ideas.

In the third session for planning one particular worship service, the group was getting a bit edgy. They had planned a somewhat humorous sketch about the 10 Commandments. In a previous session, they had chosen songs. Pastor Pete now encouraged them: “This is good work. You are the owners of this plan.” But he could see frowns on some faces. One older member was plainly anxious: “I’m not quite sure about our roles here. Do we make the final decisions or do you?” Another member added, “Some of us feel we don’t have the training to make these kinds of decisions.” Before Pastor Pete could answer, one member suggested a more familiar hymn for the concluding song rather than the new praise song he had previously suggested. The whole group brightened to the idea and wanted the change. Pastor Pete felt anxious, like something was slipping away, but nodded in agreement.

Was it loss of control that bothered him? Had he not said he wanted them to participate? Should he confess his anxiety? Who did have the final say, anyway? Was it the pastor or the committee? One thing he knew — silence was not the answer.

Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com

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