Friday, 10 February 2012

What is leadership?

Recent events in my life have led me to question what it means to be an effective leader. After all, isn't that what I'm supposed to be - a leader? And an effective one, at that?
At church last Sunday we had an exercise which was not about leadership per say, but threw up a lot of questions about leadership in general, and, of course, my leadership in particular. The activity was an attempt to begin looking at the vision and mission of our church in Edgeside. To begin with we watched the following video:

After watching the video, the church split into three groups to try and pull apart what the video was saying and how we felt it might or might not relate to our mission in Edgeside.
And I found that, interestingly, the views were polarised into two clear groups. One group felt very strongly that a both/and approach needed to be used, that mission must happen both inside and outside of the church building, and that it is important that we work together as a team, minister and congregation, to do this.

The other group, however, (and I must stress that I was very clear that there were no wrong answers) were adamant that the church's mission was to draw people into the church, and get bums on seats, and most importantly, that doing that was my job as minister and leader of the church. Again, let me stress that I'm not make snap judgements about right and wrong here, merely opening the question as to what it means to be a leader in the church.

Because the truth is, that second option is really quite appealing to me. It means that the boundaries of my job are very clear. I'll know what success looks like, because I'll be counting my numbers (and the pennies in the collection plate) each week. I'll know to spend my time working on projects that bring people to church on a Sunday, on door knocking and leafleting and marketing. Our lovely new website (, and the beautiful posters we make can be evidenced as me doing my job. How wonderfully easy that sounds. And even better than that, it means I don't really have to equip my congregation to do anything. I don't have to try and empower anyone, or relinquish control over anything. The most I need to ask of them is to take a few leaflets each week and push them through some letter boxes. Other than that, I can just do my own thing, and hope people follow. Simples.

But as I turn that prospect over in my head, I can't help but feel uneasy about it. Beth Alison's recent post on the beyond 400 blog (if you haven't read it, you can find it here: tries to explain something of what it means to choose to be a baptist, to be a part of this strange denomination of independent and interdependent local churches. As I reflect on what she's said, I can't help but be reminded of the reasons that I am a baptist, and primarily that is the church meeting, a place where any member of the church can speak and be heard, where the people of a local church come together and try to discern the will of God for themselves.

It strikes me then, that perhaps to be an effective "leader" of that church means being a bit backwards. I don't get to do my thing and try and get people to follow along and join in. Instead the emphasis gets turned, and my job begins to look a lot harder. Instead I have to help the congregation to articulate the direction that they need to go. Instead I have to help the people of the church find confidence in their own dreams and vision. Which means I have to relinquish control, and try to stretch the imaginations of the people who rely on me to dream for them.

So what does does it mean to be an "effective leader"? Well, as far as I can tell it means faith, obedience, and the ability to know when to lead and when to follow.

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