Leadership projects, initiatives, programs and the like are emerging everywhere across the PC(USA). Presbyteries, colleges, and seminaries often seem to be serving as partners with congregations in the formation of church leaders. National partners including each of the six agencies of the General Assembly and the Committee on Theological Education, that I staff, are also invested in what I believe is becoming a ecclesial social movement to change the church leadership ethos.
Next Monday I will be on the campus of Maryville College, a Presbyterian-related college in gorgeous an East Tennessee mountain valley, to talk about leadership. They have a new certificate program in "Ministry and Church Leadership."
So, WHAT IS LEADERSHIP ANYWAY? I could certainly use your help to prepare for my talk, but so could all of us thinking about new and renewed ways to empower church leaders! I would like to know what do characteristics of leadership you find essential in church leadership?
Here are a few of my ideas:
I believe leadership is more than learned skills or genetic qualities; it is a series of spiritual disciplines if not a SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE itself. Presbyterian minister and writer, Marjorie Thompson describes spiritual disciplines as a means of grace rather than ends themselves. They are "like garden tools. The best spade and hoe in the world cannot guarantee a good crop. They only make it more likely that growth will be unobstructed." (Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life) Discipline is just that, a willingness to stay the course despite the odds. It is an ability to follow through on the mission goals.
Therefore, the primary dimension to this discipline is COURAGE. I am grateful to L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Ron Heifetz with Martin Linsky for their book Leadership on the Line on this point. Leaders have to believe in the mission enough to be willing to put everything, really everything, on the line to foster that mission forward especially when the heat is high.
Leadership also requires, CREDIBILITY: A trustworthiness grounded in lived relationships and expressed in mutually beneficial partnerships, authentic living, and believable actions and words. They are students of the culture and context and are, therefore, lead compentently and humbly in our multicultural world.
CLARITY ABOUT PURPOSE based on deep listening and analyzed observations of complexity seems essential as well. To keep a spiritual discipline and fulfill a mission, a leader needs to be clear about both. Inherent in this dimension of leadership is the ability to "get in the balcony", quickly respond to emerging needs by "getting back on the dance floor," and stay focused on a common vision at all times.
The best leaders I know are ENGAGING enough to capture the imagination of old and new followers. They inspire people to get involved and stay involved. They are open enough to engage others, draw lines of connection, invite and welcome others in including those who are rarely invited and hosted. They string together important moments, mentor persons and communities, and build movements as a result.
Do you know any leaders like this? What else would you add?
On journey/ pilgrimage, Lee
P.S. I am back in Louisville after a fall sabbatical where I was based in Debrecen, Hungary studying leadership formation and working on my patterns of spiritual discipline. It is great to be back and hope you will come back to engage with me as I continue to reflect on that experience as well as my continuing encounters with Presbyterians and our seminaries.