Last July I experienced one of the highlights of my life: I walked St. Cuthbert’s Way with my wife, Helen. This 5-day 100km pilgrimage from Melrose, Scotland to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the Northeast coast of England, traces St. Cuthbert’s life and ministry as a monk and Bishop. I think back to that pilgrimage during this Lenten season, specifically two questions: Who and what are you attentive to, and what are you carrying?
Who and what are you attentive to? Walking for 8-10 hours a day created a space for attentiveness to my surroundings; the five senses were on high alert. My attentiveness was oriented toward things external to me as well as my interior state. I have since sought to be more attentive in my life, with varying degrees of success – to slow down and become more attentive to people, circumstances, tasks, and personal and social well-being, among other things.
What are you carrying? I carried a pack with the day’s necessities, including 4 liters of water, food, and extra clothing. The physical act of carrying a pack up and down steep hills was a gateway to prayerfully consider life’s larger questions: what was I carrying personally, relationally, professionally, emotionally, spiritually, and so forth?
These two questions can be helpful for those in congregations to consider as well. As a community of faith, who and what are you attentive to? What matters most and how do you direct your time, energy, and capacity toward such people and things? Moreover, every congregation has a history that can both help and harm its present and future realities. What is your congregation carrying, and what might you leave behind to effectively press toward the things you believe God is calling you to in this season?
Two Critical Tasks of Great Leadership: Naming the Two Critical Tasks of Congregational Leaders
Rev. Tim Keener is Director, Leadership Centre, at the The Presbyterian College, Montreal
Leadership as a Part of God’s Redemptive Plan
A congregation’s leadership capacity may be the single greatest factor in its flourishing. The leadership capacity of the leader(s) sets the depth, the pace, and the limits for the rest of the congregation. In the context of the church, we might define success as—our faithfulness to Christ, and our fruitfulness in Christ’s mission. It is a tough pill to swallow for leaders, but the church’s success is not limited by the capacity of those being led, but by the leader’s capacity to lead and develop others to lead.
From the beginning, leadership has been a part of God’s redemptive plan. It is impossible to read the Gospels, Acts, or the Epistles without seeing how normative and essential leadership is to the mission of God through the church. As William Willimon points out:
Leaders are not some later bureaucratic invention foisted upon a once democratic and egalitarian church by power-hungry authoritarians. The church is, in this sense, inherently hierarchical, dependent upon the leadership of those who are commissioned by Holy Spirit working through the church, for its fidelity.
In writing to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes how Christ has gifted the church with different leadership gifts so they can equip others for service, so that the body of Christ can be built up and become mature. This is the larger calling of all congregational leaders whether vocation ministers or lay leaders. Congregational leaders are the root systems of the local church and must be developed for the good of the whole body of Christ, and for the mission of God in the world.
Defining the Leadership Tasks
With an abundance of material available on the subject of leadership (sacred and secular), simply defining leadership in the congregational context is a challenge. Many congregational leaders are experienced leaders in the marketplace. But they often need help applying their skills to the sacred context. Pastors must be cross-cultural coaches introducing these leaders to the spiritual and relational complexities of congregational ministry.
A good place to start is by simply discussing leadership as a team. Richard Osmer describes this descriptive-empirical task as “priestly listening.” In our own congregation we asked congregational leaders: What does good leadership do? What does good leadership say? And, what does leadership good feel like? Obviously, the responses were diverse, but the exercise allowed us to consider leadership subjectively—What is the realty of leadership in our context? It also brought to light two overarching leadership challenges: caring for the body of believers, and leading the mission of the church.
We observed, that among other things, leadership is especially about stress, and it is about risk! Congregational leaders must therefore: 1) promote emotional heath in the congregation; and 2) provide adaptive leadership. The first task involves responding to anxiety in the emotional system of the church. The second task involves anticipating the next steps forward in the church’s mission.
In other words, the church must survive and progress, and we cannot survive without stress, and we cannot progress without risk.
The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch
I had the good fortune of pre-reading this book before it is released this summer. A rigorous sociological, theoretical, and empirical ethnographic study of one of Canada’s most witty, playful, and humorous evangelical leaders – Bruxy Cavey – and his congregation, The Meeting House. Schuurman masterfully unpacks the place of charisma in a congregation’s attempt to systematically distance itself from a popularized and stigmatized conception of what it means to be evangelical in a post-Christian Canada. A must read for scholars of religion and church leaders in Canada who wish to think carefully and critically about congregations and/or evangelicals.
April 12: Joel Thiessen is one of the presenters for the New Leaf Church Planting Initiative on the topic of "The Nones: An Evolving Story of Secularity in Canada" in Hamilton, ON. For more information and to register, click here.
May 4: Joel Thiessen will be leading an event in Abbotsford, BC on "Flourishing Congregations: From Understanding to Practice," that is open to the public. For more information and to register, click here.
May 7-8: Flourishing Congregations Institute is partnering with the Ambrose Pastors Conference to share our research on Discipleship at Ambrose University. The Theme: "Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction." For more information and to register, click here.
Include your congregation in a national congregations survey, and receive a free report with your church's data! To learn more about this opportunity visit our website, and to sign up your congregation, contact our Research and Program Coordinator, Joy Epp, at 403-410-2000 ext.2987.
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