Signs of Life … Leadership
Dr. Keith Walker, Professor of Leadership and Educational Administration, University of Saskatchewan
We started with leaders. Over the course of a few months we were able to meet with over 100 leaders through face-to-face interviews (remember when we used to do that sort of thing) and we convened over a dozen focus groups with these and other leaders across Canada. All those encounters were transcribed and analyzed. Our team wanted to know what these denominational and congregational leaders thought about congregational flourishing. Along with an array of important topics and with our promptings, they engaged us with their views on leading and leadership.
As a field of study, leadership has typically taken a leader first approach; where leaders have tended to dominate the narrative, definitions and descriptions of what constitutes leading, being leaders and leadership. Almost 30 years ago (in 1993) James Kouzes and Barry Posner turned this usual approach on its head in their book entitled Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Basically, they asked those who follow leaders what earns leaders the credibility to be trusted. They discovered that self-identity, constituent appreciation, sharing values, developing capacity, being on purpose and fostering hope were really important. In Signs of Life (2021), we begin by paying attention to the collective self-identity of congregations and move on in our follow-up chapter, Leadership: Umbrella Holders and Key Sharers with other key concepts, emphasizing the role of leaders’ self-identity as it relates to this collective identity.
This Signs of Life chapter includes findings from those face-to-face interviews and focus groups but also highlights our findings from close to 9000 congregants. It is hard to say anything new about leaders and leadership these days; yet in all of our work we have seen, and been told about, leaders being the animating and accompanying influences with respect to the presence of flourishing experiences. This chapter brings to description how Catholic, Mainline and Conservative Protestants see themselves AND how their constituents see them, especially in the light of flourishing. Their contextual roles vary greatly, some are clergy and others are lay persons. Congregational leaders assume multiple roles that are situated: leaders of leaders, servants of leaders, purveyors of hope and advocates for justice and the common good, and they are stewards of ministry resources and equippers of the saints for the various works of ministry.
So, leaders create the conditions for leadership. In other words, a leader isn’t “leadership” any more than a person is a “relationship.” Leaders help create space for both leadership and for relationships; they are chemists. Leaders do help sustain order and constancy, promote resilience, welcome innovation and, from time to time, invite chaos to usher in change. Contingent on need and discerning wisdom, they model the way, disturb the status quo, inspire vision, encourage people and enable others (Kouzes and Posner’s five practices). Picking up the book, one might get a better idea about what it means that leaders are umbrella holders and key sharers (we’ll leave that for readers). Leaders make space for those who share in the labours of congregational life; they come alongside and act as moral and spiritual agents for the release of the laity and develop leaderful congregations in the faithful fulfill of the vision, mission, values, and preferred cultural behaviours associated with particular congregations. In our book organizing circumplex of eleven qualities or dimensions that support flourishing, ALL are related in one way or another to clergy and lay leaders and co-created leadership conditions that afford for congregational thriving. (From our team: see keithdwalker.ca/book-summary-gallery for further leader resources.)
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What We Are Listening To
The Church and Covid: How are Our Pastors and Leaders Faring
Faith Today Podcast
The stresses of COVID-19 continue to weigh on Christian leaders. Listen to this EFC podcast on how church and ministry leaders are faring. Guests include Margaret Clarke, Tim Day, and Dan Godard.
Resources for Church Leaders
Thriving In Relentless Change: Is It Possible for Priests?
March 5, 2021 | 4-5pm (GMT)
Over the last 12 months, priests have survived a whirlwind of relentless change. Whether you are a priest who feels exhausted by the pace of change, or whether change exhilarates you, this webinar is for you. Join Fr James Mallon as he draws on his own experiences this year to dig into what spiritual strength, mental wellbeing, and resilience can look like for priests. Thriving is possible in this season! Register here: https://subspla.sh/jmm7d9d
February Learning Centre Book Club from New Leaf: Join us in the online Learning Centre in February as together we read through Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization
For generations, the Bible has been employed by settler colonial societies as a weapon to dispossess Indigenous and racialized peoples of their lands, cultures, and spiritualities. Given this devastating legacy, many want nothing to do with it. But is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can we make it an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed? Even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization? Click here to register.
The Global Leadership Summit Special Edition, February 25: Ready to launch into the new year but feel like some additional momentum is needed to give you that extra edge? Patrick Lencioni, Vanessa Van Edwards, and Jerry Lorenzo, are coming together to bring you a leadership boost of encouragement and insight to start your year with clarity of vision and new energy. Click here for more information and register.
Hopeful Economics unconference, March 3-5: Hopeful economics is a way of looking at the world of the assets and abundance that it has and making that work for everyone. An unConference is when topics and discussions are informed by the people who show up! Click here for more information and register.
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.