Leadership is a funny one.
Bring up the topic at University and it’ll probably involves societies, sports and BNOCs; talk about it in Politics and it can be met with a wince, competition, arrogance and tension; speak about it in families and relationships and on a more personal level, a similar wince might occur as older and newer perceptions of these relations and our individual roles within them can cause controversy.
These are not the spheres of leadership I want to begin with though. In fact, in my experience, it can sometimes be the case that in church, discussing these areas of leadership are often missed off the agenda altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’ve never heard church leaders pray for political leaders, or heard talks on how to raise up student leaders (although often in terms of student church small group leaders or the like).
What I mean to express is my confusion as to why my experience of churches seems too often to only teach me how to be a good member of the worship band, how to lead biblical discussion in my small group, or how to communicate well for the purpose of preaching on a Sunday.
Initially I’d say a lot of my confusion stems from the communication of people’s ideas about leadership.
Is it somethings we’re in – like a defined role or team?
Is it something we are – do we just have people who are natural leaders, perhaps through their character or gifting, regardless of what responsibilities they hold or don’t hold at any time?
Is it something we grow – much like the ‘are’ definition, is it a characteristic or quality we learn more about and encourage in one another (praying for God to teach and lead us), which impacts the way we go about our lives?
The clear communication of teaching on leadership (within university culture, churches and beyond) is essential.
It’s essential because miscommunication can see people’s integrity disintegrate the moment they have a title/role removed from them.
It’s essential because the right communication can open our eyes to see and learn from the strong leaders around us, simply leading by their strength of character, their loyalty, honesty and wisdom.
It’s essential because the right communication stop us from saying “I’m not/could never be a leader”, which can prevent our world from benefitting from some of the most amazing, humble and potential-filled leaders imaginable.
Relating to leadership
Once we manage to clearly communicate why leadership is important and, in my opinion, why leadership is a characteristic to be nurtured continually within those where it appears, we then need to equip and teach those (leading our societies, running our businesses, leading our councils and serving in our churches) how to lead.
Having potential or having a gift isn’t an opportunity to presume you know what you’re doing.
Ever heard the saying “If you’re too big to serve, you’re too small to lead”?
I have (but I can’t remember who from!), and I just want to unpack it a little bit, as there are a few aspects of this I’d like us to appreciate.
Firstly, this plainly relates the idea of leading to that of serving. Leadership has a toxic side which can tell us we’re ‘too big for the little people’ or too important for the unseen tasks. Something I think is one of the most important aspects of leadership is a foundation planted in serving. Serving our closest friends and family, and also serving the strangers our leadership brings us into contact with.
Secondly, an underlying message I pick up here is that you can’t be all about leading. Leading can’t be your identity (hence why it says you’ve got to be willing to serve too). I believe we should fundamentally believe that our worth, our purpose and our character is not ultimately found in what or who it is we are leading. In my experience this leads to an inability to let go, it leads to hurt as we take a blow to our leadership as a personal attack, it can make us feel utterly purposeless when we find ourselves in a position of not leading anything in particular and it can leave us feeling unrelatable to those around us.
If you agree with me that learning these lessons are what we should prioritise when we encourage a new leader or someone only just realising their gifting, then I’d urge you not to presume that they will learn this on their own, with no need for accountability or deliberate conversations along their leadership journey. We should be teaching our leaders to desire and pursue constructive challenging and support wherever they find themselves in their journey.
To just touch on my personal journey with this, I think, might help you get where I’m coming from and where, culturally, I think we should be heading.
I am a Christian, who’s main source of teaching on leadership, and in fact the sphere in which I realised I have leadership potential (some people used the word ‘gifting’, it’s the same thing – it needs nurturing) was the church. I had people come alongside me to encourage me to speak in church from the age of about 17. I was identified as someone the student work team wanted to help set the students’ evangelical culture at church during my previous years at university (I’m still at university for anyone wondering). I am someone who loves to innovate, and in spotting problems/weaknesses in the church, was often encouraged to take a more proactive role in addressing these (either on church council, or leading a new project).
Although people pointed out I was good at communicating, I was never told this was a transferrable gift that I should use to bless organizations or areas outside the church. Similarly with culture setting, it was mostly left to my own initiative to realise the way I look at things analytically and can influence social dynamics means that I have full ability to change some of the sub-cultures I come across in other areas of life (at home, at work, in sports etc.). My innovative streak was never something I had great know-how or confidence in pursuing outside the church setting, even though I still have the same ability to assess problem/weaknesses/solutions in so many other areas of the world I experience (organisations, societies and my studies).
One of the things I’ve struggled with is a sense of owing to my church families to lead and serve them instead of outside of church, because after all they are the ones who taught me, encouraged me and grew me as a leader in church. Whilst this is the case, even more so, I’d say what has held me back is the time it’s taken for me to figure out that in loving Jesus, in bringing biblical values into the world around me and in bringing people to know his love and grace and forgiveness, through my ability to lead, I have a duty to not keep this within the church walls.
God’s kingdom does not only have to come in my church. I do not only want to raise up leaders within church, for the purpose of church.
So, this is why I ask
“Can the leaders amongst us please leave the building?”
Not because I don’t think brilliant and respectable people are called to lead in the church. Not because I think no Christians lead outside of the church. But, because I feel a stronger bridge needs to be made between the two. More applicable teaching needs to be shared to bridge the gap. I believe there are so many presumptions we can hold about leadership without even noticing it, and my heart yearns for the church to be known as a place which nurtures and launches some of the most humble, integrity-filled, passionate and capable leaders this world longs to see.
So, this post has been a bit of a random topic choice, but even if it seems at all inconclusive I hope it’s given you suitable food for thought or even just let you realise that someone else out there thinks the concept of leadership is a funny one to be navigated with humility and intentionality.