Take me to your Leader

When I met with a Vocations Chaplain a few weeks ago (see Can I see clearly now?) I was  encouraged by his confidence that I was being called by God to be on this journey that may lead to ordination.  He left me with 3 issues to ponder ahead of meeting him for a second time this week.

It took me a week to simply take in and comprehend what had happened during the meeting but then I began to look at each issue, one at a time.  In my post Who is He? I looked at the image of God that I carry with me.  His second topic, the ‘sin of the helper’, was more challenging but certainly helpful to consider (see Is it ever wrong to help someone?).  Now it is time to look at the final topic of what leadership means.

The Toy Story aliens

The Toy Story aliens

When you think of a leader what, or who, do you picture?  My perception of what a leader is, and whether I could be one myself, has been challenged a lot of late.  I have often thought of political or business leaders, and of strong alpha-male/females who have a rather forceful personality and often a charisma that attracts people to follow them.  They seem very different to how I perceive myself, they seem almost like another species!

To an extent that’s what I have largely thought when I have thought of church leaders but this year in particular, perhaps because of my searching frame of mind, I have begun to notice something different about many of them.  As I have begun to follow more church leaders or various denominations on Twitter I have seen that respected leaders are not that different from us mere mortals after all.  Scratch the surface of the image we perceive of them and we discover that even strong leaders are human too.

For someone to be a leader they need to have people follow them, and for people to follow them they need to have something worth following.  In Christian leadership it can not simply be that they have a relationship with Christ as many of the people they lead will have that too.  According to the Bible many of these qualities a Christian leader has, or should have, are ones that we all should be seeking to have and live out.  This begs the question what does a leader do that followers don’t?

The differences to me are in the degree to which they practice leadership qualities.  Many have them but don’t necessarily put them to use, whether through choice or circumstance, or use them in a more limited sphere.  You may be a leader without even knowing it, in your family or friendship group for example.  But what are the qualities of a leader, and a Christian one in particular?

If Christian leaders need to be good role models they need to first be good leaders of their family.  This is, I believe, their first priority after following and obeying God’s will.  With their house in order they have the strong foundations that will underpin all the rest that they do.  Get this wrong and sooner or later things will begin to unravel with horrible consequences.  Protecting their families from as much scrutiny as possible is crucial and it is one that the church family can help with but, given that some find it hard not to judge people, this must sadly be a tough task at times.

People won’t be willing to be led by someone that they don’t have confidence in.  As such Christian leaders are called to visibly model a Christ-centred life to people, just as we all are, but being so visible they are under much more scrutiny than us.  That scrutiny gets applied too often by too many people to their families.  The question my wife and I ask clergy and their spouses more often than any other is how do they cope with having a vicar in the family?

Church leaders are in a privileged position.  They are released from secular work to be able to focus more on listening to God and acting in His place. Yet like those of us in secular employment they are often over-worked and still, need to be a Mother or Father to their children, a wife or husband to their spouse, and so on.

In the midst of Jesus’s busy ministry, with countless people calling on His time, Jesus would withdrawal to a quiet place to spend time alone with God.  That helped Him to shut out the distractions of life for a moment so that He could immerse Himself in God’s presence, and to hear God speak.

As specially chosen to represent Christ, church leaders need to do as Jesus did, but it doesn’t mean that this gives us an excuse to leave such things to the ‘professional Christian’.  Nor should we expect them to do everything, they are leaders not Do-everythingers!

If leaders aren’t called to do everything they must be good at team work.  Getting the right team set-up is crucial and doesn’t just involve the church office but all aspects of church life.  The skill of oversight needs to merge with the skill of a motivator who can encourage others to play their part in serving God and His family.  By encouraging others to realise their God-given potential and enabling them to release it they not only help people to grow in their relationship with God but also to bring others to God.

Recognising and encouraging people and their efforts is critical.  I seen people become disillusioned and fed-up far too often because they feel, rightly or wrongly, like their work, skills and talents haven’t been noticed and appreciated.  Sometimes all it takes is a simple thank you.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We all need to know ourselves, to know our weaknesses so that they can become our strengths.  It is particularly important for the jobbing vicar who, though called by God into the role, may not have the management and administrative skills the job entails.  Sure, they could learn these skills but even jack-of-all-trades vicars are not able to do everything.  It’s also worth considering that not seeking help to address an area of weakness can rob others of the opportunity to use their gifts.  A body of the church is much stronger where each person plays their part and uses the gifts, skills, experience and time that they can offer.

Even those who are good at delegating still often work incredibly long hours, and burnt-out vicars are sadly not uncommon.  If they get to the point where the running of a church takes most of their time up they are not going to be effective at hearing God and helping the church family on their walk with Him.   Being able to manage their time, management and to say no to somethings are very important for a person to be effective.

Leaders need to be able to discern well on two main fronts, the spiritual and the physical.    Spiritually they need to be able to discern what God is wanting to say to people.  They need to see the connections between the needs of the world and what God offers to meet that need.  They need to be to help people apply all that God is saying to their lives.  They need to know whether God is speaking through others.  They need… well, the list could go on and on.

Clergy are the shepherds of God’s flock, which requires that they have an oversight of their church family.  They need to be able to spot the lost sheep, the person who needs some extra help.  Leaders are not necessarily called to help though, if they helped everyone they would soon burn out so have to manage their time and effort well.  But they wouldn’t be an effective leader if they identified a need and did nothing to meet it, nor would they be showing that they have a Christ-likeness.

They also need to be good at discerning what people are saying to them, especially when people are physically saying nothing.  For example discerning is they is a person in need and who is the person with the gifts needed to walk alongside that person.  Choose the wrong person and the person far from being helped might be damaged further and even pushed away from Christ not brought towards Him.  Such gifts and skills are also essential when dealing with any family.

All who follow Christ are part of the wider church family and whilst the diversity of this family is something to celebrate it brings challengers.  A church family is like any other family, full of people each with an opinion and a preferred way of doing things. Just as parents are often in the role of a diplomat and peacemaker between siblings so are church leaders.  They hey need to be able to bring together disparate groups and help them to work together, to focus on their similarities and common ground, specifically on Christ.

Having great leaders, or even ineffectual ones, doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook.  We are all called to do much of what a leader does.  I have a passion for releasing the God-given potential in people so that they grow closer to God and as a person, and in doing so bring others to faith in Jesus.  I also have a particular place in my heart for the quiet ones in church and society, the ones that sit there unnoticed and for various reasons lack the confidence to use their gifts and get involved.  I can do something about this whether I’m a leader or not but to a much more limited extent.

Leadership can be summed up in two words, oversight and influence.  With oversight leaders can see more need and are placed in a position of influence to see that need met.  And if there is one essential quality that a leader needs none is more important than wisdom (see a timely commentary by Nicky Gumble on Solomon’s leadership qualities), all the others flow from that.

I’m aware that with this short look at leadership and that, just as in my previous posts, I there is much more to the issue than I have looked at.  It will be interesting to see how my understanding of such issues develops as I revisit them on the road ahead.  The next step  though is my second meeting with my Vocations Chaplain.  Beyond that?  Well, God knows!

Your thoughts, comments and feedback are most welcomed.

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