Leadership Applied

How should leadership be applied in the church? Servant Leadership is a fine philosophy but not very good at spelling out specifics (see my post Theology, Leadership and Community part two). How does a church leader intent on bringing about real change go about leading other church people? 

In my last post I agreed with Burns (1978) that leadership must connect with the values and motivations of the people in the organization. I also observed that for church people, these values and motivations are found in their theology.  Addressing the gap between behavior and stated values is the work of leadership. How?

 Following Ron Heifetz’s excellent writings on adaptive work (see Suggested Readings – Leadership) here are five stages helpful in doing leadership: 

  1. Get On The Balcony – A leader must be able to determine where the gap is between people’s behavior (including his or her own) and their values. Getting on the balcony means gaining the distance necessary from everyday events to have an overall perspective of the organization and the challenges it faces.
  2. Create A Holding Environment – A safe place where diverse groups holding dissimilar opinions can discuss (honestly and without repercussions) various points of view. 
  3. Maintain disciplined attention – People discussing values often feel deeply about them. Conversations can become heated. Blame-shifting and scapegoating are “work-avoidance” behaviors requiring the leader to step-in, reframe and deepen the conversation. 
  4. Give The Work Back To The People – A temptation for a leader is to be the one with the answers. Followers may look to leader-answers to short-cut the work. Yet lasting change can only come from people interacting with the values they hold and crafting their own solutions. Paternalism is no one’s friend. (See my post Theology, Leadership and Community part one). 
  5. Protect Voices Of Dissent – Simply because someone “poorly packages” their ideas (speaking beyond their authority, ignoring protocol, etc.) does not mean their thoughts are not worthwhile.

And in addition, churches have a special leadership advantage that other organizations do not. 

Each Sunday people gather to hear a motivational message from the Pastor. The CEO’s I know would move mountains for their employees to show up voluntarily each week to hear about the values of their organization. A pastor who is serious about leading the congregation will ensure that Sunday’s messages address the gap perceived between values and behavior.

All these steps are predicated on the relationship of the leader to the people. Effective church leadership is both relational and theological.


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