As with so many things about which we were sure, over the last several decades, our understanding of "good leadership" has changed. Or rather, maybe better said: our understandings are beginning to change in order to catch up with our experiences of good leadership today.
Used to be that our leaders were the experts among us. They knew the right answers and they told us what needed to be done. A good leader was like a guide steering us along familiar paths and helping us meet familiar challenges. And when this leader didn't know from her own experiences or education, she knew which recognized experts to seek out -- experts who did know the territory and the right way for the congregation to maneuver through it.
Things have changed, however. And those recognized as "good leaders" today might share, in their more reflective moments, with those willing and strong enough to listen, the fact that they don't know "the best way" and they haven't got "the right answers" because no one has ever lead congregations through days like this before. Those leading authentic and effective ministries today are, like the Enterprise, exploring unknown worlds. In short, there are no experts who have the right answers and can guide us through this wilderness.
So what distinguishes today's good leaders from yesterday's good leaders, like a satellite radio from an 8-track player? Here are at least three things good church leaders today must do.
First, instead of giving the right answers, good leaders today ask the right questions. The right questions are purpose questions that, like a GPS which keeps us oriented in unfamiliar places, reconnects people to their identity and mission. In ministry, this means the right questions are always God-questions. Good leaders today bring into every situation one question (expressed in many different ways): "What in the world is God up to and how can we help?" When others are rushing to ask questions about finances or whether people will like this or whether we have done it this way before, good leaders today ask, "Is this going to further the mission on which Jesus sent us and is Jesus calling us to do this now?" In short, good church leaders keep reconnecting disciples with who we are called to be and what we are called to do by constantly asking God-questions.
Secondly, instead of focusing on what we don't have, good leaders today focus people's attention on what we do have. It is all too easy to get caught up in the scarcity mentality litany of “If only . . .” “If only we had more money, more leaders, better preachers, more children, better facilities . . .” Instead, today’s good leaders help focus people’s attention on what we do have. What sort of skills or gifts, connections or experiences, resources or passions has God given us? And where do we see God already at work changing lives and blessing communities? When God sent Moses to Egypt to set the Hebrew children free, Moses kept focusing on what he didn’t have: I don’t know your name; I don’t have credibility; I can’t speak well. And God kept refocusing Moses’ attention on what he did have (the staff in his hand, his well-spoken brother, God sending him on a mission) and showing Moses how to use what God had already provided to accomplish what God was now asking him to do.
Thirdly, instead of wringing their hands with “Ain’t it awful!” gloom and circling the wagons protectively, today’s good leaders radiate spiritual passion and active hope. They remain passionately committed to God’s mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” And they remain hopeful because they have faith-filled eyes that see where God is still at work in the world reconciling and making new. Spiritually, they are alive. They daily tend the fire in their soul. And by both example and explanation they help other leaders “stay in love with Jesus,” discern where he is at work today and encourage them to join him with obedient expectancy offering up all the gifts God has lavished upon them. Good leaders today help others discover that there is no greater calling than joining Jesus in doing what matters to God.
What steps can you take to move your leadership in these three directions?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation