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Reflecting on the Larger Issues of Leadership

by Canon Neal Michell

You know, at times I get so busy doing things that I feel like a "rat in a maze." I can keep plenty busy, and that busy-ness will suffice to make me feel accomplished. Sometimes the leader needs to sit back and reflect on some of the larger issues that the church faces.

Here are four principles to reflect on that will help you get more of a handle on where your church is.

1. Ministry Flows out of Community.

One of my all time favorite reflections is Henri Nouwen's "From Solitude to Community to Ministry" (find it here).

"Now it happened in those days that Jesus went onto the mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.

"When day came, he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them and called them apostles . . .

"He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples. There was a great crowd of people from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and be cured of their diseases . . . Everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all" (Luke 6:12-19).

In short, Nouwen tells us that we as Christians often have it backwards. We start with ministry and ask people to join us in our task. We then evaluate people by whether they are helping us or hindering us. Our relationship with others, then, is based on grasping to have our needs—for ministry—met.

Instead, Jesus had it right. First, in solitude, he heard the voice of his Heavenly Father. He knew he was loved, and knowing he was loved made him radically free. Nouwen puts these words in the mouth of Jesus, 'No, I don't have to prove anything. I am already the beloved.' Next, community occurs when two souls who, in solitude, have heard that they are beloved, come together in the radical freedom of security in the Father's love. Forgiveness and celebration are what make community. When I am free from needing your approval or from having to have you meet my needs for happiness, community is formed. Finally, ministry is the natural overflow of community. When you are healthily living in community, you're not afraid anymore. Ministry flows from that freedom.

We are called to lead people into solitude so that they can hear the voice of the beloved themselves. We are called to gather those who have heard that voice into community. As we forgive and celebrate together, those who are hungry and thirsty will come: that is ministry.

2. The congregation can go no higher than the spiritual and commitment level of the vestry.

The institutional model of the vestry that most of our churches have adopted says that vestry business is mostly about making decisions and that the majority rules. The incarnational model of the vestry says that vestry members are servants who live out the vision of the church.

If your vestry is not at a high spiritual level both personally and as a group, the congregation is unprotected in the spiritual realm and is subject to the weakest spiritual link in your vestry. When it comes time for the vestry to step out in faith, does your vestry have the spiritual resources when the attacks come?

Also, people look to the vestry for the minimum standard of commitment in the life of the congregation. If attendance, giving, Christian education, small group involvement, and so on, is optional for vestry members, then it will be optional for everyone else. If attendance at a major parish event is optional for vestry members, it will be optional for everyone else as well.

3. For a church wanting to grow it is more important to grow the number and quality of leaders than it is just to get more people to visit.

Let's break this down. People come to a church looking for some need to be met. Basically, they need a place to land—a place to belong—in the church (to participate in community at a smaller, more intimate level). These "places to land" are considered "side doors into the church." If your ministries are led by capable leaders, the people who come will be attracted and will stay with those ministries. If those ministries are led by ineffective leaders, the new member will eventually drift away.

Here's an exercise that illustrates the importance of growing leaders for a church. If you rank leaders on a scale of 1 to 5, with level 1 designating a worker, and level 5 designating a leader of leaders, and you have four leaders designated as leaders at level 2, then you can multiply those four levels as follows:

2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16.

Thus, you have a leadership quotient of 16.

Let's say that through training three of these leaders grow to a higher level. It looks like this:

2 x 3 x 3 x 4 = 72.

You have thus increased your leadership quotient to 72. Those ministries will be more effectively led, and those participants and recipients of those ministries will be better served. (Thanks to my friend John Maxwell for helping me understand and illustrate this).

A corollary to this is that a leader will only attract other leaders at or below the level of leadership that he or she is at personally. This means that a level 2 leader will only attract level 2 and level 1 leaders. A level 4 leaders will attract level 1's, 2's, 3's, and 4's. If you put a level 4 newcomer into a ministry led by a level 3 leader, that newcomer will eventually become frustrated with the inability of the ministry leader and will leave or drift away.

4. If your past is more exciting than your future, your church is in trouble.

President Clinton said, "It's the economy, stupid." For the church, "It's the vision, stupid." (No offense.) Leadership is about leading a group of people forward toward a more preferred future in the face of obstacles.

People will sacrifice for a preferred future. They will give out of their leftovers to appreciate or sustain the past, but they won't sacrifice for it. Stewardship experts tell us that the hardest money to raise is for debt reduction. Why? Because that's just catching up. It's about the past.

If you can give people a vision of a preferred future for their church, and show that it is being accomplished, they will sacrifice of their time, their talent, and their treasure.


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