Then [Jesus] called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
What is leadership? More specifically, what is leadership within the church?
Leadership is driving an organization, a movement, a group of people towards something – ideally a vision or mission, maybe even a calling.
What is leadership in the church? It’s leadership in conjunction with creating an environment where the others are empowered and equipped to carry out the Spirit’s calling in their lives and congregations.
Leadership often means making difficult decisions – very difficult decisions. And often those decisions aren’t easy and have no easy solutions. Leaders end up doubting their decisions. Leaders have to weigh the needs of an individual vs. the needs of the whole group or institution.
Poor leadership is avoiding difficult decisions or sweeping difficult topics under the rug for someone else to deal with. But all that does is enable bad behavior to continue – all because the leader is too stressed to make a decision.
The church is in desperate need for leaders who are willing to make difficult decisions.
…makes almost no sense.
It’s a simple greater than equation. When the pleasure of the status quo is greater than the pain of change, hardly any human being will push for change. Especially someone with a public eye on them.
Which is why putting our hopes in politicians and celebrities to lead the charge on any change is pointless.
Plus it pushes further the idea that the little people, us, who read blogs, and articles, and such, are helpless and can’t do anything without their leadership. That’s bull.
A couple of examples. I don’t watch awards shows. I don’t see the point of watching an exclusive group congratulate themselves and pat themselves on the back for their good words. I just don’t connect with it or get it. A lot of other people enjoy these shows and find them entertaining. More power to you if you do. I read criticism of the latest show being that the men who received awards didn’t come out strongly enough for pay equity in the sense that none of them said they would refuse work unless the women received equal pay. Go back to the equation. Now you understand why they didn’t.
Or this. During the same show it came out that Oprah is considering running for president. The people who think it’s a terrible idea to have a billionaire, TV celebrity with no government experience running the country all of a sudden now are supportive of a billionaire, TV celebrity with no government experience running the country. Yes, they are two different people with different styles, but still… Why are we pinning our hopes and dreams for the nation on someone so out of touch with everyone else, so far removed from everyone else? It makes little sense.
We aren’t called to sit around and wait for someone else to take action. We called to be uncomfortable and be inconvenienced. We called to get up from behind the screens in front of our faces and in the palm of our hands and to get moving. We are empowered by God to respond to the faith that God gives us. We are thrust out, even when we don’t feel ready, to go and live the faith that has been given us. And we are called to invite others to join in.
We aren’t called to wait for someone else to get it started. We aren’t called to put our hope and trust in someone else and hope for the best. We aren’t called to hand responsibility over. We are called and empowered to get moving.
I just finished a book titled “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times” by Peter Steinke. I recommend this book – it was a good read. The book was published in 2006, which got me thinking about the fact that our society has been pretty anxious for some time now. Much of the book applies today – especially regarding an anxious society and leadership.
The last chapter dealt mostly with narcissism – both dealing with leaders who are narcissists and with congregation members that are closet narcissists. Fascinating stuff. But as I was reading it, I couldn’t help drawing parallels beyond the congregational context. It’s hard not to. When I read sections in this chapter, my mind kept going to specific figures and names in society – “leaders” as they are often referred to. But these leaders aren’t leading, they are often making matters worse and raising anxiety levels. And their followers are sucked right in. That’s what narcissists do – make people rely on them and feed off of them. That’s not what leaders do though.
Here’s a few segments from the last chapter of the book. Enjoy. Or maybe cry. Either way, it’s worth being aware of these things.
- The person feels entitled to special consideration and is self-important (often exhibitionistic or dramatic to prove it). (pg. 166)
- The person is capable of seeing only her perspective, is intolerant of disagreement, doesn’t discuss ideas but imposes them, is single-minded, believes in her own superior wisdom, and doesn’t need help from others. (Pg. 166)
- The person is ruthless toward those who do not reflect back his projected image of specialness. He is vindictive, vengeful, devaluing, and abrasive. He publicly humiliates others and wants others to be wholehearted supporters (“yes” people). (pg. 166)
- The person is prone to lying and is an expert as disguise. (pg. 167)
- The narcissist is not as certain as he or she looks, as evidenced by his or her supersensitivity to criticism. (pg. 168)
- The narcissist is a master at denying reality, projecting an image of invincibility or charisma and coercing the world to refuel his specialness. There is no transparency in narcissistic functioning. It’s all varnish and veneer – with lots of charm. (pg. 168)
- So one person remains intoxicated with all the praise and adulation he manipulates from others, and the others are enthralled to be associated with someone larger than life. (pg. 168)
- The narcissist functions like a magnet, possessing the power of attraction. People caught in the spell surrender obediently. Under the spell of enchantment, they become dedicated followers as impervious to reason and truth as infatuated lovers. Many of the disciples of narcissists are vulnerable, lonely, and searching souls who mistake the charm, self-confidence, and certainty for substance, when in reality it is pretentious fluff and feathers. (Pg. 168-9)
- Not surprisingly, many narcissistic leaders shield their swooning constituency from outside influence. (pg. 169)
- Many staff, over a period of time, begin to see through the empty praise and the false facade of concern for supporters. They realize that they are valued only insofar as they reinforce the narcissist’s own glory. They are mere suppliers. But staff members need to be careful not to expose the sham. (Pg. 170)
- The charmer is often involved in sexual misconduct, misuse of funds, or in setting oppositional groups. The charmed can be so blinded by the charmer that they defend the narcissistic behavior, even encourage it. They cannot face the truth of the damage wrought by the spellbinder. (Pg. 171)
- Nonetheless, the charmer brings havoc to relationships. Others who know and see it are ineffective in dealing with the “charmer/charmed” problem if they think being nice or expressing goodwill will change things. The game is domination for the narcissist, not cooperation. A person functioning in a narcissistic way must be held accountable for his behaviors. (Pg. 175)
This may be the best definition I have ever read about what is required for truly effective leadership:
You do that by living long enough with a person or long enough with a system to ask them the questions that they don’t want to have to answer. And then the system is disturbed, and people have to reform around what they discover about those answers.
That is quote from Gil Rendle. You can read the whole article here.
There’s so much in that two sentence statement. It entails several important things that I’m able to identify. Effective leadership means investing a great deal of time – it doesn’t come over night, but is developed over a lifetime really.
Effective leadership is focused on relationships with people – not just any relationship, but rather open relationships based on trust. You can’t push someone into an uncomfortable situation and disturb a system if you don’t have trust.
Effective leadership also requires one more thing – vision. In order to do anything that Rendle is saying above, you have to have vision – you have to see beyond what is right there in front of you. Really, it’s about seeing what’s not there and what could be there if only… And that “if only” can’t be forced on someone else. Rather, it is be bought into by others.
What do you see as essentials for effective leadership?
What happens when everything we know changes? Do we keep doing what we know? Do we change? Do we adapt? Do we hunker down? How do we move forward?
These are questions that we have to deal with. Some people deal well with these questions. Others don’t. Institutions generally don’t deal well with change. Institutions exist for their own survival generally. And by this I mean established institutions that have a history of some sort. Institutions that have property. Institutions that have employees and rules and hierarchy. Institutions that have money and some level of power. Institutions that have committees made up of important people who do important things and make important decisions.
Institutions aren’t designed to change, but to maintain the status quo – the power that be.
Yet, here we are, in a changing world.
I recently read an interview that talked about this. It was an interview with Zygmunt Bauman who is a Polish-born sociologist who is skeptical of political change.
He says things I’ve thought for some time. Things like we are living in a time where there is a serious lack of trust. Things like “changing one [political] party for another will not solve the problem.”
There are some things I don’t agree with, but overall, I think he’s pretty on target.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview was at the end when he talks about social networks. Here’s a quote:
The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish.
And one more:
…real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.
In a sense, I would say this part of the interview is really the sum of everything else he has to say. A question that might arise is whether social media, as Bauman calls it, is the cause or the symptom of the other changes.
A better question might be what do we do with all of this.
Another quote from Bauman:
We are in a period of interregnum, between a time when we had certainties and another when the old ways of doing things no longer work. We don’t know what is going to replace this.
That’s the heart of the matter. And we can see this being played out in many areas of life – government and politics, religion, economics, social media, environmental issues, rights and responsibilities, education, family structure, immigration, etc. Think of all of the political fights that go on. They are fights over how to do things going forward. All too often though, these fights use the same old rhetoric and have the same old ideas coming from the same old “leaders” who have been around for what seems like forever.
The world is changing, but our “leaders” are still trying to hold on to whatever power they have.
Things change – this is one of the few things you can count on in life. How we deal with that change determines a good amount of what the near future will look like for our institutions, our governments, our churches, our families and our education among other things.
I’ve been writing about fear, words, and events going on in the world lately.
When I think about these writings, I think there is a theme – that there seems to be a lack of leadership – or at least the way I define it. Then again, who am I, right? I don’t buy into the notion that a title all of a sudden makes someone a leader. I’ve known plenty of people who were leaders without any title. And they did a far better and more effective job leading than anyone they worked for who had a title or the money to go with it.
So what is leadership? I think this is very important. I also think we lack leadership in many areas of life. I also believe that when a leader does emerge, that people latch on to that person, regardless of where that leader is taking people. That’s how desperate we are for leadership. Desperate people will do desperate things. Just look at who the popular politicians running for president are right now. And no, I’m not just talking about Trump either.
Leadership is essential, not just for government and the military, but for any organization. This is also true with the church. I have seen many churches flounder because there was no leadership. Sure there was a pastor, but the pastor didn’t lead.
Our society is just so desperate for leadership.
So here’s my definition of leadership.
The purpose of leadership is to provide direction for people. To be a shepherd leading the flock, avoiding the pitfalls and defending the flock from wolves.
The purpose of leadership is to create an environment of calmness and predictability because people don’t do well and become uneasy when there is constant chaos. That doesn’t mean there is no change. Quite the contrary, a leader’s role is to implement necessary change, but do it an a manner that won’t create chaos.
The purpose of leadership is to have a vision and and to speak of that vision so that people will want to come along for the ride because they see the benefit of coming along. But it goes beyond that – the vision should stretch people to move beyond themselves to the greater community and to future generations.
The purpose of leadership is to create an environment where people can be on the same team going forward. It is not to create conformity though. People are different and those difference can actually be a strength because it provides the leader different perspectives that were not available to him/her before. With different perspectives comes better decisions.
Leadership provides hope, calmness, and reassurance that things are under control. And when things get out of control, there is someone in charge who will do whatever it takes to get things under control again.
How do you define leadership?
Check out this video by Simon Sinek, a management theorist who spoke about why good leaders make you feel safe.
Here’s my spin on it – This is exactly what we as church should be doing – what we are called to be. What he describes is what I call the organization supporting the community, not the other way around. It’s the people who matter ultimately, not the numbers or other organizational metrics.
Before you go clicking off of this post thinking that this is going to be a typical post about how leaders in the church are supposed to act, or how we need more leadership, or that I’m trying to redefine leadership in some way, or here are the seven steps to better leadership, just stop for a moment. Because I’m not going to do that.
I read this article on LinkedIn a bit ago and it struck me. For those of you not on LinkedIn, here’s the vital information – the title is “Four Ways to Increase Your Influence,” and the author is Joseph Grenny.
Mr. Grenny complied information about leaders in the business world and discovered four key beliefs that leaders have that helped him understand why so few leaders either grasp or exert influence well. The four points are:
- Leaders act as if it’s not their job to address entrenched habits
- Leaders lack a theory of influence
- Leaders confuse talking with influencing
- Leaders believe in silver bullets
When I read that list I was struck by something – substitute some other words in place of “leaders.” Try “pastors.” That’s an easy one. It’s always easy to pick on the pastor as the automatic leader in the church and the reason why a church is not doing so well. It’s nice and easy to point at others isn’t it? Makes us feel like we bear no responsibility. But that seems kind of narrow in definition.
What if we expand our thoughts a bit? Try putting in “Christians.” That probably makes us a bit uncomfortable, doesn’t it? A bit to close to home maybe?
Let’s expand this again – how about this: Put “People” in place of “leaders.” That takes the edge off a bit. Maybe a better one is to put the word “we” or “I” in place of “leaders.” Ouch. When I put “I” in there, it hurts. But it’s a healthy hurting, if such a thing exists.
When I put “I” in place of “leaders” I have to ask myself some questions – Are these statements true? If I’m honest, these statements have a varying degree of truth to them. And yet, Christianity addresses each of these four points.
Christianity is about addressing entrenched habits – personal, societal, etc.
Christianity has a theory of influence – it’s love, forgiveness and grace. Granted influence takes on a different meaning, but there is a definition.
Christianity can often be accused of “do as I say” by many people, yet when we look at Jesus – He was the incarnate word who spoke from time to time, but it was his action that accomplished all – the word in action.
Christianity doesn’t buy into a silver bullet theory – life is complex and messy. Christianity is about relationships and people. People aren’t things and don’t have simple solutions.
These are great reminders for me that it’s not about me doing all of this. I can’t. I’m limited. I have weaknesses. Yet, I think the most important part about all this is something that have found in Christianity. Leadership and influence is not a lone ranger operation. It’s a community and in community we are able to walk with each other, carry each other when needed. We are able to receive help when needed. That’s one version of leadership and influence within the Christian community.