Saturday, 20 July 2013

Clergy Leadership and Lay Autonomy

(An extract from something I'm working on at the moment.)

Clergy in overall leadership need to retain responsibility for the overall life of the church, even when others are in leadership roles. This is not a matter of adopting a ‘managerial’ approach to ministry, but rather of maintaining a proper approach to pastoral care. Within a given congregation, those who have leadership entrusted to them will often be untrained volunteer members of the laity. It is grossly unfair and irresponsible simply to abandon them once they have taken on this responsibility. Indeed, the work of Malphurs and Mancini would identify it as a form of ‘Abdication’. The overall leader must go on providing pastoral care and support and must maintain an awareness of what is being done, even in areas which have been delegated to others.
All this talk about developing leaders, however, faces one danger, namely that of failing to deploy them. In some situations, people are educated in the faith, they may even go on courses, but they are never really allowed to do anything. Remember how Malphurs and Mancini identify leadership as involving both responsibility and authority. Too often, the local pastor acts like the Anglican bishop, handing over responsibility, but retaining authority. And in some cases they don’t even hand over responsibility.
Sometimes this is out of personal insecurity. Some pastors feel threatened by others taking the initiative, whilst others are not sure they could handle any problems that might develop. More often it is probably because of a failure to think things through. People go on courses because they want to know or do more, but there are no openings created for them in the local setting. Indeed, in many congregations, the opportunities for formal leadership are actually quite few. There may be a scheme of elders or a church council. There may be positions of formal ministry, such as an Anglican Reader. Apart from these roles, and home or Bible study groups, however, most ‘leadership’ is identified with ordination. Anyone who shows serious initiative may find themselves being encouraged in that direction, whether for full-time or part-time ministry. And that being the case, they are often lost to the local congregation.
However, it is the idea of ‘initiative’ that may provide us with a helpful answer to what to do with our leaders.
I [John] have often observed that university Christian Unions provide a model of how church could be, superior in many respects to the way churches often are.. In the CU, there are no ordained clergy, no paid leaders, but there is often a highly effective approach to mission. And much of this is arguably due to the fact that the members are not inhibited from taking initiatives. On the contrary, the average CU member feels they have both the responsibility and the authority to take direction action in the furtherance of the ethos of the institution. And in that sense, they are, of course, acting like leaders even though they are not technically ‘leading’ anything, since authority and responsibility are the essence of leadership.
It is this attitude of ‘initiative taking’ which we need to inculcate in the members of our congregations. Too often, leadership is thought of in terms of being ‘in charge’ of something. So we train up leaders to ‘do a job’. But the outworking of the gospel comes in daily life, and daily life is not a ‘job’ you give someone to do. Rather, it is a series of events in which one is involved and to which one must respond. It is here that initiative-taking can be so vital, and so although the people we are pastoring may not technically be ‘leaders’, giving them ‘leadership skills’ — the ability and conviction to act on their own authority and to take local responsibility — will potentially pay dividends.
What people need is to understand and share to overall ethos of the organization — ‘this is who we are and this is what we do’ — and then to be empowered to ‘take the lead’ in putting that into effect as opportunity arises. To use a word employed by the psychologist Abraham Maslow, such people show ‘autonomy’ — they don’t wait to be told or given permission, or rather in the church context, they have already been told and given permission in general terms and are now applying that as situations arise.
The instructions to believers in the New Testament epistles actually presume a very high level of autonomy. People are not expected to wait for their local pastor to order or cajole them into living as they have been instructed, but to act on the basis of what the apostles have said and their own inner capability in the power of the Spirit. Again, Paul’s letters call directly for the exercise of autonomy: He writes to the Romans,
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8, NIV)
And to the Galatians he writes,
Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:4-5, NIV)
Imagine a congregation under effective leadership but with a high degree of autonomy. Instead of having to push people along, the pastor would be responding to the opportunities they created, instead of having to keep the plates spinning, the pastor would be able to devote time to nurturing new believers or exploiting other opportunities.

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8 comments:

  1. John
    Your description of leadership within a CU context sounds a lot like Distributed Leadership or Shared Leadership. It is a less well researched area of leadership study although some early work was done by Gibb et al in 1954. To some extent, DL has been presented as the antithesis of traditional leadership particularly that vested in the transformational, transactional or charismatic leader. Yukl concludes that there are conceptual weaknesses in these traditional theories and suggests that a less dyadic approach (than that between leader and follower) that focuses more on the system perspective is needed. Yukl’s definition of distributed leadership “as a shared process of enhancing the individual and collective capacity of people to accomplish their work effectively” seems appropriate.
    Daniel Endruweit

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    1. Thanks Dan, I've obviously got more reading to do!

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  2. John,
    An interesting and considered view of Church leadership at the Pastoral level. My concern is that in too many cases, the apointed leadership comes within the heading of the blind leading the blind.

    Norman, Brentwood

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  3. Very interesting and quite helpful. However, this needs a lot more working out. After all, both Biblically and legally the minister retains a great responsibility for what is done in his name (by HIS delegation). So when you say, "Too often, the local pastor acts like the Anglican bishop, handing over responsibility, but retaining authority. And in some cases they don’t even hand over responsibility." I am then left wondering quite where the line must be drawn, as drawn it must be.

    A Biblical example would be the handing over of the feeding of widows and orphans, in Acts.

    Did the Apostles hand over the responsibility for doing it, the authority to do it, AND then say, 'Nothing to do with us now, guv' if anything further went wrong. Or did they still retain the ultimate responsibility and authority over what happened in order to be able sort out any unchristian issues concerning this work?

    If the former, then you are liable to end up with a Tearfund type organisation, lauded as christian, yet not noticeably promulgating the Christian faith in what it does - and with no-one able to censure them, or bring them back to the 'right place'. If the latter, then authority and responsibility was never really handed over, was it?

    Please continue this discussion. I seek to work out how to officially pass some visiting work over to a suitable person, whose gift is in this area. I want to get the hand-over right, so that if things do go wrong I can step in, or so that I still retain authority to visit those I wish to without stepping on their toes!

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  4. Luther, according to Malphus and Mancini, authority is properly handed over within clear boundaries. I think this is what we see in Acts.

    I would also emphasize that they picked their spiritually best, not just the naturally competent.

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  5. The biggest issue in leadership in the conservative evangelical end of the church at present is that of personal integrity. All this discussion about less important issues is irrelevant unless the clergy concerned repent and get back the respect of their parishes.

    So in fact the most important topic for the upcoming JAEC is:

    Honesty and Integrity in Male Headship Evangelical Ministry

    - perhaps with John as the speaker, as he is one of the few who has stood for integrity on this in recent years, exhorting Resolution-passing, etc.

    Content: male headship evangelicals must make clear the views on women's status that inform their ministry, and their extra-church activities linked to this, to their PCCs, congregations and potential church members. Congregations will then feel they can trust and respect their clergy, rather than realising that their giving has been used to fund activities of which they cannot approve, and feeling that their clergy are underhand.

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  6. I am trying to think through whether church members - an in particular men - have become "institutionalised", and what we can do about it. We don't want to think of the church as an institution, but in practice it can act in that way; things are either done to/for us, or pre-defined jobs are given to us. I suppose that is another perspective on the low level of initiative-taking and in your sense.

    In my context, I don't think this is because permission is withheld by the overall leadership, but it is a reflection of something more widely cultural. The answer is not for me taking my cue simply from the word "autonomy", to start things up, pushing ahead in self-righteous stubbornness, but to consider with older, wiser heads ("elders" for example?), so that something new can grow more organically.

    Perhaps a "smaller-level" leadership is more suited to growing this kind of culture - leaders of smaller existing groups, such as men's groups, bible study groups, so that ideas which come out of Bible studies and other discussions are followed through and taken on to rejection, modification, parking for a time, or launching,as seems best to a wider group, and supported through a short life or long growth - whatever happens in a particular case.

    Dominic Webb

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