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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