Leadership and the Contemporary Church

June 26, 2012

I recently read a post on leadership titled “Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work” by Geoff Surratt. He talks about two findings he and “church leaders” have discovered about leadership and leadership training.

  1. “It turns out some people don’t make good leaders. Not everyone is a leader.”
  2. “[L]eadership classes don’t develop leaders. At the end of six weeks (or nine weeks or two years), students become graduates, not necessarily leaders.”

I agree with both of his main premises. Leadership classes do not develop leaders, and some people don’t make good leaders.*

But, this post exemplifies how the church misses the boat on leadership. In short, I agree with everything he said, as long as you define “leader” as the one who is “in charge.”  But is that the best definition of “leader?”

What if leadership is nothing more than intentional influence? What if great leaders are those who intentionally influence great numbers of people to accomplish great things?

People can be “in charge” and never lead.  We who write about leadership often refer to those in-charge (whether leaders or non-leaders) as “managers.”  Managers manage. It’s not good or bad, it’s often necessary.  But management is not leadership.

Leaders always influence others, whether in-charge or not. At our core, we influence. We can’t help it; we were created both to influence others and to be influenced. Once we understand God intended us to relate to one another, influence one another, serve one another, we become responsible for the type of influence we have on others.

In the church, because we often talk about “the leader” as the one who is “in-charge,” we separate the position from the person. We tell people to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), yet little of this relates to being in charge.  We disconnect the simple fact that one of the greatest reasons for doing demonstrating this fruit is so that others “might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” (Matt 5:16)

We who believe in Christ are all called to glorify Christ. We are all told to work out our salvation. As we work out our salvation we develop ourselves as people who intentionally influence others.  What else could you call that person but a leader?

Even if I’m no good at being “in charge,” I’m responsible for how my life looks to others. As a Christian in the world but not of the world, I’m called to be as good a leader (intentional influencer) as I can be. I should find opportunities to develop as a leader all throughout the church, but it seems the focus there is to get me to join someone else in what they’re doing, rather than find that thing I’m best equipped and most energized to do. I’m constantly either being called to follow, or to decide to be in charge of some sanctioned activity that conforms to some pre-conceived model.

My dream is to find a church where each leader is launched in their own leadership in their own sphere of influence. Imagine a church where members and staff understood clearly that “equipping” means training everyone to be the leader God intended them to be!

We are all leaders. We all influence. And the church, of all communities, should be where we are equipped and challenged to be the leader Christ created us to be, with our kids, with our coworkers (21st century “neighbors”) as well as wherever we’re called, even to the ends of the earth.

Do you feel mobilized and equipped to find your mission?  How can I help you?

Photo © berc – Fotolia.com

* The point of this authors post was about how Jesus trained leaders.  It’s a great call to a mentor or life-based leadership development model based on the life and methods of Christ.  I don’t want to take away from the author’s insights calling us to leave program-based training in place of a life-based model.