Archive for the Leadership Category

the line is fine between zealot and jerk

Posted in Church, Leadership on February 9, 2011 by stephengardner

Mike W has a great post called gospel assholes which has prompted me to post some thoughts on leadership and jerkiness and how all too often the two seem to be intrinsically connected. Mike reflects on how easy it can be for a preacher/minister to take pride in any conflict/’persecution’ they might encounter – telling themselves ‘oh, its for the gospel’ when really it could just be because they’re being a jerk.

I am increasingly convinced that the number one problem in Christian leadership is a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. To steal from Larry Crabb – this becomes a problem when one ceases to find their security and significance in Jesus Christ. Personally, as I look to head out into parish ministry, God willing, for the rest of my days, I know this is something I will need to keep coming back to, daily. The temptation to find security and significance in anything but Jesus is massive in Christian ministry. How much easier it is to have your identity shaped by your effectiveness, your successful track record of church growth, or even in Mike’s example, your jerkiness.

There are lots of ways we can see this insecurity in Christian ministry but, I want to suggest just two symptoms.

1. an inflated sense of your own importance

The minister/preacher/wannabe minister/wannabe preacher becomes the centre of the universe for his/her congregation, or anyone who will listen really. They must contribute to every conversation, they must not ever appear to not know the answer to someone’s question, they seem to delight in people needing their advice or wisdom and their status updates on facebook almost always seem to be about their next preaching gig. While this symptom is more funny than harmful it is still, I think, a sure sign of a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. If your identity is threatened it feels desperately important to reassert yourself at any given time.

2. a suspicion of others

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 27-28).

This symptom is less funny and more harmful than the first, it destroys communities. When the pastor/leader acts towards a community out of suspicion, then that community will never flourish. The pastor/leader is again showing that he/she is deeply insecure – others, even their own community, become a threat to their identity. This is where Mike’s post is really helpful. When others threaten our security there is a temptation to go on the attack reasserting oneself over and against the other, perhaps accompanied with the comforting thought that ‘I am defending the truth and this person is just being subversive.’ Or you could just be a jerk!

Advertisements

A warning to preachers

Posted in Church, Leadership with tags , , on January 18, 2011 by stephengardner

I believe that one of our big weaknesses is in what is called ‘application’ in imparting God’s Word. I don’t mean a personal appeal tacked on to the end of a sermon. I mean an awareness on the part of the speaker of the condition of the audience, and the addressing of his utterance to that particular condition. Or to put it in more personal terms: a knowledge of the people on the part of the person who speaks…The personal relation between pastor and people, between friend and friend, is absolutely integral to effectual imparting of God’s Word…Yet a chief defect of modern preaching is that it is so often fundamentally impersonal: no amount of earnestness, or desire to get decisions, or shouting, or belabouring the audience, or tricks of rhetoric, or even conversational tone, will make up for a lack of awareness on the speakers part of just who he is talking to, and what their spiritual condition is in the actuality of their daily lives, and what they are likely to make of what he says. Nor will it make up for, above all, a lack of love for them which, even while he knows himself to be the messenger of the Lord, constrains him to be their servant, and to frame him message in such a way as fits their need rather than his own.

D.W.B. Robinson, ‘The Theology of the Preached Word’ in Donald Robinson Selected Works: Volume 2 – Preaching God’s Word. p146-147

Leading communities III

Posted in Church, Leadership with tags , , , on March 16, 2010 by stephengardner

So far, I’ve suggested, that many of our churches have  a problem; a created divide between those in leadership and the rest of us sitting in the pews. And in the last post I suggested we tend to recreate this problem by the way we train future leaders.

Today I want to begin to flesh out some of the implications this might have for church life. And I want to suggest that one of the symptoms of this problem is when a leader begins to blame his/her congregation. Bonhoeffer takes this accusing back to a misplaced model of ‘visionary dreaming’. He describes it this way:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realised by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of the brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.             (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life Together, 27-28.)

Can you see Bonhoeffer’s point about the danger of visionary leadership?

There is nothing wrong with visionary leadership, in fact we could do with more of it. But there is a problem when a leader’s vision for the church is not met and the leader becomes ‘an accuser of the brethren.’ This is a symptom, of a far bigger problem, of a leader who does not identify as a belonging member of that community.

If the leader’s vision is not met, who’s fault is it? Surely not his! How often,do you hear leaders speak against their congregations, blaming them for the reasons why the church is not welcoming enough, not growing, not looking for ways to serve etc…

There is a place for a loving rebuke from a leader to his/her congregation. But there is something quite wrong when a leader cannot see their own participation and involvement in the community. Bonhoeffer goes on to say:

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. (Life Together, 28.)

Leading communities II

Posted in Church, Leadership with tags , , , , on March 10, 2010 by stephengardner

In the last post I introduced the idea of how the language used by leaders significantly reveals what they think about, and value, regarding community. I want to suggest that as soon as a leader begins speaking about ‘his’ or ‘her’ church they have effectively dislocated themselves from the community of God’s people they have been called to serve.

To go further, my sneaking suspicion is that many leaders are resigned to the fact that they must dislocate themselves from their communities. And my hunch is that the way we go about training future ministers contributes to this.

What do I mean? Take the example of ‘Joe’.

Joe is in his mid twenties and has had five years experience leading the youth group at his local church. During that time he felt a growing conviction that there was nothing more he would rather be doing with his life than teaching people from God’s Word. He mentions this in passing to his minister who excitedly organises a breakfast meeting for the two of them to discuss what this might mean. Over breakfast, the minister encourages Joe to do a ministry apprenticeship at church the following year. After thinking things through Joe decides to give it a shot!

His time serving at church offers mixed experience’s but he continues to feel increasingly convicted about being a pastor and a teacher, so he enrolls in a theological college for the following year.

After thinking through some ecclesiological issues he decides to enter college as a candidate for ordination in his particular denomination. With this comes a necessary change of church. Joe feels the tension of leaving his home church, where he has been deeply connected for so long, while understanding the benefits this move will bring for having a wide range of church experiences. Joe chooses a church in an entirely different part of the city, and one that is quite a distance from his new home near college.

Joe serves at the new church for two years, continually struggling to juggle college work and student ministry work. More often than not college work and the college community win the battle for Joe’s time and energy. Largely this is due to the distance between home and church; because Joe is only able to serve 14 hours/week in his church; and because he knows he only has two years at this particular church. The result  is that Joe’s theological college effectively becomes his primary Christian community.

This pattern of balancing church and theological training is repeated in Joe’s 3rd and 4th year at college. He then graduates, with first class honours, and quickly finds work in a church in a nearby suburb to his home church. Joe is eager to finally have some time to dig deep and contribute to the life of this new church but he also realises his time here will be quite short. Joe is a candidate for ordination and quite eager to one day lead his own church. He realises that in 2-3 years time he could well be given a chance at doing that, which would mean, again, a change of church.

Sorry for the cheesy story, but I hope you can see what I’m getting at. The nature of the way ‘Joe’ has had to train for church ministry has trained him to think about Christian communities in a certain way. They are not necessarily long-term, and they are not necessarily places he identifies with. He has effectively been trained in how to disconnect from church communities.

The next post will flesh out what, I think, are some of the possible implications of ‘Joe’s’ formative years of training…

Leading communities I

Posted in Church, Leadership, Sermons with tags , , on March 8, 2010 by stephengardner

I’ve had a couple of thoughts floating around in my head for a while now about leading communities, particularly relating to the language leaders use when speaking to, and about, ‘their’ communities.

To get the ball rolling here is an excerpt  from a recent sermon on 1 Peter 5:

Facing immense persecution at the hands of the Roman’s Peter’s message is all about supporting the resistance movement—its a desperate plea for Christian’s to be on the side of the resistance. Because at the heart of this movement is a radical community of people who pledge allegiance, not to Caesar, but to the Lord Jesus. So Peter outlines what this community is to look like from the inside:

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2 to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3 Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. (1 Pet 5.1-4 NRSV)


So, Peter begins by picking on those in charge – the elders. And notice that he very wisely aligns himself on the team of the elders – he calls himself a ‘fellow elder’ and as ‘one who shares in their glory to be revealed’.

Its not a bad way to get people onside is it? You know to appeal to your similarities before you offer a challenge, its quite political and very wise. Because its important for Peter to have their trust because he has some genuine words of challenge for them. And in a nutshell, his message to the elders is this– ‘don’t be a jerk’

‘No matter how good an elder you are – the people under your care are not yours. They are God’s’. Elder’s therefore, have no right and no basis to lord their authority over their people. That’s what the Roman’s were doing. The leaders of the Christian community are to be different. Elder’s are ‘shepherds of God’s flock’. That means they care for communities-they are to pastor communities-But they don’t ever own communities!

I have a friend who, is the equivalent to an elder, he is the senior minister of a church. He, I think, really admirably, has decided to never speak of his church as his church. Rather, he calls it ‘the church where I serve’. Its only a little thing. But its important. Elders don’t own the church, God does.

And elder’s must want to be elders. Peter says this straight up in v2 – ‘that you’re not to become an elder because you feel you must, but because you are willing’

Need, therefore, is not a good enough reason to become an elder. This is a massive challenge to anyone who has ever thought about going into full time, paid ministry with the plan to lead a church. Yeah there is a great need for people to go out into the harvest field—Jesus said that himself. But if you decide to go down that path purely because of need—If you go down that path without ever having a genuine desire, even a passion, to be a shepherd of God’s people, then you are at real risk of becoming the type of leader Peter warns against. The type of leader who throws his or her weight around, compelling others to do what he or she thinks they must do.