Archive for Leadership

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.


Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks: lessons on leadership from a master of ministry

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 1, 2010 by stephengardner

A new year brings a new blog post! And I desperately need to get reacquainted with my blogging so I’m thought I’d do that by sharing some insights as I get reacquainted with an old hero of mine.

John Stott

I have finally got around to reading Timothy Dudley Smith’s biography of John Stott. It is excellent, a little daunting being two volumes in length, but excellent!

First up I need to acknowledge a personal bias, I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Stott, he was the man God used in me giving my life to Jesus, but reading through Dudley Smith’s biography has reminded me of how much younger generations, interested in being strategically missional, can learn from this visionary leader.

So, over the next two or three posts I hope to put a spotlight on a handful of ‘leadership lessons’ that can be learnt through Stott’s own expertise as an effective leader, demonstrated in his ministry at All Souls and throughout the world as the leader of a new evangelical movement.

1) Effective leaders are excellent innovators

At the heart of the rapid growth All Souls experienced was a change in the culture of evangelism within the church. In 1950 lay leadership, training schools and ‘every member ministry’ were ‘radically new’ ideas ( Dudley Smith, vol 1.  281). Becoming rector in 1950, Stott identified evangelism as his number one priority and the means of faithful church growth. He developed a 6 month training school for evangelism that equiped  and commissioned lay leaders to present the gospel and counsel new converts. The effectiveness of the Training School was given expression through a campaign of monthly ‘guest services’, where over the course of a few years 1000 people took up the invitation to remain after the guest service where they would meet with the newly trained and commisioned counselors.

Innovative ministries were not only initiated by Stott, at All Souls but internationally. He created a fellowship of evangelical Anglican clergy in England that exploded into EFAC, he founded The London Institute which sought to give a public platform for thoughtful theological responses to current issues. The London Institute was no doubt the fruit of Stott’s involvement with the Lausanne Movement of the 70’s.

2) Effective leaders are often highly gifted administrators

Reading through stories about Stott’s years of ministry experience, there’s a sort-of annoying ease at which he appears to be able to make things happen. A certain efficiency and effectiveness is demonstrated that very evidently achieved great results. This, I think, is a quality that many (including myself) admire and appreciate in leaders. Just think of more recent leaders like Mark Driscoll whose giftedness as an administrator is obvious when you consider the speed at which he has been able to help create and shape mass movements and organizations.

Stott, I think, is similarly gifted, yet for him this gift did not come without hardwork. As a leader he is remarkably disciplined and efficient with his time, Dudley Smith tells of how, during his university days, Stott would have a sign on his college door saying ‘Working 8am-8pm. Please do not disturb unless urgent.’!

3) Effective leadership is often in the context of a versatile urban ministry

All Souls Langham Place under Stott was a Biblically faithful and rapidly growing church in an area of London not too dissimilar to parts of urban Sydney. An area of contrast; with young, rich, trendy cool cats mixed into an area with people far below the poverty line, and directly across the road from the church building – the BBC’s Broadcasting House. Faithful urban ministry in such a context needs to include people from every background, not neglecting the rich for the poor, the poor for the rich and making the most of a strategic location next to the city’s media centre.

During the early years of Stott’s time as Rector, All Souls developed a number of ministries that are now common among influential urban churches, be that lunch time expositions or inner city-fringy-youth groups. But surprisingly (to me) was Stott’s hands on approach in serving  the poor and marginalized. Dudley Smith records how  Stott would often dress himself in old, torn clothing, let his appearance go a little and spend 2 nights living on the streets of London. His desire was to be able to identify with the large number of homeless people All Souls ministered to. How excellent is that?! Lots of us wish to be effective leaders, but I’m not sure many of us would wish to be that radical!

More to come…