Leadership is in the spotlight like never before, at least in church circles. The C of E has determined, through its acceptance of the Green Report for instance, to put in place mechanisms and procedures to identify and train its leaders of the future. Leadership conferences abound: New Wine, HTB, Willow Creek and Hillsong all offer events for existing and aspiring leaders, with key note speakers lined up to share their wisdom and experience.
I suspect that many, lets hope the majority, of speakers at such events have something of real substance to share. But, I also suspect that, as at all conferences, some of the key note speakers will have developed the art of saying not very much at all, but doing it with supreme eloquence.
Leadership is a word that attracts some and, frightens others. It is an emotive word and concept and, I think we all need to be aware of this in our discourse around the subject. At one level it is only a word, but it is a word that seldom, if ever, is spoken or written about dispassionately. It is a word that excites some and exercises others.
In the church leadership and theology must go hand in glove. My problem is not so much the word itself, although I do worry about the tendency to fixate on leadership as a good in its own right, but rather how ‘leadership’ is exercised.
I also worry about the ‘traditions’ and disciplines the church draws from in developing its theologically distinctive models of leadership. In saying this I am, of course, working from the assumption that the Church of England (the church into which I was both baptised and ordained) is concerned with theologically distinctive approaches to leadership, strategy and decision making. If our approach to leadership is not predominately inspired through the Christian tradition, then it surely stands that secular approaches are the only other sources of data?
The problem with secular approaches is that they are inherently competitive,somewhat utilitarian and endlessly calculating. If left unchallenged secular approaches to leadership, even when dressed in the clothes of the visionary, descend into managerialism and functionalism.
I hope the church is inspired as much, if not more, by Benedict (the Rule of….) and Gregory (the pastoral dialogues) as it is by the Harvard Business Review, successful business leaders, who happen to be Christian and, pastors of mega churches.
The problem of leadership is particularly sharp in my own mind at present because next Wednesday I am, God willing, going to be installed as Rector of the Winslow Benefice (I have been serving, on placement in the benefice since July last year). I have to acknowledge that even though I don’t very often use the word leader, parishioners will look to me for leadership and direction. So the questions of where I will draw inspiration from and how I will exercise leadership are very real questions.
I hope in my own ‘leadership’ to draw on Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I am, you see, a member of the Church of England!
Starting with tradition (yes, I know I really ought to start with Scripture), I have already mentioned the significance I find for contemporary leadership in the Rule of Benedict. Turning to experience I will of course draw on my thankfully positive experience during my curacy, in the Schorne Team of Parishes, where I served in a very well led team ministry. Reason also has a part to play for the church does have to exercise prudent stewardship of its assets, whilst also taking calculated and discerned risks from time to time.
And of course we have Scripture to draw on as our bedrock, and I think we can learn an awful lot about Christian leadership from Scripture! Perhaps, this is statement of the obvious! But the problem is that there are many different ways of engaging with Scripture, with these in part being dictated by our prior theological convictions. As someone who would want to assert that the Church of England is reformed-catholic I would want to draw on last Sunday’s Epistle (Colossians 3, 12-17) and Gospel (John 19, 25-27) readings as inspirational to my understanding of what it means to be a ‘church leader.’
The epistle lists the virtues with which Christians are expected to clothe themselves and the Gospel is the story of Jesus giving his mother, from the cross, to the beloved disciple:
Here is how I ended my homily:
‘In the world in which we live strong and decisive leadership have their part to play, of course they do, but, and its a big but, never at the expense of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, fortitude, and love.
As I look forward to my time with you as your official Parish Priest I hope and pray that I will dress myself appropriately, perhaps taking Paul’s words and Mary’s example as my guide. I hope that I will be able to inspire and encourage you on your journeys. I hope that this church will stand as a beacon for all that is good and true and that people will be drawn to us not simply because of what we say, or even necessarily what we do, but because we are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient and loving because if we are we will equip people to grow in their own faith towards maturity; we will be Mother Church, of if you prefer the Bride of Christ. And that is our vocation.’