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Blog // Thoughts
August 17, 2006

Don’t Step In The Leadership

John Smulo has been blogging on the nature of Christian Leadership and I tried to chime in with some (potentially obscure) comments. Put simply, I don‚Äôt resonate with the rhetoric of leadership and I find it problematic when ministers (I‚Äôm not making a clergy-laity distinction just yet) define themselves primarily as leaders. It‚Äôs not that […]

John Smulo has been blogging on the nature of Christian Leadership and I tried to chime in with some (potentially obscure) comments. Put simply, I don’t resonate with the rhetoric of leadership and I find it problematic when ministers (I’m not making a clergy-laity distinction just yet) define themselves primarily as leaders.

It’s not that some of the functions of a minister are not contained within a plain reading of the word leader because they are. But, such a plain reading also includes definitions related to command and control that make sense in military and business organisations, but are problematic in churches.

If someone wants to say a minister leads like the 1st Violin in an Orchestra leads,I’m interested. If they want to say a minister leads in the way a CEO leads, I want to scream.

This crystalised for me when I was writing “The Business of Church” article for Zadok magazine a few years back. Along with the language of vision and mission statements, too many churches have uncritically adopted business rhetoric. Unless we exorcise the language, we risk adopting sub-Christian ideas.

In response to my flailing comments, John helpfully suggested that Jesus had used a culturally relevant model to describe Christian ministry – the shepherd. I find the idea of a shepherd powerful because it not only blends the pertinent aspects of leadership, but it also implies a duty of care.

But, I don’t see leader, in the sense that the word is commonly used in the circles I move in, as a dynamic equivalent for shepherd.
So, what is the alternative. Well, I‚Äôm honestly not sure. I like the term ‚ÄúCurator‚Äù especially in the contemporary sense that moves beyond the notion of keeping a museum. In particular, I’m thinking about the work of Nicholas Serota at the Tate and Glenn Lowry at MOMA (even though curators tend to call themselves directors a lot of the time).

In one sense the curator is the custodian of a collection, but more importantly today the curator is interested in the way people move through a space, the way they interact with, the collection and learn from it. Curators create educational and social opportunities, working with schools and local communities. The Tate Modern, for example has a devoted membership, serves great food and functions a lot like cathedrals, in social. emotional and educational senses.

If we look to popular media, then the best model I see of being a pastor is Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy is clearly the “leader/warrior” of the group, but Giles is the glue, the source of wisdom and learning, the one who directs the group to study, to reflect, to solve and ultimately, to care. He is their conscience and their prophet as well as their teacher.

Every-time the group has an intractable problem Giles’ counter-cultural logic is to “hit the books,” opening the doors to learning and more importantly tradition. It might not be Christian theology, but it is a knowingly theological move. The problem is always bigger, more spiritual and older than it seems at first. Everyone seems to forget till Giles reminds them.

What I’m trying to tap into here is both the Old Testament priestly function of remembering and the call of Jesus to “come and reason together.” I want to see those things at the centre of all Christian ministries Рnot as ways to muzzle and frustrate pastors, but as liberation to speak into every situation of life, no matter how mundane it might seem at first.

[tags] Pastoral Theology, Leadership, Ministry [/tags]

Responses
John Smulo 16 years ago

Fernando,

Thanks for your further thoughts on this subject. I think it’s a very worthwhile topic to think about, get frustrated about, challenge each other about, and even disagree about.

I’m not sure either one of us has a concrete-have-it-all-figured-out stance on this subject–I know I certainly don’t claim to. Though it appears we’re coming from at least partially different places here. That said, I really like your description of a minister leading like the 1st Violin in an Orchestra leads.

I’m interested in what your perception is of current thinking on ‘leadership’. Most of what I’m hearing and discussing with friends has much in common with the 1st violin picture.

Toni 16 years ago

Maybe it’s because I’m a little older, but I’d have said Shepherd still works for me. However following the more up to date theme ,as well as curator I’d consider adding ‘Janitor’.

spike 16 years ago

fern

Hey man, just dropped by your site for a read… thought I’d just leave a comment about this post. I got myself a book at a local opshop for 10c. It was called “A shepherd looks at the Lord’s Prayer”. It was one of those 60’s books – very old skool lingo, used terms like “hip” and “far out” etc.
It was written by a shepherd and his most memorable set of words were along the lines of the fact that a shepherd doesn’t lead their sheep from the front. This is because sheep are not the sort of creatures who naturally follow anyone. A shepherd “leads” from behind, gently encouraging the sheep to slowly move forward, toward food and rest – green pastures. That’s what they respond to. They feel safe and loved, not pressured.
I thought that was a pretty “hip” model of leadership…

spike

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Toni, thanks for that comment. I’d love to hear more about the janitor idea.

Spike – thanks for stopping by to comment! You’ve made a really good point there.

Both of you have me re-thinking the whole shepherd thing; thanks!

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