"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
November 13, 2007

Emerging Notions Of Church And Leadership

Drew Ditzel has asked a number of (very good) bloggers to put down some thoughts on the vocation of leadership within an emerging context. Anyone interested in fresh perspectives on this subject will gain a lot from reading all the blogposts. For me, a few stood out and I’d like to add some comments. I […]

Drew Ditzel has asked a number of (very good) bloggers to put down some thoughts on the vocation of leadership within an emerging context. Anyone interested in fresh perspectives on this subject will gain a lot from reading all the blogposts. For me, a few stood out and I’d like to add some comments.

I do so as someone who is approaching five years out of official church leadership. I have, in the past, been a youth pastor, associate pastor, chaplain, as well as holding so vaguely defined roles and, of course, the odd bit of visiting preaching and speaking. When I left London in 2003 I made the decision to change the way I approached churches. It had been my practice (as per a lot of people on the move in my situation), when arriving at a new church to walk up to the leadership, explain my background, education and experience and say “if there’s any way I can serve, I’d be glad to do so.” Truth is, I found it an embarrassing experience – not the offering my services up part – rather, the shameless creation of roles and opportunities by the churches we visited. On a few occasions pastors who did not know from a bar of soap were offering their pulpits – once for the next week! I felt it had to stop, so I prayed, cried and prayed some more and decided to make waiting the priority. I wouldn’t lie, or conceal, but I wouldn’t blurt out my past either. I’d wait for the churches to find get to know my family, to trust and then see what happened.

The results have been staggering and deeply educative. Of course, there were no more quick offers to preach or teach, no sudden rush to create roles. But also, there was little real curiosity or engagement at all. Remember, I never made a decision to walk away from leadership, just to not pursue it. What that taught is how easy it is to be anonymous and how much talent can live dormant in our churches. If I ever do end in a leadership role again (I tend to assume that will happen, but less so these days), then this time may well prove pivotal in changing my outlook on the calling.

In part that was a process that already began when I worked as a Young Adults minister in Sydney. There my thinking was moving towards the kind of direction Jonny outlines in his piece on emerging leadership. Jonny suggests a notion of leadership that is about guarding an ethos and creating an environment where people can relate and participate. It’s here that I’ve often struggled to articulate the difference between this approach and the old idea of “facilitation.” I’m also very keen on the idea of leadership that is sustainable and cheap, especially since so many approaches to ministry assume enormous cost (materials, courses, training, conferences, technology) and take such a heavy toll (burnout, fatigue, stress).

In fact, part of what often worries me about the discourse of church leadership is how abusive it can be. Not just leaders abusing their power, but churches abusing those they appoint as leaders, by holding those people accountable for things they do not have the authority (or power, or influence) to change.

And, it’s on a practical level that I find Julie’s contribution to the discussion so compelling. It seems clear that we are at a crossroads where we need to rethink the role, not just of paid clergy, but also of other cherished ideas like tent-making and all member ministry. I must admit I felt uncomfortable with the suggestion that a church would drop an emphasis on teaching just to have more practical edge. But, by the same token, it feels wrongheaded to make the person who can teach automatically the leader in some officious sense.

Surely a big part of the problem is that we have allowed our models for theological education to become so expensive and time-consuming that they demand we collapse all the leadership functions into one catch-all, ordainable, pastoral-lump?

The big challenge is how to approach the possibility of a theologically-equipped church, motivated for mission without simply falling into a big consumerist trap. After all, if we have an educational deficit it isn’t for want of books (or conferences, or blogs, or magazines etc). On this point, C. Wess does a great job of engaging the worshipper-as-consumer dilemma. The idea of gathering to produce, rather than consume worship draws me back to the creative and participatory experience I alluded to earlier. Doing so really problematises the existing approaches to theological education, the CEO model of leadership and the assumptions about power within churches.

It also (and thanks to C. Wess for putting it so clearly) brings up two clear points. First, we need to take seriously the idea that all clergy should be missionaries – always. Second, we need to take seriously the idea that theological education is for the whole church and as a consequence, the calling to theological education (and provision for it within every local church) is essential.

[tags] Leadership, Pastors, Ecclesiology [/tags]

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Drew 17 years ago

Thanks for joining the discussion Fernando.

Paul 17 years ago

Thanks F, some really interesting thoughts.

the dormant leader approach is an important one in that i think churches often have a lot of riches within them that go untapped – to find out what skills, gifts, ministries people have been in would i think be a sensible approach – although the danger is as you say that roles suddenly get filled with your name and not a current assessment of what God is calling that person to do.

I also wonder though about the qualifications, how people rule themselves in/out or get ruled in/out. There could be some obvious ones like a stance on a particular sexual orientation or some more hidden ones like previous bad experience that causes people to rule thenselves out.

Having got so hacked off with being a leader in the past and not being able to voice any dissent i resigned my commissions but i still wanted to be involved – the challenge for me is to step back into leading rather than just being one of the helpful bodies who supports leaders

Laura 17 years ago

I just want to include music ministers into this conversation. Especially with the growth of churches these last few years being largely based on the quality of worship music and music programs available to the church. More often than not, the musicians’ schooling, skills, required tools and time are discounted and required to be volunteered to the church. Sometimes the main music leader is paid something, but the arts and artists in the church are still being co-erced to give their gifts to the church for free, meanwhile they have a home to provide for, and usually another job that requires the bulk of their time. I wonder if churches should simply pay per diam or per special program. If a group of musicians or artists work one Sunday, they should at least be paid for their time like a pastor is paid. It takes much time to practice. It takes private lessons and it takes skills and tools. I understand that there are times when a volunteer is the right person for that moment, but I believe the quality of the ministry of music or drama or other art would substantially improve if churches understood how they are shackling their ministers of arts and change the way they act towards them.

Duncan McFadzean 17 years ago

Good post, thanks for this and for the links through to some thought provoking material.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Laura – thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’ve blogged a few times before on the “better” ways to treat musicians and I hope you find your way to those posts.

As a musician myself I’m really sympathetic to the costs and sacrifices that musicians make and the extent to which they can be under-appreciated and even exploited.

That said, I wonder were the payment issue stops. Every church I’ve been involved with has benefitted from the free advice of professionals in the church and what about educationalists who give of their time free in church programmes (sunday school, youth ministry, etc).

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