I am bombarded with invitations to buy leadership books, attend  leadership conferences and to be challenged to have my “leadership style turned on its head”.  I don’t pay much attention to them, though I used to.

My reticence about taking up these invites comes from the motivation they work from.  They invite me to be transformed from an average leader to a big player (and I suspect others in loftier places are invited to learn how to keep on top).  Periodically,  I take samples from the church leadership gurus of the moment and so much of what I encounter sounds like this scene from the film Mystery Men.

Why are the Mystery Men taking  formulaic advice from a man in a mask? They are a group who want to be superheroes who can clean up their city, get the kudos and maybe even the girl. The catch is that they are rubbish at what they do and as  they become aware of their lack of competence they edge towards returning to their bland unfullfilling lives.

The appeal of leadership training comes from the fact that most of us feel like a mystery man.  The irony is that the more we learn the secrets and systems of  leadership the more we feel rubbish about our own ministries.  The real leaders are Coca Cola and I was the stuff you buy at Aldi.

I’m not alone in this feeling of  falling short. If I was, the leadership industry would have no millionaires. Their millions are made from making lesser mortals look at the heroic saying, “that’s not me, I must be doing something wrong” or even worse  “I want to be just like them, how do I get there?”.

In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy we meet a failed, shamed leader in Theoden. He’s allowed himself to fall under the spell of Wormtongue who gives him bad counsel that aids his enemies and who turns Theoden into a feeble deteriorating old man with a  petty backwater for a kingdom.  When he is restored  by the heroes of the piece, he feels shame at what he allowed himself to become and his decision making is cursed by an under confidence that he can still lead and whether the battle is still worth fighting. We might say he’s lost his mojo and he knows it.

This lack of confidence continues up to the point when he will have to make a decision on which the fate of the world hinges. He is called to what will be the battle at the end of the world. The only reason to go is to die fighting instead of on bended knee.  There is no real hope of victory. At this moment the question is, “Will you go“.  After a pause pregnant with expectation, he says, “Yes”.  The  moment is powerful because without his yes, as we discover, all would have been lost.

On reflection my leadership can be defined as saying yes to good things and no to what is harmful or less fruitful. There are great things happening in both of my churches, not because I am doing them or I thought of them. They are things being done by people who were given permission to follow their passion and their vocation. These are people who without affirmation and encouragement might have said, “it will never happen”.

Coming to terms with a post based on boosting other people up, I now realise some valuable truths about what leadership in ministry is about:

  1. It isn’t about me. My ministry is not about gaining followers or growing my parish or being adored. It is about bringing people into the presence of God. God is the one who does all the work that matters.
  2. Leadership ideas are not immediately transferable to every context. The stars of the leadership industry rarely admit this or take into consideration the neighbourhood, the type of situations you lead in, the types and numbers of people, their life experiences and expectations.
  3. Just because someone is a great success doesn’t mean they are a great leader. It is easy to tell people what to do, particularly if their job is on the line. It is much harder to get  people to follow you to a destination neither of you are sure you are going to reach.

My mentors are the ones who never hold seminars, they don’t write books and if I told them I see them as mentors and guides, they would smirk and change the subject. That’s why I won’t name them here. They are flesh and blood men and women who get on with the task of leading churches, first from their relationship with God, second from who they truly are (warts and all) and then from information and theory about how they might practice leadership.

Good leaders don’t have slogans or mottos. They bear fruit.  They are people who believe that they have been given a gift to give to other people.  They are people content to say yes or no.

So thanks to you who have taught me through your successes and failures and for encouraging me when I feel I’m not cutting it. Thank you for leading me well. Thanks for letting me be part of a band of ordinary people doing the best with what they have rather than feeling part of a  band of failed, unfulfilled wannabes.  Thank you for letting me be myself.


About newnortherner

I'm a vicar in the town of Macclesfield with a lovely wife and three kids who are a credit to me. A friend at theological college told me I was a walking theological reflection so I figured a blog was the best way to get out lots of words without tiring lots of ears. I like cycling, reading, films and just chilling out.
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4 Responses to Leadership

  1. I agree with much of what you say. As someone who often consults with CEOs and leaders of non profits on leadership, it is my view that much of it comes from a misconception of what a leader really is and is meant to do. If we accept the example of the Great Shepherd and High Priest, Jesus, then we can begin to see that to lead is to serve, to humble oneself in the service of others, to speak truth, and to minister to that truth with an unwavering heart. A study done by a well known guru, who eschews formulaic leadership ideals (Jim Collins), looked over a period of a couple of decades at those companies (and later organizations) who consistently were in the top 10% of return on equity over several business cycles. What he discovered in the stellar performers was that among many other attributes, their leaders had a curiously similar orientation: they possessed a relentless dedication to the ‘ends” of the organization, coupled with a personal humility. I found this both illuminating and amusing, as this is the example Jesus set in his ministry as well: a passionate commitment and will to do that which he knew to be his mission, and the heart of a servant. Is this always what brings recognition and reward? No. But perhaps this is just as it is meant to be, as the accolades of the world are often those which quickly lead us astray and reduce our dependence for daily bread and sustenance on Him who alone brings Life to the lifeless and hope to the heavy laden. Thanks for the good post, Dave.

  2. Thanks Dave

    Interesting that Jesus’ leadership is not only servant leadership, but is also in human terms utterly unsuccessful

    That’s why it can’t be put in any book
    The Christian leader is the follower of Christ and must expect nothing better than his leader

    As Jesus restores Peter to leadership, he asks one question (repeatedly 🙂 ) and issues one commmand

    The question is ‘do you love me?’ (do you only have eyes for me? Not your church, or your career, or even your life, but me)

    Peter is still learning as he is distracted by John who is himself, absorbed in Christ

    Jesus tells Peter he must expect nothing more than what happens to him, the fruitful life dies
    That is the meaning of Follow me

    Sadly much contemporary leadership is obsessed with church growth, not Christ
    Indeed we even miss the point if we turn his example ‘Servanthood’ into a formula for success

    Good Post

  3. The True leader is a candle wick

  4. I have nominated you for a very Inspiring Blog Award. The nomination is at http://davidherbert.me/2012/08/09/a-most-inspiring-award/

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