Thursday, 26 March 2015

Develop Personal Leadership

The Question of Leadership

At the Executive Committee's Day of Visioning on the main issues affecting our church as discovered by President Marion Baker in her ' Listening to People' tour, we discovered that Leadership was an issue for many of us for many reasons.

It was often unclear who was the Leader.
There was lack of clarity in the roles of Ministers, committees and trustees as to leadership.
There was little understanding of types of Leadership or leadership skills.
Many churches spent all their time and energy on Management tasks leaving nothing for                     visionary work.
We lack confidence or permission to lead.
There is no area/district level leadership.
In a leadership vacuum we are open to 'takeover bids' from unsuitable people.
The Chief Officer role is not that of a Visionary Leader.
Ministers sometimes fail to lead when it conflicts with their pastoral role.
We are too individualistic.

Some positive comments were made.
We are less constrained by our leadership than other denominations.
We can be leaders in different roles and projects or for short periods of time.
Modern culture leads people to expect more involvement and less top-down authority.
We have flexibility.

In a time of increasing change we are more in need of leadership than ever. Resources are limited. It is not likely that each church that wants a minister will get one or even half a minister.

The days of '12 steps to an effective church' are over. Yes, we do need good systems to keep everything running, but we need to be adaptable and led by a vision of who we are and where we want to go. Sometimes we fall into the mistake of worshipping our committee system rather than being at the service of Life itself.

Edwin Friedman's book 'Leadership in the Age of the quick fix: A failure of Nerve' finds the answers in Systems Theory. Originally used as a way of working with families in therapy, it explains the way church communities work. One person can take on and personify the dis-ease of the whole congregation. We are all interdependent as part of this system. Institutions work as systems in the same way families do. Leaders therefore need to understand themselves and the way their place in their own family dynamics has shaped themChronic anxiety affects our organizations very negatively. It produces reactivity, blaming, quick fixes and a lack of well-differentiated leadership.

The underlying causes for this gridlock are always emotional, not intellectual.
Leaders need to be free to try things without fear of losing their job or position
Leaders must be able to tolerate others' pain and not fix it.
Stress and burn out are caused by taking on too much responsibility for others.
Leaders must know when to make others do something rather than do it themselves.
Leaders need to have stamina, resolve, self-regulation and remain connected.
It will be temporarily more acutely painful to escape a chronically painful system.
Good decisions are a result of how we act after the decision was made.

A Good Leader
needs to take responsibility for their own emotional being.
should be non-anxious: not 'peace at all costs'.
should expect sabotage.
must be motivated.
understands boundaries and is unthreatened.
does not rely on the group for their own meaning.

When we look at examples of successful Leaders in our church who have brought about growth, we tend to ask them" What did you do?" So they give us a long list of activities and innovations and we try to do the same but it doesn't work for us. Why is that? Perhaps we asked the wrong question. Perhaps we should have asked "Who were you?"

Two examples of Ministers I know who have grown their congregations have different theologies, different backgrounds and created different styles of church. Each has some skills and talents which the other does not share and could not implement in their church. Some people say they both have that elusive quality, charisma. But what is charisma? It is, I believe, a certain level of self -faith, of certainty that their approach is correct. These leaders are bold. They make big plans and people follow them. They do not back down when challenged. They are not afraid to be unkind on occasion. It is not what these leaders chose to do that made them successful, it was who they are.

How can we develop such attributes in those in Leadership positions?

I think training can help. I believe we have in our congregations people with skills and knowledge on Leadership . Up to date thinking is vital. We have members who work in the third sector, working with volunteers who have skills here. We have people who work in education or teacher training who again have experience with leadership skills. Can we put out a call for trainers to put on Leadership trainings in our districts and separately for our ministers?

This is an issue we will be discussing at the Annual Meetings and beyond. Let's start our discussion now.

Rev. Nicky Jenkins


  1. I would agree. We definitely need strong leadership across the denomination. We need ministers who trust their congregations and vice versa. We need management committees to trust and just get on with the important stuff. This all comes down to trust really and letting people be who they are. And we need our leaders to lead from the front and enable us to keep leading all the way to the back of the line. We are a church of the priest and prophethood of all, so let's all shoulder the yoke.

    1. I neglected to sign that. Tristan Jovanovic (member, Kensington Unitarians)