It’s not a natural thing for UCCer’s to easily embrace “leadership” as a function to be prized in our common life. After all, our forebears on the congregational side of the church came to this land primed with wariness and suspicion of unaccountable authority. And well they should have – their own history was a story of what happens to those on the margins when those in power face no restraints.
But I’d suggest that over the centuries, appropriate wariness of unaccountable authority has gradually morphed into something quite different – something most closely resembling hostility toward leadership. The two are assuredly not the same thing, and I think we suffer for this evolution.
When prejudice of any sort wishes to make a case for itself, there are many devices to which it can turn. The creation of a “straw man” is one of those mechanisms. Human history is littered with instances where a sham case is promulgated principally for the purpose of subsequent destruction. It’s always easier for me to destroy the argument of my opponent when I frame her case myself rather then letting her give it a full (and fairer?) expression.
To put it bluntly, I think leadership gets a bum rap in ecclesial circles like ours mostly because we don’t want to acknowledge that leadership is anything other than bossing folk around. How absurd! If there’s anything effective leadership isn’t, it’s running things by fiat. Sometimes we imagine that leadership means promulgating a vision and somehow getting folk to come along. There may be a grain of truth in that, but mostly it’s just as misleading as the notion of bully as leader.
I’ve been convinced for a very long time that too many of our congregations suffer for lack of effective leadership. We’re inclined to reduce the pastoral role to caregiving (which is, of course, as essential aspect of pastoral work – but ONLY an aspect!). We don’t really grasp what solid, faithful leadership can be, and subsequently fail to learn practices and disciplines that might be really good for the church.
More than anything else, effective leaders realize that growth doesn’t come easy. Leaders understand that progress is made when hard questions are faced and discomfort isn’t quickly made to go away but is instead lived in. One of the most unhelpful (and non-leadership based) choices that clergy make is to make discomfort, tension and conflict go away too easily. If you would lead, you must come to grips with YOUR own discomfort with institutional tension. Not all conflict is bad – some leads to new ideas and growth and life. The role of the leader is to help shepherd the conflict and tension so that it fosters something good rather than the opposite.
Leadership isn’t learned in a moment (or in one short eNews article!). Becoming a leader is a matter of courage and faithfulness and discipline. I’d recommend it to you. I’m not as good at it as I wish I were, but by God’s grace I’m learning. I hope you are, too!
With Great Hope!