I recently had the privilege of teaching a week-long Doctor of Ministry seminar to a group of very bright and thoughtful seminary students. Our topic was leadership that is adaptive, visionary, innovative and entrepreneurial. We read some fine books on the subject, and each student came to class having interviewed a leader in their life circle that embodied such traits. We also added a field trip to visit additional leaders, while also conducting live and online interviews during the week. It was a refreshing and invigorating week of learning for me.
Each student created a substantial reflection paper on the topic, summarized their insights and described how those might translate to their unique ministry context. Some of their most helpful insights had to do with what makes for effective and Christ-like leadership in our current ministry climate.
Here are some of our collective thoughts:
- Effective leadership in ministry is much less about knowledge and much more about relationships. We agreed that there is an abundance of people in leadership who know many facts, have read many books, and can describe accurately many theories who fail miserably as leaders. One of the things that most often distinguishes effective leaders is their ability to be fully present with others and to care unselfishly and deeply for others.
- Humility was an idea we kept coming back to. From Jesus we learned how foundational a serving spirit is to the task of ministry. From the corporate world we heard a similar refrain about how effective leaders are not primarily interested in self-promotion. We noted that the people who do the finest and most Christ-like work as leaders are humble and self-effacing. Many instances of deflecting praise or sharing credit were cited. Pride, in all its manifestations, is at the heart of most of our leadership flaws.
- Effective leaders are always curious and learning. Paired with humility, this creates an appetite for learning from others and seeing others in our field as sources of knowledge rather than competitors. We noted how our best leaders tend to be non-defensive and see those who disagree with them as an asset and not a liability. One person noted: “I learn much more from my loyal opposition than I have ever learned from those who always agree with me. They keep me honest, and as aggravating as they might be, I NEED them.”
- Our finest leaders assume the best about others, rather than the worst. Many examples emerged from both ends of this spectrum. Some leaders see hidden agendas everywhere and assign motives to nearly everyone. They demonize their opposition and create rivalries and win-lose scenarios. Meanwhile, our best leaders practice an abundance mentality that expects excellence from others and presumes the best from those in their church or organization. They create a culture of high-trust good will, rather than a culture of doubt and suspicion.
- Ministry leaders who make a difference start internally and work toward the external. They are disciples who practice their faith when no one is watching. They order their private and personal lives in such a way that the gap between word and deed is constantly shrinking. Their integrity starts with their family, their friendships, their habits and their spiritual disciplines. False leaders start with external appearances and give token attention to internal transformation.
- Leadership that honors the ways of Jesus is increasingly difficult. Humility and service are definitely not in vogue in most ministry settings today. We are taking our cues from culture and being conformed to an image that violates our core calling to be transformative servants.
- Spiritual and Emotional Intelligence (SQ and EQ) need to be our primary metrics for measuring and assessing Christian leaders. This means cultivating the vertical (spiritual) and horizontal (relational) dimensions of our selves and allowing the intellectual and technical skills to follow in a supportive fashion. Much of our hiring, training and education reward the opposite.
- Effective leadership in the church and all its organizations and institutions is only possible with great humility, confession, prayer and healthy fear. Healthy dependence upon God is too often confused with weakness or a lack of strength. Instead, when we are weak, we are strong in the power of the One who calls us.
I came away grateful to be a student learning from these students. I am grateful for their humility and their openness to God’s leadership in their lives and vocations. May their tribe increase, and soon, for the Church today desperately needs them.