After Nearly Thirty Years, I Continue to Learn the Lessons of Leadership.

I often hear pastors gripe, rightly so, about how poorly trained they were and how miserably their seminary failed to prepare them for the complexities of congregational leadership. Particularly regarding the multiple hats many of us wear and the unceasing (though often unspoken) demand to look good in every one of them!

I attended seminary during the early 1990s.

My seminary coursework was academic, and I took several semesters of languages: Greek and Hebrew, multiple Exegesis, and Systematic and Biblical Theology courses.

I was exposed to missiology, church history, and social constructs that shape the world. I was not exposed to many leadership courses.

The curriculum was challenging, but it wasn’t focused on leadership training.

For that, I am thankful.

Pastoral ministry, I have learned these past thirty years, demands that one be (or become) an effective leader on multiple levels.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the cliché, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

This is true in more ways than one.

Most of the leadership nuggets I’ve collected down through the years have come from watching other leaders and seeking out mentors who are more gifted than I am.

I’ve often learned through personal reading, conversations with these mentors, and – most importantly – OJT: on-the-job training.

I’ve come to view leadership as a two-sided coin.

On one side of the coin is character or integrity. The best leaders are well-integrated humans. In other words, the leader’s external presence is aligned and congruent with a well-cared-for and cultivated inner life.

Some might say, “they are the same person inside and out.” Or, “what you see is what you get with this guy,” etc.

The flip side of the coin is competence. The best leaders I’ve been around also have a specific skill-set that helps them navigate issues and relationships in a way that brings the best to each circumstance and the best out of everyone involved.

I stumbled onto this two-sided leadership coin years ago while meditating and reflecting on Psalm 78.

In verse 72 of this splendid Psalm, I discovered, “So He shepherded them with the integrity of His heart, and led them with His skillful hands.”

In terms of a nuanced definition of leadership, I love how Tod Bolsinger, in Canoeing the Mountains, defines leadership:

“Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.”

The church is now in uncharted territory, and such territory requires new skills. This reality is one I am facing head-on as our congregation is in the final phases of a building project.

I will spend some of the next few posts reflecting on what I’ve learned and am learning regarding leadership and how much I have changed as I strive to lead in difficult and challenging times.

A few of the “maxims” I will be reflecting on are:

  1. Influential leaders understand that leadership (much like trust) is earned, not given.
  2. Effective leaders understand that leadership is often formed as we learn to follow.
  3. Effective leaders learn that how we do what we do is as (or more) important than what we actually do!
  4. Influential leaders cultivate a flourishing culture around them by staying attuned to context as much as content.
  5. Effective leaders practice the art of reflective responses as they discourage the habit of reactionary responses.
  6. Influential leaders know (almost intuitively) that what brought us here will not take us there, and they develop compelling ways to help others come to terms with this truth and join them on the journey as active participants!
  7. Influential leaders know that (quoting Ruth Haley Barton) the best thing they bring to leadership is their own transforming self.

I intend to explore these maxims and flesh them out over time, even as they are fleshing me out in time!

Grace and peace,