Leadership: both weak and strong

  • Sumo

A Pentecostal friend said to me, ‘Leadership is the problem, and leadership is the solution.’

He was speaking about church life, and he represents the current abundance of material out there on Christians and leading. As usual, I’m slow out of the blocks. Here’s an effort to make some contribution.

Here are a couple of common starting points for leadership development, and both are useful. Each also has a point of warning.

flickr user xianrendujia

Where do we fall down? What systems fail? What people skills are missing?

One way of growing in leadership is to ask questions like those above. The aim is to identify weaknesses, to redress problems, to correct error.

For instance, a leader might find out he’s poor at following up visitors – but that he can learn. Or a planning group can see that it has neglected youth ministry – but it’s not too late to start.

This path to developing leadership is honest. It is not afraid of confronting personal or collective failure. It is not too proud to admit deficiency. Don’t we need leaders who are as honest as this! It’s always wonderfully refreshing when we give up pretended competency and finally ask for help. Such an admission is basic to being a Christian (‘Help me, God, for I cannot help myself’), so it should also be part of Christian leadership.

This approach can, at times, place too much focus on the individual leader – or even a group of leaders – rather than on the whole body of Christ working together. God equips all to serve Christ. I don’t believe that means leaders need to possess ability in all areas.

Another problem here is that major effort to improve a relative weakness might stop a leader from growing in his or her strengths. It’s good to improve weaker areas, but better to improve in gifted areas. And, in my opinion, one of the toughest points of leadership is taking people away from the good and towards what’s better.

flickr user jimgoodwin

What’s going well? Where is this leader specially gifted? What lead can our church uniquely provide to the local Christians?

Such questions seek to clarify strengths in order to build on them.

For example, a pastor might find encouragement in his continuing ministry to the grieving. Or there can be recognition of how good a job has been done in connecting with a local school community.

The great part of this approach is that, at its best, it’s full of thanks. It says, ‘Look what good gifts the Father has given – let’s thank him by using the gifts.’

A further advantage is the move away from competitiveness. Looking at weakness usually needs comparison – we are weak in relation to that church – and comparison might lead to antagonism. The strength approach finds it easier to say, ‘Thank God for their kids’ club, and thank God for our nursing home ministry.’

In this approach, leaders can become a bit molly-coddled: protected from criticism by a form of ego-stroking. This can lead to a leader’s self-identity being tightly tied to leadership tasks. (‘I am a great encourager, which shows I am a worthwhile person.’) A tight link between identity and job is always a danger in ministry – rather than knowing our identity is in Christ, Phil 1:21 – so we need be very careful when increasing the temptation!

In sum, both forms of leadership development are needed, I think, because Christian leaders are both weak and strong. What I’d like to ask you is this: what further advantages and disadvantages are there for each technique?