Mission post-collapse 6: The New Leaders

Posted: July 31, 2014 by J in Church, Church history

Mark Zukerberg, founder of facebook

(Rectors and senior ministers, this post may not be what you need today.)

These five realities of church life after the collapse have big implications for our leaders. So big, that if we ignore them, leadership in our churches could become quite ineffective.

Horton the Elephant

In past generations when Aussie culture and worldview was closer to the church’s own culture, church leaders did not need cross-cultural smarts.  They didn’t need to think so much about contextualisation. They didn’t need sophisticated people skills. They didn’t even need to think much about mission and outreach: stacks of people were turning up in their building every week.

This situation favoured a leader who knew how to do a good church service, and was loving and encouraging towards the church-folk. A pastor/preacher. With hopefully some admin skills. If they could do a good job of that, then not many changes were needed. Innovations and new initiatives were optional extras: things were already working. A ‘steady-as-she-goes’ type of man was right for the job. He could keep doing the same things throughout his ministry life, without needing to think much about the big picture. Perseverance and faithfulness were key.

But ten years ago Peter Jensen started talking about our Anglican rectors as ‘local mission directors’. This was a radical departure from the way the rector’s job had been described before. Naturally enough it came as something of a shock to the rectors themselves, who now found their work was to be judged by a completely new standard.

But Peter Jensen’s innovation recognised the new reality of church life post-collapse. Conditions have changed dramatically in 50 years. Pastor/preacher is no longer all we need from our leaders. We are now in a missionary situation in an unchurched society.

The requirements of leadership have changed also. Now, we do indeed need ‘local mission directors’. And that implies a whole new skill set – and probably a different personality type also. Now things are not working, and we have to figure out new ways forward. Now our neighbours’ culture is different from our church culture, and we need to learn to contextualise.

This suggests we need leaders who are creative, socially aware and switched on, savvy about cross-cultural issues, entrepreneurial and willing to innovate and take risks, visionary types who can sense opportunities and develop them. More Mark Zukerberg and less Horton the Elephant. Or if you prefer military analogies, we need Rommels not Montgomerys.

One way to understand this is to acknowledge that the job of church leadership has got harder. Leadership today is more challenging and demanding. Higher order skills are involved. It is going to call for our best people to take up the job, not our middle-rankers. Thinkers and reflective practitioners, not just hard workers.

Another way to see it is that we will need to encourage a different sort of person forward into leadership. Less of the engineer, more of the artist or small-business owner. There will be a cost to this shift. Realistically, no one has all the skills and strengths. These creative types will be weaker in areas where leaders were traditionally strong: they will be less ‘solid’ and steady and patient and tolerant. They will have to learn these things of course but it will never be their strong suit. These leaders will be more restless, ideas people who are not satisfied with how things are now and have a vision for how things could be. They will have less of the ‘comfort factor’ we are used to in our ministers. They may be harder to like. This will be the trade-off for gaining the new qualities that are so badly needed.

Andrew Nixon spent a lot of time working with Rectors for the Connect09 mission in Sydney, and afterwards he summed up his experience. He said,

Our senior ministers are first class people who we have failed to prepare properly for the mission situation we place them in.

He was commenting on the new ‘local mission director’ label that Peter Jensen had given to rectors. The blokes were great and godly blokes. They just weren’t prepared for the job of leading mission. They hadn’t the skills or training or experience.

To develop this, I would suggest that as well as lacking training, probably many weren’t suited temperamentally either, for the new job. They were good men for the old conditions before the collapse. But not for the new conditions after.

And yet Peter Jensen fundamentally had this right: it’s the rectors we need, to do this job.

However, Nixon’s experience shows that it’s not enough just to change the title or job description we give to our rectors. That’s not realistically going to change much in the real world. We need a new sort of leader.

How do we get them?

There is no easy way. People don’t usually change much. Rectors are people! To be painfully realistic, the main avenue for change is with the next crop of leaders who get raised up. But how do we stop ourselves from turning out another crop of the old sort of leader?

Here’s a suggested simple program to produce the sort of leaders who can lead us forward out of the collapse.

1. Develop a clear picture of the job leaders need to do (a job description) and of the skills and personal qualities that will be called for in the new ‘post-collapse’ setting. I have never seen such a description from any ‘official’ source. Great clarity is needed at this point if the message is to cut through and get noticed.

2. Educate our churches and college so that they are working towards that sort of leadership. Both parties are vital here. The churches’ part is to identify and encourage the right sort of people forward. Not the sort they used to promote. The college’s part is to train and educate them in the right sort of skills and understanding. In particular to train and educate them to think and question and to think mission. At the moment we are still training our students to be preacher/pastors.

3. Ordain people who have shown these qualities: not just any student who has passed the exams and has nothing bad on his record. Don’t ordain for leadership: ordain leaders.

Simple: but not easy! It would need a fair bit of will from those at the helm, to take responsibility for promoting a shift of this magnitude.

Trouble is, if no one does this, or something of the sort, our leadership crisis will only intensify.


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