Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leadership in Churches and other ecclesial organizations

Justin Menkes is a leading expert on leadership, especially at the CEO level. He has written significant books on the subject (Executive Intelligence and Better under Pressure). In an interview published in the Washington Post, he identified three key qualities for successful leaders in the federal civil service:

There are three attributes that I think best enable a leader to maximize the efforts of the 21st century workforce: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. (Tom Fox, “How to Be a Successful Federal Leader,” January 10, 2012)

Those qualities are true for leadership in the Church and other ecclesial institutions.

Realistic optimism connotes a positive outlook, one able to inspire others, but not the “pie in the sky” optimism that characterizes weak leaders. No congregation will thrive in the absence of realistic optimism. Ultimately, the Church’s real source of optimism is our confidence that God will prevail in establishing God's purposes.

Subservience to purpose connotes, in secular language, focusing on the mission. The Church has no tangible rewards to offer. Ministry necessarily entails consistently prioritizing service to God ahead of everything else. God calls the Church and all of its ministries and ministers (clergy and lay!) to serve, not to be served. Articulating the purpose gives an organization its vision and specific mission. The larger the organization, the larger the vision and mission need to be; the larger the vision and mission, the greater the chaos that will be present.

Finding order in chaos connotes an ability to perceive movement and purpose in the diverse, loosely connected if not disparate, constituencies and activities that collectively define a congregation or other ecclesial institution. Leaders with a high need for control unintentionally sabotage the effectiveness of the inherently chaotic religious organization that they lead. The adoption of social media and the attendant flattening of hierarchical, authoritarian structures compounds the amount of chaos in most congregations and ecclesial institutions.

The leader of a congregation or other ecclesial organization, powered by hope and directed by purpose, will then focus on inspiring others to join the effort. This may occur in the context of leading worship, teaching, counseling, conducting meetings, casual conversations, and a host of other activities. This variety of activities does not define the effective leader; instead, the activities provide opportunities for inspiring others.

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