Thursday, August 11, 2011



Are leaders born or made? Good pastors are natural (and spiritual) encouragers. Jack Welch, the celebrated leader of General Electric, says,  'People in leadership have to have so much energy and passion that they energise and impassion people around them.'

4-1 LEADERSHIP is 'getting things done with and through others who want to do them!' The pastor is a 'leader of leaders'. The buck ends with us. The feckless Jim Hacker, MP, of Yes, Minister put the problem of leadership succinctly: 'The people have spoken. I am their leader. I must follow them'. Leadership is God's gift to the church - every church - but is expressed variously. In tribal cultures the consensus of the people is embodied in the decrees of the chief. Monarchical episcopates arise in times of persecution, but sometimes stifle lay-people's initiatives in democratic societies. Older Christian Brethren assemblies may have no formal 'pastoral leaders', but there'll always be an informal system. Congregational models maximise lay ownership of the church's goals, but increase potential for 'little despots' and schisms. Autocratic leaders assume people won't do anything unless told to, discourage innovation, believe they know best, are often inflexible and insensitive, and tend to use the group for their already-decided ends. Bureaucratic leaders believe the right parliamentary procedures will produce organisational rules and regulations to order behaviour without working too hard at enhancing human relationships. Paternalistic leaders identify almost completely with the group; there's the danger of hero-worship or the development of a personality cult; when the leader goes the group is helpless. Laissez-faire leadership leaves things alone: minimum direction, maximum individual freedom, non-directive maintenance of existing structures are the hallmarks here.

Effective leaders understand themselves, their co-leaders, their group, and the social milieu in which they operate. They accurately assesses the climate and readiness for growth, know the gifts, limitations and responsibilities of their co-leaders, and act appropriately in the light of all these perceptions. They allow subordinates to take initiatives, or facilitate group-freedom as appropriate.

4-2 UNDERSTANDING people and groups (psychology and social psychology) can be learned, to some extent. More and more pastors are buying cheap 'remainders' to keep abreast of insights into these fields. One example: in any group committed to an ideology (eg. every church), people will range across a spectrum from radicals, through progressives, conservatives, to traditionalists. Radicals want to change everything, progressives many things, conservatives some things, traditionalists nothing. Radicals are angry (concerned for justice as impersonal structures rip off the poor); traditionalists are fearful (with a great emotional investment in the status quo, so 'law and order' is their catchcry). Prophets (eg. Jesus with the Pharisees) are always radical, priests are traditionalist, passing on a tradition (cf. Jesus' teaching about the law). Incidentally, if pastors are perceived to be too prophetic or traditionalist, they're in for trouble with people at the other end! Pastors as change-agents will note that change cannot be commended by people two removes away. For example, conservatives don't listen to radicals, but may be persuaded by a progressive.

4-3 ENCOURAGEMENT. Good pastors have a certain naivete about them. They see the best in others ('all his geese are swans' it was said of one great pastor). They take time to congratulate those who have helped, and build on people's strengths rather than reacting to their 'rough edges'. Praise is not flattery: sincere encouragement builds confidence; insincere flattery inflates one's ego. Praise never hurt anyone; silence or destructive criticism are killers! Encouragement draws the best out of people. Like Jesus, always be gentle with the wounded, and - only if you have earned the right - occasionally be tough with the lazy or those whose potential may be realised more by rebuke than a soft word. Helpful criticism should always - or nearly always - leave the person feeling he/she has been helped. Goethe said 'If you treat someone as they are they will stay as they are. If you treat them as if they were what they ought to be, and could be, they will become a bigger and better people'. (Aren't you glad the prodigal met his father before his elder brother?).

James Stewart quotes this legend: God decided to reduce the weapons in the devil's armoury to one. Satan could choose which 'fiery dart' he would keep. He chose the power of discouragement. 'If only I can persuade Christians to be thoroughly discouraged', he reasoned, 'they will make no further effort and I shall be enthroned in their lives'. An 80-year-old saint in Canada wrote me a note: 'If he earns your praise bestow it; If you like him let him know it; Let words of true encouragement be said. Do not wait till life is over and he's underneath the clover; For he cannot read his tomb-stone when he's dead.' Suspect theology but wise psychology.

4-4 MOTIVATION is getting people to do what you want them to do - or, better, what they ought to do - because they want to do it! The leader/motivator must understand the group's needs (eg. for dependence or independence, love and 'belongingness', self-esteem and self-actualisation), abilities (eg. knowledge, experience and skill, readiness to assume responsibility, tolerance of ambiguity), and perceptions (eg. interest in the idea, understanding of goals, expectations etc.). McGregor's well-known 'Theory X' leaders assume people don't want to work, they dislike responsibility, and must be coerced into effort; Theory Y suggests that people will work hard, accept responsibility, and be loyal to the organisation's goals if they are 'handled right'. So when a pastor complains 'the blighters won't work' that pastor is making a judgment about his or her own leadership.

4-5 COMMUNICATION. I remember Lyle Schaller saying in a conference: 'Always use redundant communications. Tell 'em in ten interesting, different ways what you want 'em to know or do!' Poor communication systems within the congregation will lead to the emergence of the powerfully disenchanted. If information is withheld, or if some people are 'in' on what is happening and others feeling very 'out,' there will be trouble. With the exception of confidential pastoral issues, there is no reason why members should be denied ongoing details on most aspects of church life. If people suspect they're being left in the dark this will give a rallying point for those who might otherwise be helpful and constructive.

4-6 RELATIONSHIPS. I read this somewhere: 'Surface relationships based on function will lead to devalued people at war with the world.' Too often we are guilty of relating to our people on the basis of what they contribute to the church rather than who they are. We'll pay a high price for this. When our people feel that they are only sought after when there is a job needing to be done, we are missing the beauty and the wonder of really enjoying them as people in their own right. If we place programs or tasks ahead of loving care and interest, we should not wonder at the lack of cooperation and support of those who will come across to us as difficult.

4-7 TRUST. Without the confidence of our people, there will be those who will have reasonable doubt about all that we do. There is no substitute for trust between pastor and congregation. It doesn't matter how educated, or articulate, or skilled, or gifted a pastor may be, if there is minimal congregational confidence it will be a hard road. It takes time to build mutual understanding and acceptance but it is worth the effort.

4-8 CHANGE. Change is perceived as loss, and experienced as grief. Too much change too fast will bring stress and unhappiness which may even put usually helpful people off-side. The effective management of change relies on learning how to find a pace which does not leave too many wondering what may happen next. A commitment to learn, acknowledge mistakes and adjust the speed is essential.

4-9 FINALLY. Learn to coexist with negative people. No matter where you go, they will always be there. They are negative for one of two main reasons: they were poorly socialised (not their fault) and/or they have unfinished business in their lives from past hurts. Don't we all?


Rowland Croucher

July 2002

A Pastoral Survival Guide [5] -

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