Church leadership – what’s needed, what’s not (Part two)

SteveHopkinsby Steve Hopkins

(Editor’s note: We were shocked and saddened to learn of Steve’s passing from his journey on earth to eternal life on Saturday, October 28, 2017. We give thanks for and celebrate his life, especially his faithfulness, passion, dedication and contributions.
We offer our prayers and support to his family: Elizabeth, Clare and Rose, and his sister Nancy, during this time of loss and grief. We also commend his spirit into the everlasting care of our loving God.
This two-part series of articles resulted from a sermon Steve preached at the ordination of the Reverend Ann Turner in June 2017, and encapsulates his philosophy and practice of the ordained ministry in the church.)

“After 30 plus years working with congregations in trouble, I learned when clergy and lay leaders get into trouble and the church experiences a failure in leadership, it’s often due to one or more of four issues: failure of rapport, abdication of responsibility, lack of skill and lack of integrity,” Steve wrote in part one of this series. Last month he dealt with failure of rapport and abdication of responsibility. In this Niagara Anglican he tackles lack of skill and lack of integrity.

Lack of skill

Church leadership is very complex because it demands such a wide variety of skills. We must work hard to keep up with these demands.

Curiosity and feedback are so important to the church’s future. We need to honestly assess ourselves in order to discover where our skills are excellent and where we need to learn or change. This can’t be done sitting alone or fretting through sleepless nights. We need the mirror of a community to help us see ourselves as we truly are.

Two gaps in leadership skills concern me: influence and inspiration.

Often, church leaders don’t know how to influence others to enhance the community’s capacity to solve problems, live faithfully and embody the gospel.

Some don’t know how to inspire others with a vision of God’s work or being a faithful church in mission. They can’t motivate others – individually or collectively – with a compelling vision of an alternative life-giving and life-changing future.

Leadership can be defined as the capacity to influence and the ability to lead followers. The days are long gone that we could make anybody do anything just because we think we’re the boss. Church leaders today need to inspire people on a path to greater faithfulness.

Lack of integrity

Churches run into real trouble when the life and character of their leaders fail to embody the gospel they proclaim.

Parishioners and neighbours outside the church have a finely tuned sense of dishonesty. They expect us to “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk”, so we need to manage the integrity gap, not by “dumbing down” but by “living up”.

We leaders are in real trouble when we can’t see the gap or when we don’t appreciate the real impact of our words and behaviour. People learn far more by what they observe than by what we preach.

Grace

These most critical capacities for leadership can’t be learned from books, colleges, spiritual directors or mentors alone.

They can tell you about rapport, responsibility, skill and integrity matters, but they can’t create them on their own. Instead, we learn them in a complex interplay of behaviour modeled by good leaders, sustained interactions with people who offer honest feedback, supportive communities that evoke maturity and individuals with a hunger to learn and lead.

That is a gift of grace.

The miracle of the church is that God calls broken, self-centred, deeply flawed, hopeless people into an impossible vocation of discipleship and mission. Sometimes only God knows how the gifts of grace coalesce to nurture great leaders, yet each in turn must be curious enough to keep asking “how I can improve my skills and make the most of my God given gifts?”

Broken and flawed people do emerge as leaders who can develop deep rapport with others (even those who disagree with them), who take responsibility when they should (and step back when they shouldn’t), who are life-long learners and knowing the gap in their own faithfulness, as disciples are committed to narrowing it.

It takes a whole church

They say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s becoming clearer to me it takes a whole church to nurture a leader.

Let us commit ourselves to be active participants in that wider community of faith that nurtures church leaders.

Let our faithfulness influence them, our common life be a model worthy of emulation, our dedication to God’s mission inspire them, our honesty nurture the best in them and our awareness of our own broken-ness or flaws encourage them to lives of increasing faithfulness in discipleship.

The Venerable Steve Hopkins was Rector of St. Paul’s (Westdale) Hamilton and the former Archdeacon for Ministry Leadership Development.