Selfhood in the Messiness of Leadership


viv article1
Theorising about pastoral leadership is a thousand times easier than actually doing it!  Concepts and theories present convincingly in the rarefied atmosphere of the study, lecture-room, or blogosphere!  The same concepts so often seem to slither into hiding in what is the rough and tumble reality of real ministry environments.
Even biblical principles we hold with conviction can slide away like greased pigs when we try to grab hold of them in practice!
Why is that so, even in Christ-centred communities?   Reasons abound!  But let’s think about three.
First, real life leadership is messy because the world is messy!  Leadership decisions often need to be made under pressure: time-poverty, competing responsibilities, unexpected crises, and avalanches of demands.  The list can go on!  In that, we are little different to the pace and pressures Jesus faced.  Read Mark’s gospel!
Second, we frequently underestimate, the sinfulness of people; including ourselves!  Especially in Christian environments we have, appropriately, high expectations of how people will behave.  Consequently, we can hold quite unreal illusions about how fellow believers and ourselves will behave from time to time.  It is wise, as pastoral leaders, to become “dis – illusioned” about the ourselves and others, as human beings and followers of Jesus.  Jesus held few illusions about people (John 2:23 – 25).   Even his own followers! (John 6:66 – 67).  As leaders, we must aim to lose our “illusions” but retain our ideals!  Otherwise it is t easy to fall out of love with the bride of Christ
Third, as leaders we can control very little!  It is an illusion to think we can.  As leaders, we cannot control, and should not try to, control other people’s opinions, reactions, emotions, actions or reactions.  We cannot control what the Spirit of God might or might not do!  Crises are beyond our control!  One of the few things we can attempt to ‘control’ is ourselves.  In Jesus’ teaching, we must pay attention to the speck in our own eyes well before we criticize logs in others’  (Matt. 73 – 5)
For these, and other reasons, self-leadership is the first task of the Christian leader.  For in the leadership task where mess is the environment, sinfulness a given, and control an illusion, unless we lead ourselves well we have little to offer God’s people beyond attempted manipulation.  Bill Hybels (Courageous Leadership, 182) observes that “perhaps the most overlooked leadership challenge is the one in the middle [the self – my italics]”.
Authentic and growing selfhood is thus a basic pre-requisite for Christian leaders.  And that self will, over time, express itself in the following capacities:

  • clarity and individuation from others at an emotional level
  • clarity about values and vision
  • willingness to be vulnerable
  • persistence and resilience
  • management of one’s emotions , especially anxiety and anger.

Jesus demonstrated these qualities perfectly.  As pastoral leaders we need to seek their development in ourselves.


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