At the moment, I’m reflecting on Roxburgh’s metaphors for the kind of leadership needed in the church of today. You can read more about them in The Sky is Falling and various of his other books. It’s been inspiring me to think a little about the kind of leader I want to be. This is the last post in a series: the first three posts in the series are here, here and here.
Today, I’m thinking about leader as pastor-teacher and, as promised, I’m also going to share which of his metaphors I most resonate with and which one I’d most like to learn from, preferably by hanging out with someone who leads in that way. Perhaps you also will comment where one of the metaphors inspire or resonates with you?
Unsurprisingly, there is little in The Sky is Falling about leading as pastor-teacher, perhaps because it is the kind of leadership which Roxburgh perceives to be ‘the primary and almost only form of church leadership for almost two millennia’ and thus broadly familiar to most of his readers. There is therefore little that I can say about it in this review of Roxburgh’s metaphors for leadership.
But, for what it’s worth, I wonder whether the leader as pastor-teacher is being somewhat undersold here. We need those who are pastors of God’s people, who teach the Word faithfully. And I don’t think, contrary to what Roxburgh seems to suggest, that the pastoral leadership model always defaults to a model of professionalised ministry a la Schleiermacher. Yes, we need to be forming missional communities, a task which is foreign to the pastor whose eyes are primarily on his or her flock, but we shouldn’t be sidelining these key leaders.
To be fair to Roxburgh, he admits that leaders as pastor-teachers have their part to play in the leadership of the twenty-first century church but argues that they cannot ‘function as the primary role identity of leaders’ apart from ‘within long periods of cultural stability’. In all other cultural contexts, their part can only be played in the context of a wider leadership team.
So…what about you? As we have reflected on the leadership metaphors used by Roxburgh, have any resonated with you in relation to your own practice or that of others whom you know?
For me, though I’ve been excited by all of them, I’ve found most resonance with leader as prophet. There is something about that metaphor which captivates me, which makes sense of my own motivations when it comes to leadership. Whilst I often find that, because of my role and the expectations of those around me, I end up pretending to be the activist-cum-apostle-leader, it’s not my choice of leadership approaches. I am not naturally gifted when it comes to implementing the things of the apostolic imagination of God’s people. I actually get things done in the end because I can’t abide them not being done, because sometimes it’s less frustrating to take leadership in putting ideas and dreams into action than to wait for someone who is actually gifted in that area to discover their gift and stand up! (Hmm, I know – I need to CHANGE!!)
But, joking aside, my burning focus as a leader is always that the people of God would ‘get’ it, that they would hear God’s Word, be caught by it and start to dream the dreams of God. I see things as right or wrong, black or white; I have no time or inclination for grey (again, something which I have learned to temper but not always very well, which can prove kind of unfortunate at times for those unlucky enough to spend much time with me!). I love nothing better than to listen to what the Spirit is saying: to pray and hear; to read the Word; to immerse myself in all that the Spirit has said and is saying through his people, whether academics or practitioners, those known for their spiritual stature or those whose lives have been mainly hidden.
It is, I suppose, in part why I read as voraciously as I do. I want to KNOW. I mean, I really really want to know what God is saying to this generation and what he is leading us into next. And whilst that means listening to him for myself - both in the Word and in prayer – it is also a listening which takes place in community. Its hermeneutic, if you like, is the collective Spirit-inspired wisdom of the community of the saints and, though I can speak to some of them in person, wrestling together with caffeine-powered fervour over what God is saying, there are others whose Spirit-led insights I can only hear as I read and reflect on their writings.
And once I believe – to the best of my ability to test it – that I have heard what God is saying, I want to see reform in response to that, whether in me or in the ways in which we do and are church. And I want to see that reform preferably by yesterday! I want to call the church to action (a reason perhaps why I cannot abide inaction and end up trying to implement the changes myself!) so that we can move towards what Roxburgh calls ‘the present practices of the eschatological Spirit’ and find our centring as a community in God’s story.
So, you can see why, when I read the description of the prophet-leader that I feel Roxburgh may have been reading my soul!
Yet I don’t want to stop there because there is something of the poet-leader’s gift which inspires me. I wonder what it might be like to grow in the ability to ‘listen for the stories, symbols, signs, and language beneath people’s words…to bring to the surface the voice and soul of the people so they are able to give voice to what they are feeling’. I would love to have that ability to listen to the culture, to be an asker of questions and a midwife of dialogue within a community. How great might it be to learn from a wordsmith who can identify and use language as a powerful vehicle for enabling a community to wrestle with their dominant narratives; and how amazing to learn something of the poet-leadership which gives voice to that which has been left unsaid because it was, until now, unsayable? Yes, this I long to learn too.
Still, I don’t want the metaphors of apostle or pastor-teacher to feel left out here! I’d love to move within all of these kinds of leadership – and not as an apprentice either, but instead as a native who navigates with confidence throughout all of them. But am I asking too much here? What do you think: are we limited to one or two of these (perhaps as a way of ensuring that we have to operate in leadership as team?) or can we learn to operate in all of them at least to a small degree?