I’ve read quite literally hundreds of books on church and leadership. You’d think I’d be an expert by now really. Writing my own bestseller on being a highly successful, purpose-driven, courageous, creative church leader.
Though maybe I’d better stop borrowing other people’s book titles!
Yet after seven years of doing this church leadership thing and many more years of reading voraciously about it, I am still none the wiser on what this gig is all about. It’s what drives my current research. I mean, how can I be a good leader if I don’t even know what I’m aiming for? How can I lead a church if I don’t really know what makes us the church rather than a Sunday book club which also happens to like singing three-chord songs as counterpoint to our endless discussions about the best-selling, evidently-inspired classic text we’ve been reading all week? (Or not reading perhaps, going by our biblical literacy?)
That’s what I’m asking. What makes us the church and what am I supposed to do as a leader of said entity? How are we different and what does that mean for me as a leader? How should I measure success and what constitutes a job well done?
You see, until I can articulate these things – preferably in a 100,000 word original thesis as I really would like a PhD out of this! – I am never going to know where the goalposts are. As both academic and practitioner, I cannot afford to wander along the paths of ungrounded thought forever. As practitioner, I need to define what is unique about church and how that informs leadership of the church.
I need to define these things because – honesty time now! – until I do, the practitioner in me will continue to feel conflicted. By the standards of the traditional models, I judge myself a failure as a church leader. Flicking through my journal over the last twelve months I see a startling number of references to this sense that I am utterly failing. You see this sense of floundering and doubt in the terms in which I couch some of my posts: wondering if I have wasted my twenties, describing every step as one through a morass of fear and foreboding, feeling weighed down by the sheer size of the task…
And yet there is another thread in my journal, in my blog posts. The barest whisper that maybe the traditional models have it all wrong, that just possibly what matters is not building a church but making disciples, that maybe there are new maps to be dreamed, that the other side of broken glory is hope.
What it comes down to in the end, this thing, is that I have to know. I can’t afford not to. Because if the traditional models of ecclesial leadership hold, then I’m not very good at this church leadership lark. We send out more than we manage to keep – not exactly a growth plan! And as for our leadership succession thinking, well, God seems to have a habit of swiping our best for elsewhere in the kingdom. So succession is well and truly shot too!
But more than that, more than just being really, really rubbish at building a church on the old model, I can’t say that I see the point of it. Sheep-shuffling till I die? Trying to rival a CEO in building a multi-national, self-supporting corporation? I can’t get happy about that and I’m not prepared to lay down my life in pursuit of it. In fact, the day I choose that model is also the day I’m going back to the City to get paid shedloads for my efforts in trying to build it! I can’t get happy because I’m sure that you and I, we were made for more than this.
Now I know I’m only an apprentice, that these dreams are some years off yet. I know I have way more experience to gain and the small matter of some meat to put on the bones of my doctoral thesis before I can say anything much worth saying. Yet hear me even so as I dare to voice what I want for my life as an ecclesial leader, if you will.
I want to impact the generation that woke up in the wrong person’s bed this morning. I want to impact them and I want to see it happen through thousands of disciples who have been equipped to reach out on their frontlines.
I want to touch the emerging adults who still haven’t taken responsibility for their own lives because no one’s yet got into their heads the adventure which is the gospel. I want to touch them and I want to see it happen through local churches that ‘get’ what God is longing to do amongst their no-longer-quite-so-young-people.
I want to influence the leaders and thinkers in ecclesial practice in my time and I want to encourage the next generation of emerging leaders in their dreaming out loud concerning the challenges and opportunities of the days which will be theirs alone to navigate. I want to influence and encourage and I want to do it in teaching and writing, mentoring and leading – wherever, whenever, however.
But first, church leaders, we have to set some goalposts. Goalposts that define what it is to lead God’s church. And then – but only then…
…we can finally get on with leading!