I never thought of myself as a leader. The leaders I knew were outgoing, articulate, and usually men. And then, when I was 19, I knew suddenly and completely that God was calling me into full-time Christian ministry. The following years became a battle of God’s voice against my own self-doubt.
But I was lucky: others saw and affirmed my vocation and my gifts. The “yes” of God became the “yes” of the Church, and I received the best leadership training that the Church had to offer.
A decade later, and I have learned that a leader is not an omni-competent hero who swoops in to fix all the Church’s problems. A leader is someone who gets involved in the mess, who is committed to hard work and holiness in equal measure, who listens well and ministers in response to what they hear, and who tries to build bridges between what they know of God, and the people they serve. More and more of us are needed for this work.
In the Bible there are endless examples of leadership given not by heroes, but by ordinary men and women: Moses, Rahab, Deborah, Hannah, David, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary Magdalene. We read their stories and realise that God met them in all the mess and chaos of life. Their leadership each time became a catalyst for the next chapter of God’s story.
Communities thrive when we become catalysts for God’s work. Church leaders can hold things together, but the work of a church is only effective when everyone plays a part. The old model of leadership: hierarchical, top down and patriarchal, is doomed.
The best models of leadership are collaborative, and not reliant on heroes. In terms of visuals, we’re thinking circles, not pyramids.
Take an orchestra: a group of musicians each committed to playing their individual part to enable mutual flourishing. Sometimes a player will carry the melody and stand out. More often they will accompany or stay silent as another takes the lead. The conductor holds the music together, but leadership is shown by the orchestra as a whole, each at different moments.
Perhaps the Church is the orchestra and the world is our audience. Each of us has a part to play in offering the music of God to the world.
We don’t need articulate, outgoing heroes as our leaders. Instead, we need a collaboration of conductors and musicians as together, we offer leadership to the communities around us.
Now when I look for leaders, I notice enthusiasm and commitment, not confidence or experience. I am looking for people who are able to inspire and encourage others, so that leadership becomes something not to be clung to, but shared and multiplied.
Leadership is often about the small stuff, and great transformation begins on the smallest of scales. We all have a vocation to work as catalysts for the next chapter of God’s story: in our streets, at our desks, and on our social media platforms.
In all these places, God is calling more of us to leadership than we might think. Will you join in?
Public leaders don’t happen by accident. Behind every public leader are many hours, days, months, and often years of hard works and preparation. The Public Leadership programme, run by the Evangelical Alliance, want to support people on that path. The next training weekend is being held on 14 – 16 October in East Sussex. Find out more about it here – places are still available, but limited.