Loren Mead of the Alban Institute noted that churches are going through the most significant changes since the fourth century. We are, in Mead’s words: ‘pulled by the new and constrained by the old’. Or as one recent United Methodist report bluntly stated, the way we do church no longer works. Whether you're checking our sacred text or perusing a business manual, there's no denying the crucial role leadership is to bear in changing the trajectory of our churches. While no one knows what tomorrow’s church will look like, it is clear that a new kind of leader will be needed to navigate this sea change.
Three old leadership assumptions have proven themselves to be either inadequate or unhelpful. They are:
1. Leadership training which focuses only on training for the task. We have guidelines and job descriptions for everyone from the pastor to the church secretary, from the building manager to the Sunday School teacher. Yet in all of this verbiage, most mainline churches continue to go downhill. While leaders clearly need to know their specific task, too much attention has been paid to this while neglecting more important areas.
2. In the past the job of leader was to recruit and inspire followers, and the success of a leader was measured by the number of followers acquired. Winning church elections became a sign of good leadership, as did winning the vote on anything. The job of tomorrow's leader is not to recruit and inspire followers.
3. Unspoken but nonetheless true, we have placed as paramount the expectation for leaders to maintain the structure and procedures of church. Delegates to local, jurisdictional and national conferences too often strengthen failing structures and shore up cumbersome procedures, often without accountability from those structures themselves. Leaders must be freed from maintaining the status quo.
We do not need nor can we afford to wait until the new paradigm for church emerges to make changes in our leadership practices. A new breed of leader is already emerging.