A story is told of a man who wanted to change the world. He tried as hard as he could, but really did not accomplish anything. So he thought that instead he should just try to change his country, but he had no success at that either. Then he tried to change his city and then his neighbourhood, still unsuccessfully. Then he thought that he could at least change his family but failed again. So he decided to change himself. Then a strange thing happened. As he changed himself, his family changed too. And as his family changed, his neighbourhood changed. As his neighbourhood changed, his city changed. As his city changed, his country changed, and as his country changed the world changed!
Most leaders long to make a difference, we genuinely want people’s lives, prospects, possibilities and their view of God and Jesus to be transformed because of what we do! We want to contribute to a very different, far better future than the one most face today. Whether people believe in God or not, we want to remind them that God still believes in them.
However, for Christian leaders, our aspirations go beyond a desire to simply make a difference to the life of our communities, as much as we love them. We also want our contribution to have eternal value, to be a sign of God’s Kingdom and to progress God’s purposes within and through our communities. We long for this, even when it feels as if our contribution is small compared to the scale of need and the still waiting, untapped opportunities before us.
I love the reminder in Jesus words, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’. John 12:24. In other words, we may never really know the full value of our contribution but the encouragement we find here is that we should sow anyway.
The man who wanted to change the world may have started in the wrong place but at least he had aspirations!
Faces Challenges With Vision…
In this 21st century, leadership is being exercised in an increasingly complex and unpredictable environment. Many refer to this as a VUCA environment i.e. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
Many of the challenges and expectations I faced after nearly 30 years of ministry, simply didn’t exist in the same way when I began 30 years earlier e.g. regulations surrounding: safeguarding, health and safety, buildings and property, advertising standards (re: how some meetings are permitted to be publicised). In addition, traditional boundaries are dissolving, even denominational ones and new ‘silos’ and allegiances both national and global are being formed. The Age of the Unthinkable (the title of an interesting book by Joshua Cooper Ramo) is most definitely upon us. While fast moving technological advances simultaneously connect and fragment communities, there is growing environmental degradation and the impact of these together with the gradual withdrawal of service provision, is proving overwhelming, especially for vulnerable communities.
This VUCA environment presents Christian organisations and churches (that tend to offer greater flexibility) with unprecedented opportunities. However, and perhaps ironically, it also presents us with the same leadership challenges that everyone else is facing.
Vision plays a critical role during such times and visionary leaders have always nurtured a mentality that insists, ‘just because something has never been done before does not mean that it shouldn’t be done!’
Biblically, vision/visionary sight is the ability to ‘see the end from the beginning’. It is an attribute of God who actually makes known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come (Isaiah 46: 10). In other words, God is not hiding the future, instead, He is making it known to anyone prepared to seek it out.
So as you consider your vision for your family, community, sphere or sector, ask whether your vision, is you shaped and you sized or you-shaped and God-sized. Then take a moment to guess which one is most likely to be God-given!
Anything God calls us to do will require God’s help in order to fulfil it!
Makes Courageous Journeys…
Let me break some good/bad news to you (take your pick), at some point during the course of your leadership journey you will be prompted to:
- Step up – and do something you’ve never done before
- Stand out – and become uncomfortably visible and/or
- Speak up – and say what needs to be said by making your voice heard
In other words, at some point in your leadership, your commitment to act will be tested. You will be required to be courageous!
Aristotle called courage the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible…
Connects In The Face Of Pressure…
In our era we are being pressed by old pressures and stretched by new ones. We are challenged to discern our priorities in the face of decreasing material and financial resources, as well as limitations on time, energy and the people necessary to get the job done.
The specifics of the pressures we face may well differ depending on what and where we lead but the impact remains the same. We are left feeling over-stretched, depleted, confused, weary and sometimes a great deal worse. Pressure and demand tend to narrow our view and tempt us to ‘go it alone’, something that even the Son of God did not do!
Connecting is a discipline to be practiced that may sometimes look like: making time to act as a mentor or coach to volunteers and church members; including the views, concerns and ideas of stakeholders; building alliances and partnerships with ‘friends’ and ‘competitors’ across sectors and denominational boundaries; taking care of and growing ourselves spiritually and professionally; sharing good practice with those who have a similar vision.
Connection through collaboration and co-operation is critical for 21st century leadership.
Makes Time For Regular Encounters With God In Christ…
It’s not just the unbeliever who needs an encounter with Jesus, we believers need transformative encounters that bring us face to face with God and ourselves over and over again.
Without such encounters we would be no more than well-meaning humanists trying to do ‘good’ based on our limited human knowledge, ideas, energy and power. Don’t get me wrong, we’d be good; we just wouldn’t be THAT good!
Someone very helpfully wrote: Politicians generate legislation, educators generate useful knowledge, business people generate jobs, economists generate calculations, sociologists generate helpful theory and psychologists encourage self-understanding. However, only one person enables us to manifest the powers of the age to come!
Encounters with Jesus propel us beyond the limitations of our own constraints to become more the people we are created to be and able to accomplish the works he ‘has prepared in advance for us to do’, with the means he has equipped us with.
Creating the conditions for encounter through prayer, fasting, Bible study, retreating, engaging and listening… to God’s voice is critical and a reminder that we are invited to participate in a cosmic mission to progress the purpose of God, who, after all, holds it all and loves us all.