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Leading confidently without being overpowering -part II

This is the second and final part of the last post by Carl Chambers on leadership.

Imagine you have been set a challenge. You are with two others, an adult and a child. Your challenge is to cross, in one go, a somewhat rickety bridge. Easy enough you might think, as long as it bears your weight?


Not a chance. Because the child is a teenager with a criminal record who has no desire to take part. The adult is a wheelchair user who would struggle to wheel himself over the bumps of the bridge.


One further complication? Just telling them to do something is totally counter-productive. You may have the authority but you’d lose each one straight away. The teenager would storm off in a huff. The adult would be crushed and retreat into a shell.


This might seem like a million miles away from the leadership challenges of a church minister. But not really. Our weaknesses and struggles as a Christian may not present in the same way, but the root causes have close parallels. We may hide our pride better than the teenager and cloak our fear better than the wheelchair user. But our hearts are similar.


The above was an actual situation I observed in a management training course in yesteryear. The solution required the leader to understand the weaknesses of each of his ‘team’ and seek to use their strengths to serve the other.


In the end, the teenager had strength to push the wheelchair and was happy to be encouraged to use it, whilst the adult used his maturity to encourage and affirm the youth who’d rarely been so appreciated. The manager’s role was to bring out the best in each of them, as they used what they did have to serve the other.


This course was challenging some quite senior managers in the UK as to the way they managed people. One confessed to me: “Now I understand the difference between delegating and dumping”. She was a high-flying management consultant who had “got results” by ‘dumping’ work on others. She now realized how unhelpful this was.


The course had no Christian roots, but I would argue it is an example of ‘common grace’. Human beings are made in the image of God, with dignity, with their own gifts, strengths and weaknesses. We are not made to be moulded into the image of another human or become a product of a certain system. We’ve been made to reflect Christ’s glory and He alone is to be our model.


We’ve heard lots recently about leadership within the church, including disturbing cases of abuse of power. Some have said: “one man’s bullying is another man’s banter”. But this misses the point completely. It may be true in many places in society, but that doesn’t make it right. For Christians, leading – as in every other aspect of life – is to be shown in loving others. Life is about putting others first (e.g. Philippians 2:1-11).


This means that the person who defines whether something is banter or bullying is not the speaker, or the group, but the recipient. It is beholden on the speaker to be sensitive to the way what they say or do is received.


The above example in crossing the bridge may be particularly stark but the principles are very applicable to the church.


Every church member has gifts, strengths and weaknesses. We know God has gifted us as he chooses, for the benefit of the church (which is his church): see 1 Corinthians 12. Christian leadership is about being so concerned to put the other first, and ourselves as lesser, that we bring out the best in others, so the body of Christ is built.


There is real humility in asking not “what do we want?” but “what has God given us?”. When I was involved in planting a church in Brighton, I remember often being tempted to grumble that we didn’t have certain things (which church does!). I learned to keep saying “work with what you’ve got – because that’s what God has given us”.


This is where the deceitfulness of wealth can come in, because it can be easier to buy or hire what we don’t have. You hire a new person to do a role, rather than seeking to develop the gifts of those whom God has given you. The manager could have hired a golf buggy to achieve the task, and it might have seemed fun at first, but they would have missed so much in the joy of learning and relating together.

In the first two years of planting in Brighton we had no musicians. At times my heart crumbled wishing we had a guitarist or pianist. We did what we could, which was to sing acapella. To our surprise, it wasn’t long before visiting speakers began to complement us on the sound of our singing. Then, at least, no instruments meant our voices themselves grew, to the praise of God in song and the building up of the church we were.


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Rev. Carl Chambers is Vicar, St Michael & All Angels, Wilmington, Kent

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