by Rev. Dr. SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, EP Minnesota Valleys Presbytery
Many years ago, the following question crossed my mind: What makes some churches grow by leaps and bounds while others decline? The obvious answers to this question lie in a clear sense of mission, spiritual health, resources, location, and leadership. This is the short and simplified list; included in each of these categories are a web of multi-layered complexities of what ifs and maybes. Nonetheless, there is one area that I believe is key for church growth...effective leaders.
Pastors' effectiveness is measured by their ability to orchestrate change. What I learned is that leaders must have a strong call to the work in which they are engaged. Also, leaders serve best when they are authentically themselves. Today's church is no place for lone-rangers.
My biblical model of an effective leader is Nehemiah. This prophet was the prototype of one who could lead transformation. Read Nehemiah through the lens of a strategist and you will discover a prayerful leader who marshals support, enlists new leaders, overcomes obstacles and accomplishes his assigned task. Leaders today come from all ethnic groups, cultures, genders, and social places in life. Effective leaders today empower others, share power, advocate for justice, provide vision, inspire, and collaborate. Margaret Heffern calls us out to recheck our thinking about leadership. Heffern states: "We no longer need superstars; rather we need to embrace a new definition of leadership. Leadership is an activity in which conditions are created in which everyone can do their most courageous thinking together."
Good leaders make space for leadership succession. They are permission-giving. They grant autonomy so that creativity can freely flow. These leaders have the capacity to create an environment of excitement and anticipation. As authentic leaders, they can work from their areas of strength and be honest about their own growing edges. More than just working to build a team, effective leaders practice "teaming", a concept of distributed leadership, blending related people, listening to other points of view, coordinating actions, making shared decisions, and calling for the development of both affective (feelings) and cognitive (thinking) skills within groups. The growth of the church is dependent upon both the spiritual and professional growth of leaders.
Pastors should lead knowing that they are equipped through baptism to fulfill their calls. May you find strength through these words: "May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this."
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)