Teams, walls and transitions

Had an interesting conversation with Pete Chilvers on the phone about leadership, teams and leadership attrition. Here is the gist of it:

Congregations want and need leaders who are open, vulnerable and authentic. People who know them and are known by them. If the church is the community of God's people, there can be no stand-offishness from the leaders, no professional detachment. They have to be community people to the core if they are to build God's communities of purpose for others.

However leaders, by the very nature of the job, get brickbats as well as bouquets. Sometimes unintentional ones but, sadly, deliberate ones too. How leaders handle negatives tends to determine whether they remain resolute in being open and authentic, or whether they build defensive walls to deal with criticism. The majority of churches in the UK still have a one person model of leadership rather than a more biblical plural team. When you are on your own as the leader, the easiest way to deal with difficulty is to build walls between yourself and the congregation. Maybe a brick at a time over a long period, but solid and secure nonetheless. Walls of professionalism, walls of defining ministry as running activities. Walls of unavailability. Walls of "I have to keep an organisation running." Walls of "we simply teach the Bible and don't have to build community." Wall of "please don't let me have to make myself vulnerable yet again when nobody else does." And then we wake up one morning and realise that we have an institution, an organisation or set of activities, rather than the biblical church community we always dreamed of building. There was probably no one point at which we took a decision to do it this way, it happened by drift.

By contrast, in situations where there is a biblical plurality of supportive leaders there is a God-given way to deal with negatives that doesn't involve building walls. The team carries each others burdens, partners are able to help with each other's vulnerabilities and bolster each other through struggles. And the team is able to say gently to one of it's companions "don't build the wall, don't isolate and professionalise yourself." A plural leadership ought to be a microcosm of the community that we want to build into the life of a church. The congregation know what their community should be like because they can see it in action among the leaders.

The difficult situation is how to move from a one person model to a team. One might be able to conceive of the value of it, but after some years of wall-building find it very hard to be vulnerable before knowing whether that will bring joy or yet more sorrow. It requires actively inviting others to take responsibilities that you have jealously guarded. It might mean you feel that you no longer do all the things you previously thought were core job elements, the things that made you indispensible. In fact the process is bound to leave a sole leaders asking "am I now dispensible?", which is one of the main reasons why vulnerable or wounded leaders find it a very hard transition to make.

But where teams work well the benefits are huge. Not only do we increase capacity for ministry, for discipling others and for bringing on other leaders for today and tomorrow, but we also find that we can put down burdens, discover comradeship and receive healing for previous wounds. Biblical team work is a God-given way of retaining and growing the authenticity, community and godly vulnerability that we need for the battles that lie ahead.