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Along the Journey  |  

Courageous Congregational Leaders

Courageous leaders are in short supply lately and are one of the most important facets of congregational leadership.

Courage is the flip side to the claim to authority that authenticates a leadership position. Its source is the leader’s capacity to lead out of themselves based on convictions of principles and clarity of vision. Courage enables the congregational leader to know the difference between real toughness and merely looking tough and acting tough. Real toughness doesn’t come from flexing one’s muscles simply because one believes they have more authority or power than another. Real toughness is always principled.

Principled Leaders

Ethical and principled leaders, for example, understand empowerment as delegated by the congregation.

They accept that any personal authority they hold exists only within the frame of reference of the culture of the congregation they serve. That culture is informed by the core values and beliefs of the congregation and bound by the leadership function that the congregation requires—no more, no less.

The paradox is that the more a congregation equips its leaders with authority, the less mature and healthy a congregation tends to be.

An effective congregational leader has the courage and conviction to give back to the congregation those leadership functions that do not belong to them.

These self-aware leaders are mindful of their limitations and understand the need to complement personal strengths with skilled colleagues and compensate for personal limitations by sharing the leadership functions that belong to the congregational members called to leadership.

Leaders with a strong sensing style, for example, must often deliberately seek another’s perspective on the long-range consequences of their actions.

Strong, intuitive leaders may need to find reliable people to attend to immediate, practical problems.

The ability to maturely accept that one cannot do everything and be everything to everybody is a quality of effective leaders who are self-aware and courageous.

Leaders Without Courage

In contrast, leaders who lack the courage to do so tend to be overfunctioners.

They lack sufficient self-awareness to know where the boundaries of self lie and, therefore, cannot discern what he or she is responsible for and what is not the leader’s responsibility.

Or, these are leaders whose lack of courage is a sign of hubris or a misguided understanding of authority.

They genuinely believe that they (and no one else) know what is best for themselves and everyone else.

In their insecurity, they give in to the myth of competence and expertise and perpetually feel the pressure of having every solution to every problem and the answer to every question.

Overfunctioning in congregational leaders is a faithless posture—it does not believe that God can work without the leader’s help, and it lacks faith in the congregation’s capacity to take responsibility for its destiny.

What to Expect from Courageous Leaders

Courageous leaders can expect adherence to the common values of the congregational culture while at the same time giving wide discretion in implementation in practice.

They are outraged when they see these common core values violated.

The values of the common core are the non-negotiables that compose the cultural strands.

This covenant defines the way of life in the congregation.

Courage enables the congregational leader to be unapologetically ruthless when destructive forces or willful persons are divisive or harmful and violate these common principles and community values.

Pastors provide a necessary symbolic and cultural function at the congregation’s center.

Church cultures are concerned with the values, beliefs, and expectations that the members share.

Congregational leaders help shape this culture and work to design ways and means to transmit it to others, but more importantly, they behave as guardians of the values that define the congregation’s culture.

A central purpose of the leadership function is inducing clarity, consensus, and commitment regarding the congregation’s primary purposes. When members know, agree, and believe in these defining values, practices, and beliefs that inform purpose and vision, the reality of the community is experienced. From these defining characteristics come not only direction but the source of meaning and significance that members of the congregation find important. When the congregational leader is the guardian of the congregation’s values, they enjoy a special verification in importance and meaning—they become real-life cultural imperatives rather than theological abstractions.

Expert Insights

In her study of congregations in Congregation & Community, Nancy Ammerman identified the presence of effective and courageous leadership as the difference between congregations that were able to turn around toward growth and effectiveness and those that remained non-adaptive and declining.

She noted that:

Pastors in the status quo congregations, by contrast, tended not to introduce new ideas and programs. Most provided excellent care for the people in their congregations and performed well the duties expected of them. Most fit nicely with their parishioners, working hard to maintain the pattern of church life all of them expected. If they perceived any need for change, they were unwilling or unable to undertake the difficult (and often conflictual) work of dislodging old routines. A few expressed to us their sense that their leadership skills were simply not up to the challenges they knew the congregation faced. Others simply pastored the best they knew how (Pg 327).

To learn more about congregational leadership, click HERE.

* Adapted from The Hidden Lives of Congregations, by Israel Galindo.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Along the Journey Dr. G. & Friends