Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How Can You Learn Church Leadership?

By Margaret Marcuson

How did you learn to be a leader? Most of us have people we learned from: pastors, teachers and mentors. These key people in our lives offer help to us both as we begin to lead, and along the way. I have been thinking about two important aspects of church leadership:

1. skill

2. self

How do these get communicated to people who are learning to lead?

The first aspect, skill, is the technique of leadership. It may be more rightly called the technique of management. In fact, we could talk about a number of skills involved in leading at church. If you supervise staff, you need to learn to carry out a performance review. Most leaders need to know how to get up in front of a group and speak effectively. You need to know how to run a meeting. You can work on any of these skills for a lifetime. For a long time I was part of a Toastmasters club, where I kept working on developing my speaking skills, even though I have been speaking for over 25 years.

Still, skill in the nuts and bolts of leadership is not enough. “Ten Ways to Be an Effective Church Leader” will not make you effective. There is another important aspect, one that is harder to teach and harder to learn. This is about self: leading out of who you are. Having a self is not selfish, because the gift you give to others comes out of the deepest part of who you are.

Other leaders can show the way by being themselves. Yet no one can teach you how to be yourself. You can learn, over time, but no one else really knows you. Having a self means you can resist pressure to conform while still being flexible. You can take a stand without shooting yourself in the foot, because you respect others while you do so. You can manage your own emotional life, since you are mature enough to recognize your feelings without being controlled by them. Perhaps it is better to say “self” in leaders can be cultivated but not taught. My best mentors have asked me great questions to help me discern who I am as a leader. They have helped me think through my own most important beliefs and principles. They have often shared their own wisdom and experience. Still, they have not assumed their approach would work for me. They have seen more in me than I saw in myself.

Skill means knowing how to do certain things. Self means knowing how to be yourself when you do them. A pastor I used to know also coached high school football. And he led his congregation like a coach: tough and challenging. They responded, and the church was thriving. Another leader I know is quiet and mild-mannered. He effectively leads an organization with a multi-million-dollar budget. Both of these leaders lead out of themselves. They have led their organizations for years.

I have found it takes less energy to lead out of myself, out of the core of who I am, rather than trying to become something I am not. Plenty of models for leadership exist, and volumes have been written suggesting, “lead like me.” We can learn important leadership skills from others. Still, we learn how to be ourselves not by imitating others but by discovering, over time, our unique identity.

Margaret Marcuson works with clergy who want to be better leaders and churches who want to develop their ministries. She is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry (Seabury, 2009). She served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts for thirteen years. Get the free mini-course, “Five Ways to Avoid Burnout in Ministry” at http://margaretmarcuson.com/.

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Comments

5 Responses to “How Can You Learn Church Leadership?”
  1. hoodia says:

    I couldn’t understand certain parts of this article, but I assume I just need to learn a bit more about this, because it certainly sounds interesting and kind of though-proviking! By the way, how did you first get become interested with this?

    • Georgia says:

      I believe that everyone has the ability to be a leader, whether it is within your church, as clergy, an employee, a parent, a student, – every individual can be a leader when they are living in integrity with who they are. From my perspective integrity is a spiritual practice, and living from the perspective of our gifts, talents, strengths and passions allows us to function as God (or whatever you choose to call your source of power) intended.

      Alan Cohen tells a story about a young neighbor who is challenged intellectually. When Alan goes to visit him, the young man will ask right away “How are you, Alan?” In about 10 minutes he will again ask, “How are you, Alan?” And, again. When Alan asked him why he continues to ask the question, he says “But that was 10 minutes ago. I want to know how you are NOW!” This young man is a leader, within the realm of his capabilities – he teaches all he knows that you must live in the moment.

      When you are being who you are at your very core, you will bring a much deeper dimension to everything you do. You, too, can be a leader. So many of our church leaders have concentrated on running their church, rather than being who they are as a leader of their church, and have few they can talk to regarding getting back to the core of who they are. I am deeply interested in working with people who are seeking leadership through the application of spiritual principle, including clergy.

  2. Georgia, thanks for using this article. I love that Alan Cohen story. While we need to plan for the future, living in the moment is still the great spiritual task, and vital for leaders.

    • Georgia says:

      Margaret, I am honored to be able to publish your article. You said exactly what I believe – and I couldn’t have written it any better. I hope we can share more articles over time.

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