Resilient Ministry: Leadership and Management

I’ve already posted about this fifth theme to be highlighted in Resilient Ministry. Referring to the work of James March, the book uses the metaphors of plumbing and poetry. For March, ‘plumbing’ is what people generally refer to as management while ‘poetry’ is what most people call leadership. ‘In almost any position in life,’ he claims, ‘you need the mix.’

Put another way, ‘leadership requires both creative art and methodical tasks.’ One of the surprises for people going into the ministry is that they don’t expect that the tasks of leadership and management will feature to the extent that they do. After all, is ministry not about preaching, teaching discipling, caring, and being involved in outreach? What if their training has prepared them for the latter but not the former?

There are four critical areas related to the poetry of leadership and five related to the plumbing of management.

The poetry of leadership

  1. Reflection. Not the first time this theme has appeared in the book. This time, the authors refer to the work of Donald Schön who distinguished between ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action.’ Pastors need to do both, which means learning to reflect both during and after a presenting situation;
  2. Hardship. Again, a recurring theme in the book. Russ Moxley has suggested that the most effective means of leadership training is the experience of hardships. Not all by themselves, though; the best learning comes when the hardship is experienced in a supportive context when there is an opportunity to review the experience. The researchers comment, ‘In order for hardships to be a learning experience, ministry leaders need a supportive environment that allows for mistakes and difficulties and that provides a place where these experiences can be processed.’
  3. Systems thinking, which refers to the ability to understand relational connections and their impact. This involves thinking about issues of maturity (intellectual and emotional) and anxiety. To see the importance of this, consider the process of change. Given that change produces anxiety, ‘leading a congregation through change requires accounting for the congregation’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual maturity.’
  4. Perceiving the politics of ministry. Since ministry involves people and people are stakeholders who are affected by leadership decisions, some degree of politics is involved in ministry leadership. There is a negative kind of politics, one which involves manipulation and seeking to get what we want; but there is a more positive form where we build trust, learn to negotiate and choose between conflicting wants. The lines between the two forms can be very fine. How do you know the difference between manipulation and negotiation? In all of this, pastors need to learn about power and authority and how to intentionally grow ‘relationship capital.’

The plumbing of management

The daily nuts and bolts of leadership.

  1. Modelling, which means primarily modelling spiritual maturity. Pastors need to demonstrate what it means to walk in the grace of God.
  2. Shepherding which calls for the pastor to know, feed, lead and protect the sheep. There are four principal shepherding concerns:
    1. Listening (a lot of people are poor listeners); how many leaders (perhaps especially men) talk at one another rather than actually listen to one another?
    2. Encouraging. Pastors need encouragers in their own lives and are then tasked with creating an environment of encouragement.
    3. Speaking the truth (in love);
    4. Counselling (which the book, of course, spells with one ‘l’).
  3. Managing expectations. Both pastors’ expectations of themselves and pastors’ expectations of others need to be managed. With regard to the first, a healthy dose of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:3-4 is called for. Pastors need to embrace their limits and accept that God is in control of their calling. The second (expectations of others) include expectations that relate to time, friendship, availability and great sermons. The authors note this comment from Heifetz and Linsky that ‘exercising leadership might be understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.’
  4. Supervising conflict. Conflict is one of the primary reasons why ministers leave local church ministry. Poor responses to conflict might include avoiding it or the need to win disagreements. Taken more positive, ‘conflict is a crucible for discipleship.’
  5. Planning- which features these four aspects:
    1. Vision development (could this not be considered part of the poetry?)
    2. Leadership selection and development;
    3. Hiring and training staff;
    4. Reviewing governance structures (definitely part of the plumbing!)

So those are the five themes:

  • Spiritual formation – ongoing growth in Christian maturity. ‘Long-term fruitfulness in ministry comes from the overflow of one’s walk with God.’
  • Self-care – with its invitation to burn on rather than burn out.
  • Emotional and cultural intelligence – and the need to realise that our perception of reality may not be the only way to look at things.
  • Marriage and family – what if pastors’ spouses actually thought it was spiritually beneficial for them to be married to the pastor?!
  • Leadership and management. ‘Leadership is the poetry of gathering others together to seek adaptive and constructive change, while management is the plumbing that provides order and consistency to organizations.’

The authors of this work do not claim that they have discovered the ‘holy grail’ of pastoral survival. But they do believe that understanding these themes and seeking to evaluate life and ministry through them will have a significant positive impact on the health and resilience of pastors and other ministry leaders.



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