Growing up I was immersed in the more historic churches. My father was a minister and our family were brought up in traditional denominations. When I first sensed God’s call around 15 or 16 to pursue church leadership, it seemed only natural that I would take the expected steps towards realising that dream. As I finished my education at university and prepared to throw myself into leadership, I took my first step. I enrolled at bible college. After three years and graduating with my degree in theology and leadership, I was considering my next step – applying to be a minister in training. If I walked down that direction, it would be a further three years, with additional course work, and then another step, namely ordination. A further step would be to go on the stationing list and finally, the last step, be assigned a church. Education – check. Ordination – check. Credentials – check. Stationing- check. Leadership – …?
Turns out I never walked down that path.
Without minimising the fruitful impact more historic denominations have had through similar pathways, after being immersed in the reality of building church upon New Testament principles in what was called the New Churches, I knew I couldn’t journey down that route. A firm conviction took hold of me that local church leadership development is so much more than an academic education. It is more than a certificate proving you are ordained. It is more than a credential card you keep in your wallet.
As I continued to express my call to leadership, albeit now in a different context to what I was expecting, I have learnt, and am learning, lessons that I was not expecting to learn.
Leadership development is not attending a class. It is not passing an exam. It is not being examined by a board of “ministers” who have no relationship to you at the headquarters. It is not bouncing from one church to another in a pursuit to obtain your leadership goals at the expense of the church you were posted to serve.
Developing biblical leadership is rooted in a committed accountable relationship to a local church and its values, culture, vision and mission.
As leaders develop in local churches, particularly group leaders or site leaders with further aspirations to serve, there are key opportunities to learn lessons in this season that will only be of benefit in the future.
Over the course of this short series I would like to share several lessons I have learnt, and even some I am presently learning, that I hope will encourage anyone who feels they have further development and aspires to serve Jesus’ Church in greater measures through leadership.
Watch and Learn: Tools to becoming teachable
A foundational tool in learning to be teachable is the nurtured ability to be humble. The saying is true that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Pursuing leadership disconnected to a local church is a recipe for pride. Growing in leadership without the parental care of spiritual fathers and mothers will only stunt your growth. Arrogance and stubbornness are subtle attitudes that can sneak into a leader’s heart unless there is an intentional cultivation of humility. A modest approach to learning, receiving correction, experimenting in areas, accepting limitations will help you blossom in your leadership.
I had a lot of theological arrogance when I left bible college (which is not unusual in students!) and although I did a good job of dismissing it as concern for the truth, really it was a proud stubbornness. I had to learn that theological humility is not another word for watering down. Through humility, I can be both stretched and convinced in certain truths while enjoying genuine friendship and focused mission with other leaders and the church who might think differently on some things. Humility produces teachability.
Part of leadership is not just receiving honour but giving honour. We must learn to honour those who are training us. Honour is uniquely expressed especially when we continue to give honour to those who disagree with us, or do not think our suggestion would work, or that we would not suit a certain situation. Honour is not shared because of what we get out of it, but because it is a natural expression of love to those we entrust our calling to.
I have not been the best at being told I would not be a good fit for something. My defences go up and I can allow a sense of rejection and inadequacy to seep into my soul. It can be so easy to feel resentful as a developing leader. However, in learning to be teachable the best route is to continually trust those that lead us and never stop giving honour. Do not forget, those training us have our best interests at heart. Honour invites teachability.
Lastly let me mention relationship. God has made us all marvellously diverse and unique in our personalities and interests. If you are developing as a leader in a leadership team context where you are all very similar, then that is a blessing and it can be easy to produce natural relationships (although it can have its own problems). However, if you find that you are quite different, having very different hobbies or your personalities do not gel as smoothly, do not let this affect your relationships. Authentic relationship is not founded on similar hobbies or characters. It is founded and fuelled by shared mission and common values. The evidence for genuine friendships is shown when differences are celebrated and not seen as detrimental, but second to a shared culture and DNA. Invest in relating to those who are mentoring you. Ask questions. Share the intimacy of life. Reveal your frustrations. Confess. Cry. Relationships nurture teachability.
Humility, honour and relationship. Some tools to becoming teachable. I hope they are useful and encourage you in developing your leadership. Lesson two will follow.