exploration of the island of Lindisfarne, Magnus Magnusson describes some of
the cultural distinctions between the Celtic and Roman approaches to the
Christian faith. "Celtic monks lived in conspicuous poverty," he
writes, "Roman monks lived well. ... Celtic bishops practised humility,
Roman bishops paraded pomp. Celtic bishops were ministers of their flocks,
Roman bishops were monarchs of their dioceses. Celtic clergymen said
"Do as I do", and hoped to be followed; Roman clergymen said
"Do as I say", and expected to be obeyed."1
these examples, Magnusson is touching on one of the key reasons for the
renewed interest in all things Celtic, and one of the core arenas in which
our culture is in crisis—the arena of leadership. Shaped by the
uncertainties of postmodernity, and schooled in its ambivalence toward
authority, the emerging generations are seeking out models of leadership far
removed from the control-and-command approach characteristic of the
20th century. The future is a challenging road for all of us, but the climb
is steepest, and the way most difficult, for those called upon to lead.
Of all the
charges laid at the door of the church by many disaffected young people who
in recent years have made the choice to leave, the most frequent and damning
is the charge of controlling leadership. Styles of leadership forged
in the certainties of modernity, fitted to the assembly-line routines of
industrialism, and built on the linear and literate thought processes of
print technology are increasingly alien to a generation in search of new
models. Gen Xers, according to Kevin Ford, have been "burned by
pathological models of authority."2 In the home and
workplace, in communities and organizations, the massive changes shaking the
foundations of our culture are calling for a new understanding and practice
of the skills of leadership.
For too many
young people, there has been no distinction made between leading and
controlling; to accept leadership and authority has been to accept control.
Stifling creativity, stunting innovation and imagination, forcing
uniformity, silencing dissent—controlling leadership acts like a blanket
thrown over a crowd, subjugating the needs of the many who follow to the
needs of the few who lead.
remarkable thing," writes Viv Thomas, an international leadership
consultant with Operation Mobilization, "is that many leaders feel they
can change things which are beyond their control. With this fantasy in
place, they lead people towards an initially exciting world of control and
power. In the process these same leaders become gods of the naïve, giving
the people they lead a simplicity which in the end is deceptive and
damaging. Believing the world is a certain way will not help you when you
meet the truth that it is not."3
claustrophobia this produces is pushing many people to seek fresh air and
freedom outside the confines of the church—not because they hate the
gospel but because they hate the bondage that the gospel has been made to
bring. As Meic Pearse of London Bible College asks, "Are we equipping
the saints or fostering their dependency on us? Can we let go of our
scarcely admitted itch to control or bolster our positions? Pastors and
preachers, housegroup leaders, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders,
youth workers: we all want our egos fed. It’s time to start asking, ‘Who’s
feeding whom?’ "4 Whatever else the current wave of social
change calls for, it calls for a reformation in the church’s understanding
is a young leader in his twenties who has observed leadership at close hand
in a range of church and parachurch organizations in the United Kingdom.
Like many younger and emerging leaders, he is convinced that the new
situation into which we are moving will require new models of effective
leadership and a new attitude in those who exercise it. Surveying the
current church scene, he has identified four key demands that the 21st
century will place on its leaders: (1) a willingness to listen and change,
(2) a willingness to take risks and move forward, (3) a willingness to serve
and obey, and (4) a willingness to trust and delegate.5
these four will form a matrix of priorities for those exercising leadership
in church and society: the essential leader’s checklist for the early
decades of millennium three.
Check That You’re Looking, Listening, and Learning
The shift in
industry from "hard" to "soft" skills is now well
documented. At its heart is the drive for cooperation, for leadership built
on negotiation, motivation, and mutual benefit rather than coercion,
control, and fear. The Industrial Society, a nonprofit foundation, is one of
the leading organizations in Britain in the arena of leadership, management,
and employment issues. In 1999 they commissioned a survey of 3,000 people
from businesses across the U.K. to determine what they saw as the best and
worst traits of leaders. The five weakest areas of less successful leaders
were cited as the following:
• They fail
to be sensitive to people’s feelings.
• They fail
to recognize other people’s stress.
• They fail
to develop and guide their staff.
• They fail
to encourage feedback on their own performance.
• They fail
to consult those affected before making decisions.
research has not been carried out among those attending (or leaving)
churches. But can we really believe that, if it were carried out, it would
not produce very similar results?
insists that "leaders are measured by their influence on people. This
is the only way in which it is possible to sort out the Hitlers from the
Teresas. Charisma, skill, education, background are all neutral in assessing
a leader’s potential. … The measure of how well the job is done will be
the effect it has on people."6
immediate "soft" skills of listening for the sake of cooperation
and motivation, 21st-century leaders will also be called upon to look,
listen, and learn for their own survival in a changing environment. In a
static culture it is enough to learn skills once, perhaps in college, and to
dedicate a life to practicing them. In a culture reinventing itself every
five to seven years, this is untenable. "A new paradigm means that
everyone goes back to zero," advises the Dallas-based Leadership
Network, the fast-growing network developed by Bob Buford to link and
resource new churches. "You lose any leverage you had in the old
paradigm. Anticipatory, not reactive leadership is required."7
To be a
leader in the coming decades will mean, by definition, to be a lifelong
learner—not only gaining new skills, but being able to adapt existing
skills to new situations with dramatic frequency: with one eye on the task
in hand and one eye on the horizon. "We need to become experts at
reading and understanding cultural maps," author David Fisher has
advised.8 The shifting sands of our cultural environment are not
only the context in which we must work; they are also our most potent source
of up-to-the-minute learning. Twenty-first-century leaders will find
themselves asking constantly, What have I learned today? this week? this
year? Those unable to listen and to learn will soon find that they are
unable to lead.
Check Out Your Imagination, Inspiration, and Innovation
that doesn’t inspire the imaginations of those who choose to follow is
little more than cleverly disguised bureaucracy. "The greatest leaders
are those who explain the world," leading British politician Tony Benn
writes, "and thus help us to gain control of our destiny."9
If human beings did not need help in understanding their times and
inspiration to overcome fear and inertia, they would not need leaders. It is
crucial that leaders see this and take seriously their responsibility to
inspire—to switch on the imaginative functions of those they lead. This is
just the opposite of closing down creativity because it is too much of a
to inspire courage, to give vision against the odds, to create dreams out of
the raw materials of fear and uncertainty is more needed than ever in a
context of fluidity and change. "Leading people (as opposed to simply
managing them) in a new direction," writes David Nadler, "means
reshaping their view of the world. It means shattering their sense of
stability, tossing out their old standards of success, and prying them loose
from the status quo. And then it means replacing what you’ve wiped out
with a new, coherent and energizing vision of what you believe the future
can and should be."10 Every institution in our culture, not
least its churches, is crying out for the kinds of leaders who will take
risks and foster innovation, finding new solutions to old problems and
meeting new problems head-on.
Check Up on Your Servanthood, Sacrifice and Self-giving
generations, many different symbols have come to represent the power and
role of leadership—the five stars on a general’s uniform, the huge
executive office and chauffeured limousine, the bishop’s miter, the short
words Senator and Congressman. Yet the only symbol that could be said to
capture the essence of Christian leadership is one that rarely arises—that
of the towel. Jesus’ act of foot washing is the fountain from which the
resources of Christian leadership arise and flow. There is no New Testament
model of leadership that is not servanthood.
As the new
generations struggle to come to terms with their own brokenness, their
disillusionment with authority, the dysfunctionality of their home
experience, they stand more than ever in need of the kind of leaders more
attuned to washing feet than making speeches. This may well be the greatest
contribution that the church can make to the whole arena of leadership
development, that it has a framework that makes sense of the very acts of
service and love the culture is looking for. The mysterious balance of power
and powerlessness evident in the life of Jesus, his capacity to be
single-minded yet open, to move resolutely forward in the pursuit of his
destiny and yet not violate the destiny of others, to hold to nonviolence
and yet be strong, even strident, when needed—in short to serve and yet
lead—these are the very qualities 21st-century leadership calls for.
Check If You’re Trusting in Talent and Team
It is ironic
that some of the leaders who ask most insistently that those who follow
should trust their vision without questions struggle themselves to trust
those around them. But trust is a leadership commodity increasing in value
by the day. Leaders who are unwilling to trust those they lead will never
see them break out of low-skill patterns of dependency: growth comes through
being given something to achieve.
talent!" is one of Tom Peters’s key principles for new-paradigm
leadership. Leaders need to see themselves increasingly as those who
recruit, resource, and release the gifted people who are going to get the
job done, rather than as the lone heroes who are out to achieve.
complex control systems, micromanagement of tasks, and an atomistic approach
to delegation will all serve to stifle initiative and suffocate talent.
Charles Handy speaks of the creation of a "culture of consent."
"Whereas the heroic manager of the past knew all, could do all and
could solve every problem, the post-heroic manager asks how every problem
can be solved in such a way that develops other people’s capacity to
handle it. It is not virtuous to do it this way, it is essential."11
How might the culture of our organizations change if every leader were
asked to walk, each day, through a doorway over which is written the words
"I am not the answer"?
If these four
challenges offer a framework within which to reevaluate the approach to
leadership in the light of a culture in transition, there is at least one
further attribute essential to the effective leader: a focus on the future.
Focus on the
In a sermon
given to a group of priests in his care, Archbishop Oscar Romero touched on
the very essence of effective leadership. "It helps, now and then, to
step back and take the long view," he said. "The Kingdom is not
only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our
lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s
work. … We are prophets of a future not our own."
is not about a focus on the future, what is it about? In a culture in
transition, leaders are by definition those who see the future first—and
those who are prepared to work for deferred rewards. Our culture is crying
out for leaders, regardless of gender, age, and social background, who are
ready to look ahead, to grasp intuitively the outlines of an emerging
landscape and to chart a course that they and those who travel with them can
To chart such
a course will mean, very often, to miss out on the rewards of staying put.
There will be many in leadership who are just not ready for a frontier-town
culture, who have invested too heavily in the acquired status of a settled
life. But there will be others—some thrown into leadership for the first
time—who thrive on the gold-rush mentality of social change and bring a
flood of new thinking to their responsibilities. These are the leaders who
will break the cultural ice and blaze a trail into the future. Given the
choice, which leaders would you follow?
a call for the Christian faith community to focus on a future not our own,
to invest our emotions, our intellect, our strength, and our resources in
the lives of the rising generations. They—and only they—have the right
and responsibility to bring to birth a church for the 21st century. They do
so in the sure knowledge that the God they worship is out there already,
walking the planet, tasting its cultures, swimming in its streams. Our
strategy must not be for survival but for rebirth. Not the church we know
today protected into its old age, but a new church born in the fields of
tomorrow—a church that springs up from the ground on which, unknowing, we
have thrown seeds.
Magnusson, Lindisfarne: The Cradle Island.
Ford, Jesus for a New Generation: Reaching Out to Today’s Young
Thomas, Future Leader: Spirituality, Mentors, Context and Style for
Leaders of the Future.
Pearse, introduction to Who’s
Partridge, "Spring Harvest."
Thomas, introduction to Future Leader.
Buford, "When the Horse Is Dead, Dismount."
Twenty-First Century Pastor.
9. Quoted in
"Leadership into the 21st Century," The Times (London).
10. David A.
Handy, The Age of Unreason.
© 1999, 2000 Gerard Kelly. Taken from RetroFuture, soon to be
published in the U.S. by InterVarsity Press. Originally published in Britain
a Grip on the Future. Used by permission of
is a writer, speaker, missionary, youth worker, and poet living in the West
Midlands, U.K. He chairs the youth and rage programs of an outreach ministry
called Spring Harvest. He and his wife, Chrissie, have four children.