“I Don’t Know How To Lead People”

Last week a friend said to me, “I don’t know how to lead people.” He’s a pastor– been one for 10 years.

Last month an Elder scribbled a note during a meeting of our Christian Education and Leadership Commission and slid it to me: “We’re not training any leaders!”

Yesterday I read this on the blog of ECO, the new Presbyterian denomination full of disgruntled former PC(USA) churches and leaders: “Churches rise and fall with their visions, and the vision usually hangs on the passion of the leadership teams.”

The question of leadership won’t leave me alone. On good days I almost relish the un-heirarchical structure of elected Ruling and Teaching Elders and the checks Presbyterian polity places on the lone leader’s freedom. But on bad days I despair that I’m not really leading and that mainline Protestantism as a whole is decaying from the inside out for a lack of leadership.

I know what I reject. I reject the ideal of the leader who casts a vision for her church, who produces with a select team a vision statement in which the bullet points all begin with the same letter, who pronounces a slogan and then single-mindedly rallies the faithful to follow it. To me, “Vision Casting” just feels . . . yucky.

There are other ideas about leadership out there that tickle me. Peter Block’s thing about leaders crafting and curating space for transformative conversations is compelling.  Missional Leadership trusts that “The future of the people of God is among the people of God,” and that feels right. The Adaptive Leadership school’s focus on technical vs. adaptive challenges and the need for leaders to know the difference is hard to argue with. Edwin Friedman’s insistence on self-differentiation as a primary leadership trait rings very, very true. And, of course, the community organizer style of leadership promoted by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is concrete and full of powerful potential.

But what is this? A buffet?

I hear my friend’s confession about not knowing how to lead people, and I wonder if our training hasn’t in some sense failed us. On the whole, I don’t see a lot of enthusiastic leadership development in the mainline. Evangelicalism seems much more clear about what its leaders are supposed to do: cast a vision for ministry and rally followers. Frankly, evangelicalism also seems more effective at producing leaders who do that very thing. But that feels to me like a very bland version of leadership. I don’t like it. I want something else.

Is there a style of leadership for the NEXT iteration of mainline protestantism? Or are mainline leaders left to pick from the Amazon “Leadership” section? Is the IAF the best thing going for training leaders in mainline churches?

What’s the model of leadership for the mainline for, say, the next two decades?