Three Circles of Leadership

To practice leadership effectively requires thoughtful imagination and the capacity to see beyond current patterns of behavior. I think that, left unexamined, leadership can quickly devolve into a reactive set of actions prompted by whatever crisis the day brings. So leaders become fixers; we fix the problems so that the trains run on time and all is predictable.

May I offer a more proactive frame for leadership? Following Mark Lau Branson and Juan Martínez, [1] I would propose that there are three broad actions that leaders take. First is the work of interpretive leadership.  Leaders are persons who seek to understand what is going on and why is it happening — in light of the gospel. Leaders shape and define reality by the way they view what is happening in their context, and they do this by consistently asking God-focused questions. What do these happenings mean in light of our call to bear witness to God’s work in the world?

Second, leaders engage in relational leadership. Effective leaders recognize that leadership fosters the liveliness of human dynamics. People need to be cared for, relationships need to be developed, new connections need to be created, and networks need to be established. The essential human dynamic of community life must be proactively shepherded.

Third, leaders practice implemental leadership. They serve the church’s mission by framing and reforming structures and systems that allow for ministry and work to flourish. Leaders seek to remove obstacles and create opportunities for ministry, worship, and discipleship. In so doing, God’s transforming work is unleashed.

These three forms of leadership — interpretive, relational and implemental — are like three circles that overlap each other. They are different sorts of actions — interpreting and communicating meaning, developing people and simplifying systems for ministry — yet they are intricately related to each other.

Perhaps a good question to ask today is, how are you practicing each of these three circles of leadership? What ways could you and the other leaders in your church practice these dimensions in ways that serve God’s mission?

[1] Branson, Mark Lau, and Juan F Martinez. Churches, Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2011.


Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.

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Author:  Publish Date: November 18, 2015

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
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