Last month we explored leadership as relational work—shepherding to nurture emotional and spiritual well-being. This month we turn to another dimension of leadership: paying attention to God. In any group or organization, one of the critical aspects of leadership is asking the important questions, “Where are we headed?” and “What is our goal?” Such questions shape strategic thinking and mission.
However, as congregational leaders, the question is quite different. The difference is critical, and it is one of the reasons why church leaders often find themselves frustrated and uncertain. The usual practices of leadership in organizations do not apply to the big question.
As the church—as God’s people—the big question is not, “Where are we headed?” but “Where is God headed?” This turns the task of vision work and strategic thinking on its head. Great congregational leaders are not necessarily savvy visionaries or brilliant communicators or great strategists, though these are wonderful gifts God uses. Instead, great congregational leaders are first and foremost prayerful disciples intent on knowing God’s will for their own lives and for the lives of the congregations they have been called to lead.
Because Christ is the head of the church, and because God is redeeming humankind through the witness of the church, the task of leaders is to pay close attention to God’s leadership. One way to speak of this is with the term “interpretive leadership.” To pay attention to God, congregational leaders are constantly engaged in interpretive work—listening to the Word and listening for the Spirit’s prompting so they might follow.
Here are some examples of what interpretive leadership looks like:
- Leaders spend time in Scripture interpreting the voice of God, first for themselves and then for the church.
- Leaders interpret contextual realities—what is happening in our town, our city, and our culture that 1) creates opportunity for the gospel to be heard or 2) requires the response of God’s grace.
- Leaders also are interpreting the story and legacy of their own congregations. They ask, “When have we been faithful to God’s will and purpose, and when have we turned inward and been negligent to God’s prompting?”
- Leaders prayerfully listen and watch for the work of the Holy Spirit. If God is up to something, then faithfulness requires us to follow along!
If you are a leader in a congregation, I suggest that the best and most important thing you could do for your congregation is to commit yourself to being a prayerful disciple. In order to grow—to really grow as teams of leaders—the challenge will be to create space for leaders to find good ways of asking and exploring the questions, “What is God up to in our community?” and “What is God’s preferred future for our church?”
I believe that in times of renewal God will raise up such leaders. Will you be in that number?
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.