In the previous three sections, we discussed the idea that leadership is a manifestation of our character and who we are as leaders. As such, leadership is an internal characteristic. We also discussed how leadership can be identified as it emerges in various character traits or gift clusters. In the last section we also discussed the worship leader’s influence on the congregation and the high biblical expectations for church leaders. Now we will be turning our attention to the various stages of leadership from emergence to when the leader concludes their ministry by passing the torch.
Many spiritual leaders know they are called but have nebulous ideological and philosophical understandings of their specific calling. Because of this, emerging leaders have difficulty discerning what is needed to mature their gift effectively and how they will fulfill their ministry goals and their destiny. The reason God’s direction and call on the leader is hard to determine is twofold. First, spirituality itself is defined in abstract terms such as sanctification, justification, devoted follower of Christ, new creature in Christ; all have different meanings depending on the person and their context. Secondly, our view of the future is, at best, dim (1 Cor. 13:12). Because we don’t know these details, we daily seek direction from God in a living and vital relationship. This daily discipline forms the context of the emerging leaders call. However, while the leader’s spirituality originates in their relationship with God, it is also expressed outwardly to those around them. The leaders spirituality is the sum of their experiences in a destined, gifted and empowered relationship with the living God. Spiritual leaders become tangible and discernable reflections of their spirituality, vision and destined purpose which, in turn, inspires others to seek their own spiritual maturity.
Robert Clinton, in his book The Making of a Leader, focuses on the leader’s previous experiences as indicators of their future ministries and influences. He recommends emerging leaders plot out a time/life line for the purpose of revealing their state of preparation. Clinton asserts that there are six maturation phases of leadership. Below are his first three stages of leader emergence:
1. Sovereign foundations where God providentially works through family, environment, and historical events beginning at birth to create the leader’s personality and characteristics.
2. Inner-life growth where the leader learns the importance of praying and hearing God. The leader will grow in discernment, understanding, and obedience.
3. Ministry maturing where the emerging leader begins to reach out to others. Ministry is becoming their focus. Through the various opportunities to serve and minister, the leader can identify his or her gift and skill mix. They also become introduced to a greater cross section of the Body of Christ allowing them to express their gifts in different styles and cultures.
During these three phases, God strengthens the leader’s character by testing their integrity, obedience and their authority. As they grow, leaders develop the foundational elements of their ministry, call and focus.
While they are emerging, Edwin Friedman adds the leader, in order to be effective, must become “self-differentiated.” Self-differentiation is knowing one is somehow separated while remaining connected to the group they lead; it creates a boundary that defines where the connection to the group ends and where the independence from the group, as a leader, begins. On one hand, being self-differentiated from a group conflicts with the groups fundamental nature to desire togetherness. On the other hand, the leader, in order to lead, cannot remain simply a member of the group. Therefore the leader must balance the amount of separation from and togetherness with the group in order to be “separate” enough to lead but “together” enough to remain part of the group.
Friedman summarizes this concept in his book, Generation to Generation – Family Process in Church and Synagogue, “If a leader will take primary responsibility for his or her own position as ‘head’ and work to define his or her own goals and self, while staying in touch with the rest of the organism, there is a more than reasonable chance that the body will follow. There may be initial resistance but, if the leader can stay in touch with the resisters, the body will usually go along.” This group’s resistance, which is usually expressed anxiety, applies a pressure toward homeostasis (a desire for things to remain the same and toward togetherness). This anxiety will continue to increase as long as it can affect and manipulate the leader. However, the leader must not respond to the anxiety and must project what Friedman calls a “non-anxious” presence, to allow and accept the anxious tension the group is projecting. In so doing, the group loses its power to manipulate the leader away from their self-differentiation from the group.
Many times emergence phases begin and end in what Robert Clinton calls “boundary conditions”. He defines a “boundary condition” as an instrument that brings a change from one phase to another resulting in a respective and usually growing sphere of influence together with an associated principle lesson or leadership value. For example, groups nearly always resist change. However, the group must change to grow otherwise it will become dysfunctional and die. The group’s opposition to change, and the affect the opposition has on the leader is a boundary condition. In this example, the boundary condition teaches the leader that sometimes God’s people resist His directions for change. Common boundaries include:
1. Entry – God directs and challenges the leader into ministry.
2. Training – God develops the leader’s skills and spiritual gifts to enhance affectivity. This is where the emerging leader begins to discover their gift sets or gift clusters. Often God challenges the leader with conflicts that are designed and intended to strengthen the conviction of their call.
3. Relational learning – God enables the leader to relate to authority and other people in motivating and influencing ways. Leaders sometimes have difficulty submitting to authority, especially an authority that tests of their maturity. Leadership backlash, which can be common in this phase of emergence, can be God’s instrument to teach perseverance, commitment and clarity of vision and faith.
4. Discernment – God helps the leader discern and apply spiritual principles that govern ministry. Knowing spiritual warfare strategies and discerning between principalities and powers, spiritual influence through oppression and possession, and the spiritual weapons and their use are key for leadership. God teaches the leader to pray for the spiritual protection of their ministry and the people in their sphere of influence. Ultimately the goal is a shift from doing ministry to being a minister which thereby releases spiritual authority through the leader.
Learning various avenues of guidance is very important to the emerging leader. Several ways of discerning God’s will are through many counselors (Proverbs 15:22), through God’s Word (Psalms 119:105), through direct revelation (Psalms 48:14), by acknowledging God’s ways (Proverbs 3:5), by humbleness (Psalms 25:9), by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), by a fleece (Judges 6:36-40) or double confirmation (a internal sense of God’s direction confirmed by another event or person), through divine interventions and contacts, through spiritual mentors/counselors, through conflict (as it opposes to God’s purposes) and divine affirmation. Regardless, the leader must actively seek guidance in all of its many forms. Possible sources may include fellowship with peers, reading books and magazines, particularly biography of Christian leaders and the disciplines of silence and solitude.
After a leader emerges, Robert Clinton outlines three stages of the life of a leader. They are:
1. Life maturing is where the leader is in a satisfying ministry mode and they are learning how to be effective and efficient. They learn what to do and what not to do.
2. Convergence where God moves the leader into a role that matches their gift mix and experience so that ministry is maximized
3. Afterglow where the leader has built up a lifetime of contacts and continues to exert influence in their relationships.
Since our scope is on emerging leaders, we will leave this discussion of maturing leaders for another time. Nevertheless, it needs to be said that maintaining your spiritual health is of primary importance in every stage of leadership. This includes maintaining a balance between ministry and personal spiritual maintenance and a balance between relationships where you exert influence and where you submit to other’s influence. This is exactly what Jesus did. As leaders our attention is drawn to Jesus’ ministry and conversations and sometimes we overlook His periods of rest, solitude, isolation, and recreation. I like the saying “How can you expect to do the things Jesus did unless you do the things that Jesus did.”
We maintain our physical health by disciplined exercise, rest and diet and regular medical check ups. We maintain our emotional health by monitoring our feelings, talking to friends about our feelings, learning about our own emotional response and excising personal disciplines and boundaries that control the influences of people and life events around us. In the same way we maintain our physical and emotional health through discipline, we maintain our spiritual health through spiritual disciplines. These include:
1. Bible study – daily reading with reflection and times of personal exegetical Bible study.
2. Daily prayer with an emphasis of being silent for a time to allow your inner voice to communicate with the still small voice of God,
3. Worship (both corporate and private).
4. Fellowship (this includes time with the general body of Christ and with a close circle of friends).
5. Solitude and isolation where you spend extended time alone and away from people.
6. Ministry where you give from the resources you’ve received.
7. Temporary self-denial to break the grip of the world from your character and identity (food, money, work, sex for married couples, etc.).
Before leaving the topic of spiritual disciplines, we should understand that it is impossible to do every discipline every day, every week and every year. Emphases change with respect to your life needs and the spiritual seasons you may be in. As an example, if you are in a summer spiritual season focusing daily or weekly on the disciple of isolation will be counter productive. While this discipline should not be forgotten, an emphasis on ministry and fellowship would be appropriate. On the other hand, it would equally counter productive to emphasize the discipline of ministry in a spiritual season of winter; it would be better to focus on solitude, isolation, temporary self-denial and prayer.
To summarize, Godly leadership is a manifestation of the internal gifts and characteristics within God’s sovereignly chosen leader that are express in the context of a group fulfilling its mission. Not only does God choose His leaders, He also empowers them to fulfill His call in their lives. However, with the call of leadership, comes the responsibility to live according to the principles found in 1 Timothy and Titus. Although at times if is difficult, the emerging leader must have a clearly defined sense of calling and recognize the reassurances of their leadership. Reassurances come in many forms, from being very spiritual and perhaps subjective in nature to being very tangible and concrete. Leadership is strengthened by continued service and obedience. Finally, leaders are to look for the gift and call of leadership in others. The effective maturing leader will find themselves developing leadership gifting in others.
Think About It
1) Plot a timeline that shows Robert Clinton’s first three leader emergence steps. Include the situations (boundary conditions) that tested and secured each of the three steps.
2) From your own experience (both as a leader and a follower) describe in detail the leadership conflict of balancing being differentiated enough to lead but together with the group enough to be considered part of it. In what ways was the group’s anxiety expressed? How did (could) the leader remain a “non-anxious” presence?
3) How does God speak to you (pray, journaling, mediation, scripture, worship, through other people…)? Which is the most predominant? Start arranging your devotional life such that there is an emphasis in the predominant methods of communication.
4) When is the last time you spent 3 to 4 hours alone with God simply to be with Him? Begin to schedule your spiritual discipline. Write out a daily schedule for the next week that includes bible devotional reading and a time of quietness before God (preferably when you are awake). Write a weekly schedule that will include tithing, ministry, fasting and a time of personal bible study that is not preparation for any ministry. Write a monthly schedule that includes a least one time where you will spend at least 3 hours secluded away from everything around you to be in God presence only. Finally jot on your annual calendar at least 4 times where you dedicate a full day of being with the Lord alone and away from everything else. Start keeping a record of what God speaks to you and the ways you discern His voice.
(1) Clinton, Robert, The Making of a Leader, NavPress, Colorado Springs © 1988. p. 44-45, summarized by John White.
(2)Friedman, Edwin. “Reinventing Leadership” VHS video, Guilford Publications, NY.
(3)Friedman, Edwin. Generation-to-Generation, Family Process in Church and Synagogue. Guilford Press, NT. 1985, p. 229.
(4)Clinton, Robert. The Making of a Leader. NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1988. p. 121 – summarized by John White.
(5)Clinton, Robert. The Making of a Leader. NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1988. p. 46-48.