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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Emerging Leaders and Our Congregations

I read an article recently on emerging types of leadership in the business and non-profit world. Compared to the traditionally hierarchical ways of structuring leadership and "climbing the ladder" in an organization, these newer styles appear to be:

  • more engaged with others in healthy relationships, 

  • less threatened when they are coached or are coaching, 

  • take greater responsibility and initiative in their organizations, 

  • are strategic and analytical, 

  • and are engaged in practical relationships to benefit the broader community.**

The article did not mention, but it's been noticeable in recent years, that newer leaders do not ask or expect to be promoted to leadership. They take it. They behave as leaders when they are not given the authority to do so. This is more than "fake it till you make it;" it's living into an ontology that is apparent to all but those who refuse to see it. By "being" a leader, one "is" a leader. Titles and salaries often follow, but not always. 

Likewise, recently we've all been inundated by articles challenging us to change our organizations, to expect change within our organizations, and to proactively release what no longer works while preserving what is truly valuable. 

Laudable articles. Not very practical. They rarely talk about anything tangible we can do. 

How do we weather change and adapt to a new environment long-term without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? 

Here at Grow+Small Church Consulting, that's our foundation, especially for smaller congregations. While we coach and consult on customized solutions, there are some things you can do right now. 

Let's look at leadership, for example. When we see a sea change in organizational leadership in society, we can expect it to impact our church organizations. 

Newcomers to our churches are likely to be influenced by newer styles of leadership. Perhaps you've noticed. This doesn't cause tension if there are just a few of them and if these newcomers agree to continue serving our congregations the way we are used to. 

But what happens when 60-80% of our congregation is populated by members who live by the newer leadership styles? 

Newcomers with emerging leadership styles will have innovative and highly participatory ideas for our traditional ministries. These ideas will be backed by hard evidence and a real plan. These ideas will connect the congregation with elements of the broader community in ways we never expected. 

Our newcomers who embrace newer leadership styles won't ask permission. They'll be respectful and highly ethical and have the best ideas and initiatives for the congregation, but they're not going to request permission. They are going to take their church membership seriously, lead with their lives, and it's going to be uncomfortable when they make decisions older members would never make. 

It's happening now, yes. But few shrinking mainline churches have an overwhelming percentage of these new leaders. 

There is a potential for conflict with the old style of leadership. Most of us have already had a taste. I promise there is more to come. 

The beautiful thing is that these new leaders will breathe new life into our congregations. But their leadership style will rattle our traditional way of doing things as we begin to transition from the old style to the new style of leadership. 

Now is the time to ponder this. Now is the time to come up with a response. I highly recommend we find a way to respond in a way that does not send these new leaders packing. Driving newcomers away is one way to grow smaller, but not a good way to Grow+Small. 

The plethora of plucky articles we read tell us that we can't remain "here." They tell us we can't go "back." And we know changes are coming. This is one of them. Just one. 

Today, let's tackle something practical. Let's look closely at this potential conflict in a time of change, and decide how we might respond. 

How? First, let's ask ourselves three questions: 

  1. Right now, how do we feel like responding to a change in leadership style? 

  2. After we walk around with this idea, how do we feel about this definite and increasing change that's coming?

  3. After a week of subconsciously chewing on the idea, what hope do we feel? What fear? What questions? 

The answers will likely be all different. That's okay. That's completely normal and healthy. And the answers will be the foundation for moving forward. 

Once we get to question three, we can have a conversation. We can admit our fears and hopes, and we can develop questions that will help us learn more. We can engage in conversation with new leaders, newcomers, and each other in ways that are vulnerable and healthy. We can avoid relatively minor conflicts when we have much more significant problems on our respective plates.  

Asking these questions about these issues takes a little time. But time is growing shorter. Let's take the time to decide how we are going to respond to the myriad of changes coming our way. It's something practical we can do. 

Today, let's start with our newer style of leadership. 

Share your answers below!

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