The Positional Directions of Leadership

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Church, General, Leadership, Ministry Ideas, Ministry Tools

Leadership is posture. The way in which leaders position themselves in relation to those they lead largely determines their leadership effectiveness. For example, “leading from out in front” is the normal leadership posture in the corporate world. Leaders gather with a team to formulate big ideas, and then cast those ideas out to the people, promoting buy-in and raising energy. “Out in front” leadership is good, necessary, and must always be done.

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A church, though, is a unique entity. Indeed, it is sui generis—no other organization compares. Consider this: in secular business, the CEO (manager, boss, etc) can demand action from employees, because he or she pays their salaries. Subordinates are financially dependent on leaders. In the church, the system reverses. The leaders demand action from members, often exhorting them to do things they resist doing, but the members pay their salaries. The leaders are financially dependent on the members! In churches that maintain a congregational church order, this “upside down” organizational motif expresses itself fully in that the final locus of authority—the final say—is not vested in the pastor, elders, staff, or deacons, but in the will of the congregation itself—in the membership.

The unique nature of the local church requires a leadership culture that goes beyond the “out in front” approach. Church leaders must embrace additional positional directions—two in particular.

First, leaders must “lead from beneath.” Simply put, church members won’t do what leaders want them to do unless they first see the leaders doing it. If leaders want church members to invite friends, reach out to the unchurched, mentor young people, and assist with various ministries, then leaders cannot exempt themselves from any of those activities. Obviously, leaders can’t bear the whole load, but they must be visible and—in some sense—involved in all capacities. So, if church leaders want to see small groups grow or make family ministries work, then they must be visible and active in the efforts. Fundamentally, leading from beneath is a “willing to wash feet” posture.

Second, leaders must “lead from within.” Often, within corporate culture, those at the top do not have a good view into the situations of those they lead, so when they make changes it only frustrates subordinates. For example, it’s easy for a leader to assume that a subordinate simply needs to shift the budget or make a planning adjustment but, without first-hand knowledge of the situation, the leader risks much. There is only way for leaders to avoid the “ivory tower” syndrome in which they become aloof from those they lead: leaders must find ways to listen—really listen. Pastoral leadership is face-to-face shepherding. It is the 99, and it is the 1.

Consider these positional directions of leadership, and ponder the way that you—as a leader—place yourself in relation to those you lead. Are you out in front, actively communicating vision? Are you leading from beneath, willing to put your own hands to work? Are you leading from within, listening intently so that you can lead more wisely? Remember, leadership is posture, and church leadership requires more than one posture.