The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. [Luke 22:26]

What is leadership and what are the characteristics of the kind(s) of leadership the church needs most today? How would you answer that question?

Take a moment to scratch a brief list or reflection before reading further.

In preparation for writing this little piece, I posted that question in two places on Facebook: the Facebook page I use in my role as bishopi and an ELCA Clergy Facebook page that includes just a shade under 4500 members.ii Some of the discussion was quite lively, even passionate.
A number of interesting characteristics emerged in the responses, many of which resonate with what I think the church needs from its leaders for the sake of God’s mission in this new day: deep listening, emotional health, contextual sensitivity, vision and vision-casting, courageous willingness to take risks and invite others to do likewise, deep commitment to tending the mission and caring for people, openness to otherness, encouragement and empowerment of others…

Two themes emerged that seem central to me. These two, in particular, ought to play a significant role in shaping how we support and develop transformational, missional leadership in the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory.

1. The church needs leaders who are passionate for and always being made new in Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world. Missional leaders do not just lead; they follow. They follow Jesus. They follow the way of his cross, the path established for them at baptism. With humility, leaders engage disciplines and experiences that draw them into the cruciform rhythms of repentance, forgiveness, death, and resurrection that are means of the comforting and transforming power of God’s grace in their lives.

2. The church needs leaders who draw the community’s energy and attention toward the deep conversions needed in the life of the church for the sake of God’s mission in the world. Leadership is not just about technique or tinkering.

Leadership in the way of the cross is more like what Ron Heifitz calls “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive.”iii Leaders tend to transformation of the processes, relationships, cultural changes, and shared practices necessary for the community of the baptized to repent, find forgiveness, and faithfully follow Jesus into the world as it is today.

How does your local faith community encourage and support local leaders in their walk with Christ and in their focus on the deep reformation of the congregation’s life in Christ?

How might we do that more faithfully and effectively for one another across this great mission territory?

+ Bishop Bill Gafkjen

i Simply “like” to have access. My posts here are also tweeted via Twitter.
ii This is a “closed” group, to which one must be invited by a member. This may well be the single largest “gathering” of ELCA rostered leaders in the country.
iii With Alexander Grashow & Marty Linsky, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2009), p. 14.