Leaders Who Last

Longevity is the key to an effective life – well it’s certainly the key to a long life!! But gentle humour aside, I’ve become fascinated by the correlation between a long term commitment to a job and its success.

Peter Baker | 21:57, Thursday, 03 March 2011

Maybe this interest is because I’m well into my third decade as a Christian leader. Therefore I’m aware that older age can make us both long and short sighted at the same time!

But the question remains: how do we keep on keeping on, when faced with all sorts of temptations to give up, walk away or find something else to do?

Commitment phobia is an increasing phenomenon in the West, and the condition affects so many areas. The cult of the narcissistic individual, whose attention span often appears smaller than a gnat, means very often that in a job I’m in it for as long as it suits me or until I get a better offer.

Another feature that militates against the long term view is the irritatingly modern concept that things can always be done quickly. In our youth we tend to re-write history as if Rome can definitely be built in a day.

My particular concern here though is longevity amongst Christian leaders. I well remember Kent Hughes, formerly Senior Minister of College Church Wheaton, saying about his decision to become the Pastor of that strategic pulpit, “I wanted to plant my life into the ministry of College Church.”

Of course, leaders can overstay their welcome and need to know when it’s time to leave the stage. But the greater problem, it seems to me, is Christian leaders who live by the revolving door principle; no sooner are they in, than they’re out!

Not that I am unaware of the price all leaders pay in Christian ministry in terms of loneliness, misunderstanding, ungenerous churches and unrealistic role expectations.  It’s a tough call and too many good people have been wounded fatally by friendly fire.

But I’m after those gold standard values that will give traction to a  Pastor’s effectiveness in ministry. What makes leaders who last?

Here’s just one principle to begin with: leaders who last rarely suffer from metathesiophobia (the fear of change).
“Change is here to stay,” is not just a mantra of modernity, it’s a reality which leaders in particular must come to terms with. If you don’t, you’ll die slowly but painfully of irrelevance.

Now ‘relevance’ itself is not without its detractors. Relevant to whom and for how long, we ask? We all know that if you are married to this generation you’ll be a widow in the next.

So this is not a plea for pragmatic relevance. Leaders who last know the difference between a fad and a paradigm shift.

Specifically, leaders with long legs know that the leadership game has changed, as the following table demonstrates:

Past Leaders

Future Leaders

     Operate in committees
     Command and Control
     Degreed and Elected
     Linear and Pyramidical
     Share propositional truth
     People of the written page   
     Tightly structured
     Emphasise position
      Operate in teams
      Permission Giving
      Gifted and Called
      Overlapping Circles
      Tell Stories
      People of the screen
      Highly flexible
      Emphasise empowerment


Now, I’m not saying that all these changes are either good or necessarily inevitable for every current Christian leader. The point is that no leader who hopes to be in the game meaningfully in the future can pretend that these are not the new realities on the block.
And if we don’t at least understand them, then we will become dinosaurs appealing to a narrowing band of equally dodo like people.

Leaders who last accept that change happens, and work to stay true to their core conviction as they adapt. Unlike the Octogenarian Deacon who, on being asked at the Church anniversary by a local news reporter to comment on all the changes he’d seen in his church over the years said, “Yes, there have been many changes. And I’m proud to say that I’ve been against every single one of them!” 
That’s metathesiophobia, and in some cases it is killing the Church and marginalizing leaders.


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