I suppose it has always been difficult to be a leader. But, it seems that leadership in our day is even more challenging that it may have ever been.
Internet access has turned everyone into an instant expert on every imaginable topic. The frenetic speed of life has rendered serious reflection a lost art and made open, respectful communication almost impossible. The incredible complexities and challenges of human affairs have left leaders often feeling completely paralyzed. The demise of institutional loyalty has left all leaders in a constantly precarious position.
It is tempting to give up on the idea of leadership. But human communities seem to require some kind of leadership. Leaderless communities deteriorate quickly into chaos.
In a recent letter to the Anglican clergy of the Diocese of British Columbia, speaking about the prospects of the church for the future, Gary Nicolosi wrote,
First, it’s all about leadership. A church may not grow with an effective leader but it certainly will not grow without one.
Later in the letter Gary goes on to describe the quality he believes is essential for leadership in the church today.
a flat church ministers best in a flat world. Pyramid leadership is out, circle leadership is in. Ownership and participation in decision-making are crucial to the success of any venture in ministry. Quite simply, we need more bottom up leadership and less top down leadership, putting a premium on relationships rather than regulations.
Sadly, almost everything about Anglican Church culture speak of our continuing addiction to hierarchy. Most of our practices point to “pyramid leadership,” rather than “circle leadership.” We relish honorific titles. We flaunt elaborate liturgical functions and vestments for those who have risen to the top of the ecclesiastical pile. We continue to design church buildings that communicate a rigidly hierarchical understanding of worship. We bestow ultimate decision-making veto upon a few isolated individuals who are at the top of the organizational structure.
The first task in establishing “flat leadership” is the most difficult, but also the most important. We must be willing to deconstruct hierarchy. We must examine every aspect of our life together and ask how this function reinforces an outmoded vision of leadership. We must let go of any symbols that suggest a particular individual has been set apart/above the rest of the community. We must surrender special perks or privileges that attach to a person based upon their position and their institutional role rather than their person and their individual integrity.
This process of deconstruction must never stop. One of the main dangers with hierarchical leadership is that leaders in the hierarchy use their position to protect themselves from criticism. Circle leadership begins when the leader steps down from the position of privilege to be present among the people. Circle leaders must communicate to those among whom they serve that they are open, even eager, to be challenged, to receive criticism, and correction. Leaders who cannot be questioned put themselves and their organizations at grave risk.
The leader who is going to enable the deconstruction of hierarchy must possess a deep and profound personal security. This security will not be realized by looking to performance evaluation, professional affirmation or the “success” of a particular organizational function in the structure of the church.
The stable inner security that is the essential basis for “flat leadership” will only be found by those who discover their true identity deeply rooted in their relationship to God. As a leader I must know that before I do anything, before I achieve anything, before I fail at anything, I am a valuable beautiful child of the living God. Nothing can take from me this core reality of my true identity.
In order to rest securely in this true identity, leaders in the church must have a rich interior life. This may sound so obvious as to be unnecessary to state. But, tragically, the demand for church leaders to perform their professional function and to serve the institution effectively, often crowds out the necessary time, energy, and commitment that are the essential ground for a rich consciousness of God’s presence.
Personal spiritual practice is vital to living church leadership. Showing up to lead worship week after week, is not personal spiritual practice. Personal spiritual practice occurs in quiet time alone in which the only intention is to open to God. It takes time and dedication for a church leader to show up regularly for spiritual practice, with no added professional incentive. Church leadership will never shift to a new vibrant model until churches insist that their leaders take the necessary time to be people of private prayer, meditation, worship, and study.
The problem with hierarchy is that hierarchy is our default position in the absence of real power. Real power does not come from the trappings of office or the canons of the church. Real power emerges naturally from a living relationship with God. Developing this relationship is the only place to begin the process of transforming our practice of leadership in the church.