Three Dimensions of Leadership for Growing (and Dying) Churches!
Last month, I offered a brief introduction to a wonderful book on leadership by Tod Bolsinger entitled Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (InterVarsity Press, 2018). One significant feature of the Bolsinger’s book is his contribution to thinking about the sort of leadership needed in congregational contexts today. When I say congregational contexts, I am speaking of churches that are likely aging and in significant decline. And I am also speaking of young churches that are experiencing vitality and life. Both kinds of churches need the things that Bolsinger offers!
What are those things? Bolsinger names three vital dimensions that need to be in play for leaders. First is the dimension of technical competence. Bolsinger reminds us that even in new and uncertain times, churches still need certain basic things done well. Faithful stewardship, handling the nuts and bolts of congregational care and life, the ability to maintain effective, streamlined decision-making, and caring for the unseen and unexpected crises that emerge all matter. Leaders must be trusted to do what the congregation has hired or affirmed them to do. Without technical competence, a church will be unwilling to try new things or step out in faith toward a new future.
Second, leaders must demonstrate relational coherence. Undergirding all congregational life and vitality is the reality of strong, meaningful relationships. Relational coherence refers to the credibility, connectedness, and character that leaders must possess in order to facilitate and nurture trust. Relationships must cohere; that is to say, relationships need to reflect honesty and authentic empathy. A lack of solid relationships will severely limit the capacity to engage a church with mission.
Third, leaders need adaptive capacity. This dimension refers to the ability to get on the balcony and see the big picture. Having seen the bigger picture, then the task is to undertake an experiment and try something that might extend mission. Being adaptive means being willing to take a risk, to try something new and then learn about it. It can also mean looking at reality and reframing something that may appear to be a bad thing and seeing the opportunity that lies latent within it.
When leaders possess all three of these dimensions and practice them, churches will have leaders who are well positioned to pay attention to God’s preferred future. More than that, those leaders will be well positioned to act as dynamic partners with God in kingdom activity. May God bless you as you develop your technical competence, your relational coherence, and your adaptive capacity, all for the sake of God’s work in the world!