We started with half the group reading the story of Ezra and the other half the story of Nehemiah. Both men were leaders dealing with the same set of issues: the reconstruction of Jerusalem; outside threats; the mulishness of the people. But when faced with the don't-wannas from those they were leading, the two men react very differently. Ezra tears his garments and prostrates himself in the Temple to plead for the people; Nehemiah drags them around by the beard and makes them obey.
Part of the reason for their different approaches to leadership is their different roles: Ezra is a priest, Nehemiah a commander. Part of it, too, may be due to personality. In either case, there are several leadership styles which various leaders might adopt in a given situation. But choosing one which works for you (in your role as laity or clergy, or to suit your personality) is not the substance of leadership.
The functions of leadership we covered were:
Vision;The mistake so many new clergy make is to assume that they were called to be "Agents of Change." They get right down to practical politics, attempting to broker deals which will get the people to go where (in the leader's opinion) they ought to go. Brokering the deal is, in fact, the least important of the functions of leadership.
Brokering the Deal.
Years ago, I wrote a testimony to a young man's leadership for an Eagle Court of Honor. I said of him that he had discovered that "real leadership is not getting other people to go where you want them to go, but knowing with intense clarity where you want to go -- and then taking responsibility for all those who will wind up following you there."
Vision is about your obedience to God, not theirs. "I'm going to that mountain" will inspire others to follow you. Then you have to do something, since you can't just let them starve. Moses is called to the mountain, and winds up having to organize a confused and recalcitrant people that have followed him. Luther posts a challenge to academic debate, and then has to scramble to take care of all the questions raised by those who have rushed to follow him into a reformed Church that does not yet exist. Wesley is astounded by the throngs attending his field preaching and comes up with the class meeting system to conserve a harvest greater than he expected.
Leaders are also guardians. Lay members of the congregation are given leadership by dint of their devotion to the values and well-being of the congregation over many years. They are not elected, but "called." And even if they don't currently hold an office, they remain leaders until they die or move away. Ray Sells likened this to a man on top of a mountain pass with a rifle looking down on a cowboy attempting to lead his herd through the pass. The man with the gun controls whether the cowboy succeeds. In the analogy, his weapon is the congregation's trust, which they have placed in his hands.
The primary responsibility of these leaders is to give or withhold permission. Trying to get around them or outvote them is useless. You can't tiptoe past the dragon's cave. You must either win them over or give up. Clergy also have a guardianship responsibility, but it is not to the local congregation, but to the congregation of the clergy, to "the faith once delivered to the saints," and to be a "steward of the mysteries of God."
This function of leadership is the specialty of the ordained minister. It is not exclusive to us, since all Christians have a priestly ministry to each other; nevertheless, we do formally and constantly what others usually do informally and occasionally. Consider the honor done to the new minister who is asked to preside at a wedding or a funeral for someone he barely knows. Why should I be so included in someone's family event, when I have done nothing yet to earn a place in their affections? It is because of the place I hold in their spiritual lives.
The clergy represent God to the people, and the people to God. We represent (and reconcile) people to each other. That is our privilege. When I stand at the Table or the Font, I stand at the nexus of all those relationships: God to his people; the people to God; the people to each other. What I say and do in worship or the hospital or in the counseling room counts, as does my attendance at events where I am invited as a courtesy. Gung-ho clergy sometimes give this short shrift, thinking that "getting things done" is what is important. But neglecting this function of leadership simply hinders you when you're trying to lead in other ways.
Brokering the Deal
Finally, there is the art of persuasion and the playing of church politics. Both are necessary when big decisions are afoot; I would say, though, that this is the least important function of leadership in the local church, whether by clergy or laity. And a lot could be said about this, but more needs to be said about the higher functions of leadership, and this post is already long enough.