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Leadership in its right place

For the past 25-30 years our culture has been engaging in a crisis of leadership. Whether in government, business, or church, the topic of leadership has been the mainstay of reading, study, seminars, and academia. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. One doesn’t have to look very far to grasp this: my internet search engine listed over 35 million items/topics/references/books/seminars when I typed “leadership into the little search engine box – lots of good stuff for sale. My library bookshelf is filled with books on the topic of leadership. A recent issue of Leadership Journal had sixteen new books on te topic of leadership advertised; five of the furteen Bible Colleges and Seminaries who advertised had something to say about preparing church leaders. We are consumed and obsessed with leadership theories, models and practices.

In the not-so-distant past when I was an “Operations Leader” in Search and Rescue, I had a baseball cap with two bills sewed on to each side of the hat. For comic relief I would wear the cap to the monthly team meetings that I presided over as president. On the front of the cap it said, “I’m their leader…which way did they go?”

The humor releases a certain underlying anxiety that comes with the role of being a leader. And all the talk about “leadership” does reveal certain anxiety – particularly in the church. Sometimes I get the feeling there’s a mythical ghost in the shadows of our churches whispering weird messages when it comes to all this leadership stuff. It goes something like this: if we get our leadership RIGHT (whatever THAT means), the church will be “right” …. or “OK” …. or “fixed” …. or “on track” …. or __________________ (you fill in the blank). Leadership is often touted (or blamed) as the answer to what lacks in the church today. And yes, leaders have been and are the easy targets – they’re easily spotted on our radars!

I believe the anxiety with regard to leadership issues runs very deep into the fabric of our souls. The church (along with government and family) for many centuries in western civilization was a central pillar to our modern society (1500-2000 A.D.). However, we are laving modernity and its philosophical presuppositions behind, and as a consequence, the church has been displaced and marginalized. Simply put, for most of the populace in our culture, nobody cares about who the church is and what it does. FOr those of us in the church, particularly those of us in leadership, that experience of being marginalized by culture at large creates a lot of anxiety. Why? Because we are no longer significant (as a central or important and valued part of culture). So perhaps all the hub-bub about leadership is really about us attempting to move back into the mainstream of culture – to have value and significance, to re-capture our special place we’ve had in the past. And we all know that repeating the past usually doesn’t work too well in living out the future.

Now I realize I’ve made some sweeping generalizations with the above assertions. However, if you are, or have been in a leadership role in the last twenty years of the church, what I’ve written will make a great deal amount of sense. And that prompts an old, modern question: So what do we do now? Well, because I’m a romantic, modern, “old-fashioned” kind of guy, I think the ancient writings of God are a great place for wisdom. And a great verse to deal with anxiety is Philippians 4:6-7:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe leadership in the Church is more about praying for healthy anxiety management than technique. Perhaps it’s more about humility before God than knowing the right direction to take. May prayer be the central hallmark of leadership in Jesus’ Church.

© 2008 Dr. Russ Veenker

Dr. Russ Veenker has over thirty years of formal ministry experience having served as a youth minister, interim pastor, church-planting pastor, chaplain, church and para-church consultant, and conference speaker. Some of these ministry positions have been concurrent with his work at the Mountain Learning Center.

He is a graduate of both Dallas Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary where the special emphasis of his doctoral studies has been the care of clergy. Russ’s academic and clinical expertise is comprehensive to theological anthropology: balancing the human condition midst the stresses and hazards of vocational ministry is his passon. He is a frequent speaker at clergy gatherings and is known for his competency discussing and equipping ministry leaders in addressing areas of personal health with such topics as stress and burnout; depression; anxiety; sexuality; psycho-social developmental transitions; marriage/family development; and ministering to troubled individuals with personality disorders.