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Leadership, leadership, leadership.

We hear this mantra all the time, especially in the church. In fact, these 3 words were tweeted by Bishop Scott Jones on the opening night of General Conference 2012 as he reflected on the most important factors in United Methodist renewal.

Though acknowledged as crucial, we might profitably ask, “What kind of leadership? What does Christian leadership, church leadership, clergy-and-lay leadership look like?” …especially given the surfeit of models in existence today.

In my experience, resources for ecclesiastical leadership are in short supply, as compared to businesses and political parties and military units. No hire-and-fire power; punitive powers are severely circumscribed; offers of monetary gain or celebrity prestige are scarce. As a pastor, I simply don’t have many leadership tools. I have words. I have signs. And that’s about it.

Among the historic items from the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History are a Bible and glasses owned by Frances Asbury and a Communion chalice used by Phillip William Otterbein. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry. All Rights Reserved.

And they aren’t even mine. I’m completely dependent on the apostolic church and the grace of Jesus Christ for these words and signs. What I say in a sermon is inspired by the Holy Spirit, whether typed out on my iPad or read from Scripture. Bathing with water, lifting up bread and cup: this is a ministry born out of creation that stems from Almighty God, not from my own might.

And if I have any personal charisma, if I have a special gift for teaching, if I have some vision or force of will, then these come directly from God and are expressly for God’s purposes in the Kingdom.

As a result, when the church talks about leadership, it invokes that great wisdom from St Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In the Wesleyan tradition, we have certain peculiar things to say about leadership. It is an expression of the mission of God. Even in its strongest forms, it exists within covenant community. It isn’t about subjecting others to a superior idea or expression, but mutually submitting in the Christlike love of the church.

The leadership question is being asked right now at General Conference:
+ about the need for a CEO & board members in a restructured general agency;
+ about developing a new cadre of principled Christian leaders for the church & the world;
+ about having a bishop set aside from presiding over an annual conference in order to focus & implement our ministry globally;
+ and more. You might even say that it’s the implicit concern in each piece of legislation.

Is there a fundamental difference between being a pastor or lay leader in the United Methodist Church, and being a regional sales manager in a large corporation? Being a franchise owner-operator? The answer is “Yes.” The church doesn’t manufacture widgets, sell eternal fire insurance, or provide services or entertainment at 40,000 locations worldwide. We disciple people in the way of Jesus.

So Christian leadership has a different content, which is already predetermined by the pattern of Jesus Christ. And it has everything to do with what the church does week in and week out.

So say it this way: Christianity is a meal fellowship. And ministry is table service. There are certainly other ways it could be said. Christianity is a great washing, for example, with our meetings being a constant reimmersion in that bath. Or Christianity is a movement around a Word that does what it says. But, for thinking about what a pastor is, what a pastor does, how a pastor lives, this old image may help. A pastor serves tables. (Gordon Lathrop, The Pastor: A Spirituality, p 73, emphasis added)

May we all–lay and clergy alike–be found faithful in our common service at the table which is not hosted by ourselves but by the Divine Servant. Amen.

Top image: Bishops celebrate communion during the April 24 opening worship service of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey. All Rights Reserved. http://www.flickr.com/photos/umcommunications/6965362738/in/set-72157629890409535

What is the content of leadership in the church…
…in the United Methodist Church?
Comment below!

About Josh Hale

Aren't we what we repeatedly love? My wife, being GeekDad to the 4 superkids, United Methodist pastoring, Texas, science fiction and other nerdy pursuits, words (speaking, listening, writing, reading), Britain, music, camping, tech, baseball, practicing theology. Jesus. Coffee.

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