Discerning Leadership in the 21st Century

What characteristics are necessary for effective congregational leadership in the 21st century? If you asked that question in the 20th century you might get responses like: has a firm, take charge attitude or has the ability to get people to follow your vision for the church. Or maybe, has the ability to keep everyone satisfied. I remember sitting through a couple of interviews over the years where these very traits were lifted up as ones I should have as a pastor. I didn’t think so then and I still don’t.

I find focusing on these traits puts the emphasis on the leader and what he or she is and embodies. That’s not where our focus should be in the church. The number one focus of a congregational leader should be his or her relationship with God and discernment. It would mean leading from a place of more deeply connecting with God and God’s intentions for us and for our congregations rather than on our own agendas and desires.

When you think about it, we’ve had things backwards for a long time: Leading from our selfish desires rather than leading from God’s desires for our faith communities. We continuously forget the church isn’t our, it’s Christ’s.

Leadership that acknowledges whose church it really is means we need to trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit both in and outside of our buildings. It also means that we need a strong relationship with God so that we can more deeply listen and recognize where we are being led. Leading from a place of discernment looks very different than leading from a place of casting your own vision and enlisting people to follow your plan.