In the Christian life, church leaders are followers as much as they are leaders. In the military, leaders have an objective (e.g. ‘take that hill’) and they use the resources at their disposal to achieve the objective. Business leaders, like military leaders, have an objective (increase shareholder value) and use their resources to achieve that objective. Church leaders do not have such clearly defined objectives.
Certainly, there are Christian objectives:
• Be more Christ-like
• Exhibit the fruits of the Spirit
• Listen to God
• ... etc.
However, these universal Christian objective are closer to values because they are not objective at all. They are subjective. ‘More Christ-like’ is a comparison. Does it mean ‘more Christ-like than you’? Or, does it mean ‘more Christ-like than I was yesterday, a week ago, or ten years ago’? Also, how do we define more?
I am always fascinated by Christian authors who connect management techniques to the church. Books like Effective Leadership for Congregations (a title I just made up) miss the spirit of being God’s church. As a person who studied management science, I believe that it can offer something to Christian life. Social science also can speak to congregational health. There are techniques that apply to organizations, whether they are sacred or secular.
Yet, there remains an element that distinguishes sacred leadership decidedly from secular leadership. This is what I call agile leadership. The leader follows God. Simultaneously, the leader organizes resources to inspire others to follow God. If this were it, it could be summarized in a word picture:
God -> Church Leader -> Congregation
Agile leadership is not quite that simple because it requires flexibility. In traditions with a bottom-up theology (like Baptists), God speaks to everyone. A priest is not the exclusive conduit for God’s speech. God can speak through anyone.
Like Balaam flogging his donkey, the church leaders can miss God’s speech. A leader who discerns something as if from God, then ignores the congregant who offers sage words, falls into Balaam’s trap. The agile leader responds to the sagacious congregant, changes direction, and ends up following God.
Agile leadership is necessary in a world that changes quickly. What was unthinkable a generation ago (e.g. smartphones) is utterly commonplace today. The scope of agile leadership goes beyond the ever-increasing capacity Moore’s Law predicted. It includes moral dilemmas, ethical questions, and ideas that I cannot yet conceive. Being able to discuss new challenges is an inspiring aspect of agile leadership in twenty-first-century ministry.
As for me, I will follow the Lord, whether God’s speech comes from scripture, ancient wisdom, learned scholars, one of my Haitian students, a child, nature, or somewhere else. God still speaks. Agile leaders hear and respond.