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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Leadership: Art or Craft?

Jesus of Nazareth once said, "Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." (Luke 12.51, NRSV) Those are probably the most true words he ever spoke...at least if we are looking at the empirical evidence we have from his followers over the past 2000 years...there are divisions of Christians everywhere, and very little peace. I guess when you speak as many words as he did you have to be right sometimes?

But--Christian division aside--(and this is not a big deal for me as I figure God will get it all sorted out at the end) what the verse does pose is a question of leadership. (As I teach leadership within Luther Seminary's Congregational Mission and Leadership program...check it out...Luthersem.edu...I ponder leadership questions a lot). The question is: how do you lead amidst division rather than peace? In other words, how do you lead in conflict, or as my colleagues at Church Innovations like to say: when congregations fight?

People who believe leadership is a craft, that is, leadership is something that can be learned and practiced, leading amidst conflict is an important skill-set to master. But here is the thing...conflict poses winners and losers, and leadership in a congregational setting that seeks to mete out merits and punishments based on who wins and who loses is bound to make most of the other words Jesus said (the ones I didn't quote) even more troubling to believe. If you can learn to "manage" conflict (and "manage" and all its cognates I wish could never be spoken of when it comes to Christian leadership) somehow you can minimalize loss and damage, and maximize opportunity...and this seems about as unChristian as any leadership style could emulate.

Since we probably cannot learn to lead during conflict, it has to be something innate, or an "art" as it is called aesthetically, we now run into a bit of a problem describing all the different ways people lead in conflict, and trying to find anything we can learn from their experiences...they all are so idiosynchratic and personal or even genetic perhaps that what chance does the poor pastor have if she isn't of this cloth? If leadership is art, and you are leading outside the borders of your usual canvas...uh oh...

Well this is where the words of Jesus I quoted above can be the gospel...because you see maybe we were never meant to live without conflict? Maybe in the grand scheme of what God calls us to do or who God calls us to be we are meant to struggle a lot...either in one way because people divide against us, or in the other as we divide against them? Maybe the chimera is peace?

Leadership is never about bringing peace--regardless of whether you think of it as an art or a craft--leadership is about surviving division, and about acknowledging the God of the cross that makes the survival possible.

May your conversations be true and your tables be full. Peace.

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