In my new-found role as conference junkie, I’ve been hearing a lot about leadership development. From provincial conventions, to the Regenerate 21-01 process, to the encouragement of my own pastor, developing leaders is on the agenda.
At the same time, I receive news of pastors resigning, see unfilled pastor classified ads in the Herald month after month, and remember a succession of pastors leaving my childhood home church with pain and frustration shared around.
Ten years ago, then-MB conference minister Reuben Pauls wrote in the Herald, “a leadership crisis has been simmering for the past two decades, and with each passing year our pastoral needs increase.” A Canadian MB Conference pastor study carried out in 2006 by Dieter Schönwetter suggested the crisis has not been fully averted. The report projected 38.2 percent of current pastors would leave the denomination. Almost half of this loss was to retirement, but retiring pastors still need to be replaced. A disheartening 34 percent of that 38.2 planned to leave church ministry, with a further 10 percent possessing no desire to ever return.
The conference’s return to a more organic method of developing leaders through Ministry Quest and internships is encouraging, and I have personally benefitted from the unofficial mentorship of experienced leaders as I’ve floundered my way through growing responsibility in the local church. But every time I hear of another pastor’s resignation, my heart sinks. Amid all the resources on leader development amassed in the past decade, what are we still missing? In our journey to become “little Christs,” have we taken our eyes off the perfect example? Did Jesus urge his followers to become better leaders, or better servants?
Jesus was undoubtedly grooming his disciples to be leaders – they were the ones who started the church after his death and resurrection. The churches these former Jesus-interns began grew over 2,000 years to comprise the largest religious following in the world. But Jesus’ message to that motley crew was not to build on your strengths, or to read the next management bestseller – advice we hear not only in business circles, but also in the church. Such advice has value, but isn’t what makes Jesus’ example different.
The heart of the message
Service. That was the heart of Jesus’ message. The Sermon on the Mount contains no homily on leadership, but does talk about loving both neighbour and enemy (Matthew 5:43), and about knowing a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16). Later Jesus tells the crowds about the cost of discipleship (Matthew 8:20). Do our training programs teach us to aspire to this kind of truly counter-cultural leadership? Are we following Christ’s injunction to be in the world but not of it?
Despite all the extensive written resources, training retreats, workshops, and seminars available to pastors and leaders today, perhaps we’re missing the simple call at the heart of it – the invitation to serve.
Simple, maybe, but certainly not easy. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). Whoever. So it’s not only the leaders who have something to learn here. Developing a servant heart is a strategy for everyone.
A healthy relationship, as my pastor recently reminded the congregation, requires give and take. It’s not only the pastor who needs to be a servant. When close to half of the reported reasons for pastor resignation are negative, from congregational conflict to burnout, I wonder if the problem doesn’t lie equally with the quality of our “following,” as with the calibre of leading. How are we in the pews serving leadership, and each other?
Call to be Christ-like servants
Leader development, I suspect, does not inspire the average church-goer. But a call to be Christ-like servants? That’s something I can get excited about, however inadequate and timid my efforts may be. What if our standard, not only for leaders, but also for the flock, was “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35)?
Afflicted with both the idealism and cynicism of youth, I recognize the impossibility of this challenge. But I find assurance, along with Paul, that “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Let’s pray, not for the strength to lead, but for the weakness to be servants through God’s power.
—Karla Braun is assistant editor.