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Learning to lead: leadership is about bringing the gospel to those in need.

The little girl with the bloody nose stood in front of me crying. I tried to remember how I got myself into this mess. And then I remembered. No one else volunteered to coach my daughter's Grade 2 soccer team and, in a moment of weakness, I put up my hand. Now, with a whistle around my neck and a clipboard in hand, I was faced with a daunting leadership challenge. Our star goalie had just taken a soccer ball square in the face and, after my dodgy tissue paper triage, she stood on the sidelines wiping away tears. We were getting creamed out there and I needed her back in the game. "You'll be okay," I said, desperately scanning the bleachers for her Mum. "You're not hurt too badly, are you?" Sniffles were her only reply. Desperate, I reached into my memory and quoted my old high school rugby coach, "Don't worry, pain is just weakness leaving your body." Oh man, did I just say that?

In the mainline church, many have lost confidence in leadership after helplessly watching a membership decline across denominations since the mid 1960s. Like my little soccer team, Jesus' team appears to be taking a beating these days. Some are keen to rush to business models of leadership and apply them to our teaching and ruling elders. As the former senior pastor of a congregation filled with executives, I would kindly receive their "airport bookstore cast-offs" on the way out of church or before a session meeting. In many cases, it was helpful to read what the business world was holding up as essential for leading organizations today. Leadership, in this case, would sound something like Forbes magazine declaring "a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal." Yes, there is something to that. Just as there is value in other business sources that suggest leadership as a process "bringing the future to the present."

Leadership, however, is always shaped in some way by the context. For example, apparently the way you lead and motivate high school rugby players is different from how you speak to a little girl's soccer team. Leadership is rooted in relationships. It is not the ultimate triumph of style over substance, and it most certainly has more to do with character than a neat and tidy bag of tips and tricks.

As Christians, created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross and sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit in the world, we speak of leadership in a particular way. Biblically, we are hemmed in by expressions of God's revelation like that in John 10:11--"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." Hmm, that doesn't sound like a style of leadership Dr. Phil would champion. That sounds a lot more like an invitation for us to pattern our lives and leadership on the mutual, self-giving love revealed at the heart of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I read a brilliant article lately where Pope Francis suggested that Christian leadership is about bringing the healing power of the gospel to everyone in need. He said Christian leadership is about staying close enough to the marginalized that we might be recognized as "shepherds living with the smell of sheep." Hmm. I like that. I wonder how might church leaders today be recognized as apprentices of the Good Shepherd, smelling like sheep?

As Christian leaders, by the Holy Spirit's power, we help people take steps towards faith in Jesus, moving from fear to faith, death to life, darkness to light. The reward? Every now and then, we witness God's transforming power at work in the world and in people's lives. Sometimes even just a parabolic glimpse of the Kingdom, like when the little girl wiped away tears and said, "I'm ready to get back in. I'm ready to do my part." Off she ran, a white tissue floating behind, her willingness to risk for something beyond herself reminding me of another young woman who once said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart is the director of ministry leadership and education at St. Andrew's Hall, Vancouver. This is the first of a year-long column on leadership.
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Title Annotation:LEADERSHIFT
Author:Lockhart, Ross
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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