In the boardroom and on the sports field, Leadership is touted as the deciding factor between success and failure. Conventional wisdom also tells us the difference between good and great hangs on Leadership. Few would disagree. It is not surprising therefore that the search for authentic leaders or leadership- governance models has caught the imagination of the Church as well.
That the recent EFCM Pastoral Retreat/Conference got us to think personally and corporately about leading a church and what sort of leaders our pastors and elders are to be, was significant. Guest speakers Covenant EFC Chairman-Elder Johnny Tan and Rev Dr Kenny Fam, Pastor of Woodlands EFC, offered a rare insight into the mechanics of leadership as well as the inner workings their leadership board as they work out conflicts and manage transition. Meanwhile Dr David Gunaratnam reminded us that the qualifications of a leader do not rest upon his ability, but in his character. “Humility, Holiness, Harmony,” David G emphasized, in a message drawn from a book by Covenant EFC’s Rev Edmund Chan. Similarly Dr Chan Ah Kee stressed the importance of church leaders to have the mind of Christ in their service (Philippians 2:1–11). The Retreat went well and I thank Pr David Low and his team for a good job. The fellowship was warm, the talks and sharing were provocative, and the meals were great (except for the first evening!) I went home with much to think about.
Many pastors and elders would have a fairly good grasp of what the Bible says about leadership but you always need to say it again and again. However I suspect our perspectives tend to be Pietist in tradition, and while this is not a bad thing, I am sure some of us wonder how “holiness, humility and harmony” work out in our Free Church congregational setting. So it was good that the presentations by Johnny and Kenny were grounded in real life and shared with a lot of heart. Referencing recent developments at Covenant EFC, Johnny focused on managing growth and leadership transition. We heard how Rev Edmund Chan prepared for transition and how the Board of Elders found agreement through prayer as everyone collectively waited to hear from the Lord. The thing to remember is that leadership is not static; it is more juggling and finding equilibrium than maintaining a 50–50 balance. There’s much to commend in a church whose infrastructure is based on a long-term vision, promotes growth while maintaining harmony within the leadership as well as the congregation.
Kenny in his presentations revisited some models of leadership and drew his main thesis from R. Scott Rodin’s book, The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities.
We had a quick tour of leadership styles, including Robert Greenleaf’s much celebrated Servant Leader model, and focused on Rodin’s Leader as Steward and a “leader of no reputation.” As Rodin puts it, leadership traits are not his focus. The key difference lies in putting the ‘why’ ahead of ‘how,’ and in ‘being’ than in ‘doing.’ As leaders, this means paying attention to the transformational aspects of following Jesus, and then allowing that inner change to guide the way we lead and shepherd God’s church.
What was fascinating was Kenny’s frank sharing about his own journey as Pastor and leader while navigating a difficult chapter of his tenure at Woodlands EFC. His vulnerability and honesty gave his presentation a much needed reality check, with Johnny validating it as conflict mediator behind the scenes. Some reflections (in no particular order):
- Leadership is not about means alone but ends. The process or journey is just as important as the destination (perhaps even more so), and it is very likely that each church will travel a very different route by God’s design. Therefore we need to be careful of comparing or shaping our church in the image of another church or another leader’s vision.
- Leadership is first and foremost about the person. The characteristic traits of godliness define a leader and make this an absolute given in every circumstance, whether a church is 50 or 5000 strong.
- A leader is a person under God’s authority, fed by the Word and filled by the Spirit. He or she does not lead out of ownership but stewardship, submitted to life-long learning and relearning.
- Scripture is filled with stories of frail men and women (witness the OT patriarchs and Jesus’ 12 disciples) ushered into leadership or entrusted with great responsibilities. Surely this is descriptive, and not prescriptive of the ideal. Otherwise there would be no need for so much elaboration about gifts in the NT. God’s choice of apparently ‘lesser’ individuals (by society’s standards) to fulfill His purpose speaks of His graciousness to use ANY person as long as they are surrendered to His will.
- The goal of leadership as understood by secular thinkers is maximum happiness – personal fulfilment, corporate success, optimal profit, etc which are different ways of spelling ’happiness.’ The Christian does not deny the essential need for happiness, but defines it as a corollary of seeking God’s glory first and last.
- While efficiency and effectiveness are to be prized, love and grace are fundamental to practices and goals in the church of God. Eugene Peterson warns that churches must beware of uncritically adopting the language of sports and big business to measure success.
- Size is not necessarily an indication of effectiveness. Some leaders will be entrusted with more, others less. We are not Edmund Chan; at the end of our lives, God will not ask why our 1 talent did not become 100, but how we have used that 1 in a responsible manner to bear fruit that honours Him.
- Ultimately, leadership is not about rightly steering an organisation for the pleasure of its members or the advancement of its own legacy. A missional church must necessarily strive to live for the benefit of its non-members as Bishop William Temple put it so memorably. Free churches in Malaysia will have to ponder how we are doing here.
- A Steward Leader is influenced by our Trinitarian God and therefore celebrates shared leadership to achieve shared goals. Although all churches differ in size, governance and personality, it is helpful to think about principles that will guide us through growth and transition, as well as manage crisis, right now instead of later (if we haven’t yet done so).
- We thank God for Ah Poh (Mrs Chan Ah Kee) who reminded us that in the appointment of pastors and leaders, we must not overlook the needs of the candidate’s spouse and family. If Paul makes family a necessary prerequisite for leadership (1 Timothy 3), it follows that churches should make sure the spouse of a candidate pastor or leader is not sidelined.
By David Tan/Hope EFC
(The above views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of EFCM)