Leadership has been an ever-changing concept for me. The people that I have encountered while serving in ministry have greatly influenced my definition of leadership. I have seen my paradigm on leadership evolve as a result of their influence in my life. In this paper, I will discuss three revelations that have shaped the way I approach the idea of leadership.
In high school, my friend Mike started a community outreach ministry, and put me in charge of the ministry to the homeless in downtown Toronto. I was responsible for organizing and leading sandwich runs, and he was in charge of the youth conference that was held at the end of the school year. At that stage of my leadership career, I was very task-oriented. I completed everything that was assigned to me, and oftentimes went beyond what was asked of me. I created teams that made the care-packages and bought the materials. I led the sandwich runs, organized the debriefing sessions, and gave basic guidelines on how to evangelize. The ministry was successful on many levels; we had hundreds of youth participate in our monthly programs, we handed out thousands of care-packages, and we also had many opportunities to share the gospel.
Mike’s approach to leadership was different from mine, as he put a heavier emphasis on building relationships. On top of organizing the youth conference, he invested heavily in me, and encouraged my development as a leader. His success was twofold; the conference resulted in many students coming to Christ, and his positive influence on me raised the quality of my ministry. His leadership also had a more lasting impact than mine; conferences and sandwich runs are momentary events, but I still regard him as one of the most influential people in my leadership development.
When I reflect on my time with Mike, I realize the importance of investing in people, rather than investing in enterprises. Rinehart stressed the need for leaders to have “one-anothering” relationships with their fellow workers (Rinehart, 1998, p 96). The call of the leader is to be an encourager, a bearer of burdens, a builder, and a teacher (Rinehart, 1998, p 97). Mike was all of these things, and as a result, I was transformed. I saw the transience of my impact, and his lasting influence in my life. By investing in me, Mike was able to answer yes to the question, “Does the Lord have followers as a result of the leader’s influence?” (Rinehart, 1998, p 112).
My second revelation is summed up by the quote: “Leadership is not a position. To my knowledge, a promotion never made anyone a leader. Leadership is a fiduciary calling” (Dickens, 2008). A misconception that I had about leadership was that it required a position. I had been told that you can lead from any position, but I scoffed at that notion because the only people that said that were the people in leadership!
In my freshmen year of university, I desired to see Christians live as the salt and the light in our campus. I wanted to see Christians reading their bible, praying, evangelizing, and making a God-impression on our campus. However, I thought that I could only communicate my vision if I was in a position of leadership. I ended up lusting after an executive position in my Christian fellowship, and by the grace of God I was not given one.
At the start of my second year, I met up with a friend who talked about his desire for campus evangelism. His sharing rekindled my passions from my first year, and we decided to go and act on our passion. On the Friday of that week, the two of us went out and started sharing the gospel. That day, one girl accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Saviour. We resolved to evangelize every Friday; every week, we went out and talked to anyone that would listen to us. We started sharing our experiences with our friends, which ignited their desire to do Kingdom work. We started prayer meetings and bible studies because we realized the need for daily communal feeding. We ended up training and equipping our friends to be street evangelists, and by the end of the term we had over ten people sharing their faith on a weekly basis. Our efforts led to God inspired open-air worship services, and our Christian fellowship instituting daily prayer meetings and funded our outreach conferences, which allowed for hundreds of students to hear the gospel message.
Reflecting on this experience, I realize that I had crippled myself by confining leadership to a formal position. Instead of acting on my God-given vision, I waited for a position to allow me to lead. Thankfully, God used that conversation with my friend to override my thinking with His calling. Without fully realizing it, my paradigm of leadership shifted from a power-driven leadership, to one that abandoned power in favour of love (Nouwen, 1989, p 82). Once that happened, I started to build God’s kingdom (Rinehart 1998, p 93), instead of patiently waiting for nothing. The lesson that I learned is that leadership is to “identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading” (Nouwen, 1989, p 87), and not about where I am standing when I announce it.
My third epiphany about leadership occurred when I was reflecting on the music ministry at my church. Last year, a group of youth formed a worship team with an adult youth counselor as the primary overseer. He was the classic power leader; he alone controlled the power (Rinehart, 1998). He made the youth conform to his vision of the songs, disallowing creative freedom. He was fixated on musical excellence and was pragmatic in his methods, verbally abusing the teens and then justifying it as a means to get to improve musically. He exemplified the power leader perfectly: valuing standardization, conformity, pragmatism, productivity and centralization (Rinehart, 1998, p 36). As a result of his leadership, the teens’ zeal for music worship was snuffed out. They have complained about being burnt out, and have talked about quitting the team.
I contrast this situation with the worship team that I have led over that same time period. I have been open to my team’s feedback and suggestions during practices, and our music sets are always a cumulative effort. I trust the individuals on my team, allowing them to express their worship in a free and creative manner. I root our worship in scripture, and impart the vision of our music set before we start practicing. The fruit of my leadership has been the growth of the people in my team. My bassist recently started leading a new team, and we are in the process of grooming my new bassist to be the next worship leader.
Through my church’s music ministry, I was able to see the contrasting consequences between power and servant leadership. The youth suffered as the result of being led by a power leader. They did not experience any encouragement or teaching, instead being subjected to criticism and discouragement on a weekly basis. Similar to how Rinehart’s friend alienated his team members (Rinehart, 1998, p 45), the adult counselor had turned the teens away from serving in the church. Meanwhile, I have adhered to the principles of empowering, encouraging, and Christ-centeredness (Rinehart, 1998, 39-40), which has led to a vibrant serving environment, and the development of new leaders. My reflection on the music ministry has allowed me to see the importance of servant leadership, and I have resolved to follow the servant leadership model (Rinehart, 1998, p 38-41) in all aspects of my life.
My leadership paradigm is the result of the many experiences that I have had serving in ministry. I have had life changing revelations while being led, and also while leading. The three stories in this paper show how uniquely God worked to teach me His definition of leadership. He is not confined to books, or reproducible events, but He is simply asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). And to those who answer, He teaches them by His Word, and empowers them by His Spirit.
Dickens, Peter. (2008). A Theology of Leadership. Nouwen, Henri J. M. (1989). In the name of Jesus. New York (NY): The Crossroad Publishing Company.
Rinehart, Stacy T. (1998). Upside Down: The paradox of servant leadership. Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress.