So, what is the proper role of leadership as it relates to helping? For our purposes, leadership is simply defined as a place of responsibility that influences outcomes. For the church, that means we are talking about pastors, presidents (congregational, women’s groups and so on), board and committee chairs and even unelected people who hold sway over others.
If we really want to help or lead in the church, we want to make things better: for the church as a whole, for individuals and for society. Leaders "help" when they not only lead people but help those people grow into their potential. What makes it complicated though is that leaders and helpers do not lead or help in a vacuum or alone. It is done in the context of and in relationship with others. Leaders partner with others such as a board or committee or church council members, a small team or group of like minded people with an affinity for a various ministry - prayer team, food pantry volunteers, Sunday school teachers and so on.
And when one seeks to influence others it begs the question: How will the leader do their influencing? One extreme is the quiet example while the other extreme is loud imposing, pressuring and even forcing their will. Which is best for a leader?
That depends. In an emergency I’d rather have a loudmouth telling me to quickly and quietly head toward the exits. In a church the outcomes are just as serious because we are talking about eternity! Yet while there is urgency in the work, the approach requires something other than the extreme.
Dr. Edgar Schein in his book Helping, How to Offer, Give and Receive Help, he talks about how all human relationships have “status positioning.” What that means is that in a helping relationship the one being helped often feels “one down” in the relationship. They lose face or feel they lose even more status in the relationship if they cannot reciprocate.
Dr. Schein also tells about the research of Amy Edmonson who studied surgical teams. She says that “the teams that succeeded were launched by surgeons who acknowledged from the outset that they needed help and agreed to joint training with the other members of the team.” And what about the teams that failed or abandoned the new surgery? They were led by surgeons who saw themselves as the “primary actors” and treated others as “skilled support staff.” Schein summarizes the lesson by saying that "teams almost always work together better when the higher status person in the group exhibits some humility….(and facilitates others) to develop identities and roles in the group that feel equitable and fair.” In other words, great leaders help out of a place of humility which values others and helps those on the team to raise their game.
Helping and leadership is complicated! Pastors and people often perceive the pastor (and other leaders) to be “one up” from them (and some pastors and other leaders like it that way! Oops!) Some pastors and other leaders work under the delusion that their work is in fact alone. Pastors sometimes do the work while the other members of the body of Christ, gifted with valuable gifts of the spirit (1 Cor 12), do not serve or are not engaged or involved! What? Why is that? It is complicated work, and it requires a number of things, that’s why.
Rules of thumb for helping and leadership:
- As a leader, acknowledge that you are in a place of responsibility to influence outcomes rather than just a volunteer or servant who can work alone.
- Share your dreams and hoped for outcomes that will make things better for the church, for others and for society. Then listen and receive what people say to you.
- Be a leader who is humble and acknowledges that you “need help” and that there is huge untapped potential in the body of Christ and their gifts.
- Never do anything alone. Search for and create opportunities to humbly bring others along, mentor them and model humble ministry while they partner with you in God’s mission.
- Recede to the background with an attitude of humility (Luke 17:10 “We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.”) and celebrate the difference that others make, by God’s grace, toward those hoped for outcomes. (1 Thess 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”)
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, email@example.com or scottgress.com
"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"