What is distinctly Christian about being a Christian leader?
How do my Christian convictions shape the way that I lead?
It is the end — the goal, the purpose, the telos — that shapes Christian leadership and makes it most distinctively Christian. Our end is to cultivate thriving communities that bear witness to the inbreaking reign of God that Jesus announces and embodies in all that we do and are.
Becoming a Christ-shaped leader requires at the deepest level that we cultivate and are shaped by a background that influences everything that we do. This background shapes the way Christians experience failure and success and helps cultivate resilience. We believe this should shape the way we think about our lives, our institutions and the way we lead our institutions.
Why are organizations beyond the local congregation needed to sustain vital Christian community and ministry?
Thriving communities that are signs of God’s reign, to which all of our work points, need institutions because institutions allow practices to flourish. Our call is, therefore, not to malign institutions or allow them to languish; rather we are called to serve and improve them and start new ones so they can be bearers of tradition, laboratories for learning and incubators of leadership. This is a core belief of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.
How do I evaluate our programs? I want to be sure they are in line with our mission and are having the impact we want them to have.
Developing a habit of reflection is critical to ongoing evaluation. Asking three simple questions at the beginning, middle and end of a project builds the habit:
- What do you appreciate about this project?
- What do you regret about what is happening?
- What do you hope to be different?
With this habit in place, the more difficult questions that clarify the mission of the organization and map the alignment of services to that mission are easier. The most challenging evaluation is a reflection on impact. It takes time to understand impact, but a focus on such results leads to valuable learning that informs the next generation of experiments.
How can institutions best be kept institutionally strong and focused on their essential missions?
By thinking in a way that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition. L. Gregory Jones coined the phrase “traditioned innovation” to describe a biblical way of leading that integrates the transformative work of Christ into our ongoing identity as the people of God rooted in biblical Israel’s calling. (more…)
How can I lead in addressing complex challenges?
The immediacy of a crisis makes it tempting to roll up our sleeves and work harder. But some problems are “wicked” — without clear starting and ending points, crossing social and conceptual boundaries — and require unconventional strategies. (more…)
How can I be renewed in the midst of great needs, declining resources and uncertainty about what comes next?
Sustained renewal requires participation in a community that shares a common vision. Christians have a vision, described in Scripture, of God’s reign. As the story of Acts shows, it takes considerable effort from the community to keep the end of God’s reign before us.
In our educational programs, participants are invited into a pattern of life that includes worship, study, rest and fellowship. We seek to embody Christian practices such as hospitality. We invite participants to imagine how to adjust their typical pattern of work to include more of these elements.
When resources of time and money are scarce, it is very difficult to reach out and join or renew relationships. Yet that is exactly what is required.
What is the biblical vision of healthy Christian community?
A thriving community may exhibit the features found in the Acts of the Apostles. They include networking; visibility; room for the weak; incorporating disagreement; articulacy of belief; and taking suffering seriously.
Foundations of Christian Leadership involves an in-depth study of the Book of Acts and its model of Christian community.
What’s the best way to give effective feedback to colleagues?
One of the most critical elements of a human resource system is the evaluation system for employees. There are many different formats for such a system, but the heart of each is offering feedback on performance.
Effective feedback names the specific situation in which the behavior was observed; names the observable actions or words; and describes the impact that behavior had on the observer. In addition, effective feedback anchors the feedback in time and place and helps the person receiving the feedback understand the impact.
Participants in Foundations of Christian Leadership practice giving and receiving feedback.
What trends are shaping the future of Christian ministry?
Wise leaders know that it’s important to pay attention to deep trends shaping society and its institutions. These trends give leaders the raw material that enables them to retrieve key insights and practices from their traditions, tinker with new ideas and solutions in their organizations, and adapt to substantive cultural changes.
In an essay on Faith & Leadership, L. Gregory Jones and Nathan Jones describe seven “deep trends” affecting Christian institutions: the digital revolution; a multimodal world; reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating; the questioning of institutions; economic stress; shifting vocations of laypeople; and the lure of cities.
The challenge, they write, “is to cultivate patterns of discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit, on how to adapt faithfully and creatively to them rather than to pretend they don’t exist or to acknowledge but ignore them.”
What can I do to develop as a leader and to develop others as leaders?
Leading well involves a number of mindsets, activities and traits, including improvisation, integrative thinking, having an “opposable mind” and employing adaptive leadership. These are concepts and underlie all of our offerings.
In addition, assessment tools that researchers have developed and tested for validity can provide very helpful feedback. These instruments have been developed using psychological theory and most often present information in business language. Even with these limitations, such assessments provide the most reliable anonymous feedback.
What is the future of denominations and other Christian institutions?
Some believe that denominations are a relic of a bygone era. We believe, however, that there remains significant promise for Christian denominations in the United States in the coming decades. While congregations have been and will be the primary unit for Christian community, we hold that congregations need each other and the supportive systems that denominations have traditionally created.
However, business as usual will not be enough. Denominations must confront crucial questions that enable leaders to clarify mission, vision and strategies and thus become willing to lead adaptive changes within institutions.
In this essay on Faith & Leadership, L. Gregory Jones suggests that one way to begin is to unpack four key questions about the mission and telos of denominations; their essential functions; their role in training lay and ordained leadership; and their funding models.
In addition, you can see how Christian institutional leaders from a variety of traditions answer this question in a series of video interviews with people, including Sarah Davis, Jeffrey Leath, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and others.
What should I be reading?
The deeper question isn’t just what a leader should read — it’s how.
Reading widely — in a variety of different disciplines, not all Christian — can help institutional leaders engage their imaginations more fully in their work. Border crossing — both geographical and intellectual — is one way for leaders to move beyond the narrow confines of their own world to understand the larger context of a culture.
How can you do that? Read great literature, such as the novels of Marilynne Robinson and the poetry of Wendell Berry. Read across the disciplines of business in journals, such as Harvard Business Review and the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and in the sciences and engineering.
Faith & Leadership publishes a daily news digest that collects items from across the web that will help Christian leaders read widely and do their work. Faith & Leadership’s original content explores more directly the intersections of these readings and the work of Christian institutions.
We also encourage Christian leaders to read Scripture in a particular way — that is, slowly and with sustained attention and in community. This is key to forming a scriptural imagination, which is needed to live scripturally.
Why are Christian institutions often isolated? What creates opportunities to relate effectively with one another and with other institutions in the larger society?
Many Christian institutions have a big vision, limited capacity and few strong relationships. To have lasting impact, such institutions are challenged to work differently and with each other.
Institutions create spaces that shape and pattern human life. One of the keys to addressing the challenges of limited capacity is to strengthen relationships with partners that do similar work shaping human life. Identifying such partners requires leaders to articulate how and why their institutions do this work and to develop a means of assessing the similarities of others.
Another key to creating stronger relationships is to invite others to work with your institution on a problem that is so challenging no one is sure where to start. Tackling such “wicked” problems with several stakeholders requires both building relationships and doing important work that stretches everyone involved in healthy ways.
Christian institutions often are constrained by limited resources, which can cause fear and isolation. Focusing on building relationships in such a time may seem counter-intuitive. Yet a vision of God’s reign and a sense of how our institution contributed to God’s work pulls our eyes to a longer view that provides hope that counteracts fear.
How can I make sure that difficult conversations are productive?
We call them “crucial conversations” — the conversations we avoid but know that we should have. The stakes are high, emotions run strong, and opinions vary. Effective conversations invite both parties into a shared space or “pool of shared meaning,” in order to engage in open and honest dialogue. In effective crucial conversations, we tell our stories and invite others to do the same.
Because this issue is part of the work of so many Christian leaders, participants in Foundations of Christian Leadership spend time working on this issue.