Leadership in Time

Some approaches to leadership view it as a science. Through a study of human institutions and organizations, the thought it, one can discern principles that “work.” Those who speak of “irrefutable” laws of leadership take this approach.

Leadership conceived along the lines of science and technology is an attractive model. If we find ourselves in a particular situation, all we need do is discern the appropriate law/principle and put it into effect. Our desired results will flow automatically. In simple situations, I can do A to make X happen, while in more complex situations I may need to do A, B and C to make X happen. As long as I do the correct actions in the correct order, I wil get my desired results.

Whether this is an accurate depiction of how leadership works in some organizations or not does not concern me. I do argue, however, that this is not the dominant or most important kind of leadership in the church.

Science in general, aims for the timeless. The laws of science, aiming as they are, for the greatest degree of generality and abstraction, are supposed to be invariant in their operation. How they function today is unrelated to how they functioned yesterday or last year.

Christianity is essentially a time bound phenomenon. As Christians we inhabit the story of God’s ongoing activity in creation. In a time-ly, narrative reality like this, leadership cannot be conceived of as akin to a machine that produces predictable results. Every era – every day – is different, since each is constituted by where it stands in the whole story.

Seen this way, it is mistake to find the point of Christian leadership in advancing an organization. While this happens, organizational advancement is secondary at best. The primary thing Christian leadership advances is the story. As a leader in the church, my calling is to help my people discern the reality of the drama (in line with Max DePree that the first job of the leader is to “define reality”), find their place in that drama, and to fulfill that role. This “finding their role” is both individual and corporate. Individuals have a role in the drama, families and small groups have roles, whole churches and groups of churches have roles. If we do not take up our roles faithfully, the story will not advance as God desires.

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