The following six leadership paradigms are ones that I have found operating in church life. In my view, the most popular ones operating within the church today are the Monarch and the Warrior. They both deliver real benefits but carry within them the seeds and dynamics of dysfunction. The next four are what we might call ‘minority paradigms’, which offer more hope for the Church and for those disciples seeking to offer leadership in the world beyond the walls of the church building. For each paradigm, I’ve given an example of a person, whether real or fictional, who exemplifies this style.
The world is full of monarchs, so a good one would understand the regressive tendencies of dependency and work with them. They would be loved but not idolised, trusted but not indulged. They would hold boundaries quietly and compassionately. A church led by a monarch is strong and steady.
As my example I am going to go for St Benedict, though for his rule rather than his life.
There are so many Warriors leading others in their fight against evil or injustice. At the same time they exhibit a kind of warmth of humanity and spirit that makes you willing to do anything they ask. (That’s also the danger, of course). A church led by a Warrior is full of energy.
As my example I am going to go for the minister in the church where I grew up, Edmund Heddle. He was brought up as an evangelical, and was inspired by the early flush of the charismatic movement, yet flavoured with the deep psychological understanding shaped by his friendship with Leslie Weatherhead.
I think going for a single person is hardly right as Elders always come in communities and councils, so I want to go for those tribal leaders I met on my first journey to Canada. They were prayerful, patient, and willing to wait and talk and chew the fat until consensus was reached and all were content.
If I were to choose a single person then the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers springs to mind. His thoughts on what he had learned in his life are seminal signposts for an Elder leadership style. A church led by elders is full of wisdom.
Apart from Jesus of course, it has to be Leo, the servant in the Hermann Hesse novel Journey to the East. This was the book that inspired Robert Greenleaf to write his first essay on servant leadership. Those of you familiar with the book (and it is only 90 pages) know that Leo keeps the group of pilgrims together without any of them realising it. However, when he disappears the pilgrimage grinds to a dismal failure.
The true servant will have nurtured the pilgrims so they could manage on their own without him and without realising what he had done for them. A church led by a Servant will have leaders all over the place.
I want to choose Dan Berrigan, whose book America is Hard to Find was very important to me. Berrigan was a Jesuit priest who broke into American army bases where the draft papers for the Vietnam war conscripts were held. He burned them with napalm, and celebrated the mass. He went on the run and was eventually sent to prison.
A church led by a Prophet can look like one led by a Warrior, except that no one will expect success!
Thomas Merton springs to mind as an example of this style, as does Henri Nouwen. The Contemplative leaves behind all the seductions of the world to search for that single pearl of great price, that ephemeral moment of unity with God with an intimacy that transcends all other experience.
A church led by a Contemplative will not look for success or relevance but a quality of love shaped in prayer.