[Note: This is a followup to an article I did a couple of years ago entitled, Killing Church Committees and Other Reflections on Church Organization.]
Leading from the Front
In my first church out of seminary, after I’d been there a year, a man from the congregation named, Bob, approached me and said, “Derek, you’ve got to provide some leadership.”
I didn’t know what to say. I thought I had been providing leadership. I’d weathered one major conflict. I’d started new programs. I was active in the community. What was he talking about?
The question bothered me. When Bob said, “leadership,” what did he mean?
After all these years, and a lot of thought, I’m pretty sure I know what Bob was looking for. But in order to understand, you need to know a bit about Bob and about the kind of world we inhabited at that time.
Bob had gotten a grant to start an office furniture manufacturing business in the mountains of Appalachia. He made stuff. He had a staff and employees. His job was to figure out what needed to be done, and then get the people who worked for him to do it.
Bob thought that leadership in the church should function the same way. My job was to figure out what needed to be done, and then I was supposed to get people to do it. Simple, really.
Leading from the front. I determine where we’re going to go. I explain why we need to go there, trying to get buy-in from the board. Then I strike out in that direction with the hope that people will follow me.
Leading from the front. It’s a classic model of leadership—perhaps the classic model of leadership in American social, business, and political life.
The intrepid leader, out front, determining the goal and the path that will take us there.
But another model of leadership has begun to emerge as an alternative to the top-down, hierarchical nature of leading from the front. It’s called “leading from behind.”