Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

February 2006
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Healthy Leaders Are Built in Community #4

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

As have seen in previous Letters, our leadership development efforts must not be conducted apart from a living community of people in which the emerging leaders function and participate.

Firstly, those emerging leaders who are being trained must be formed into a community themselves, and not be allowed to exist as separate individuals. In our traditional systems of education, the individual students arrive at the class, sit at their separate desks, listen to the lecture, participate in whatever group tasks are required of them, then leave and go their own separate ways until the next class time. Whatever relationships and community they do form during their schooling are usually incidental and are rarely integrated into the schooling itself.

The best “leadership school” is a transformational, learning community in which all the participants take responsibility for each other, hold each other accountable, care for each other, pray together, worship and seek God together, work and serve together, struggle together, resolve conflicts, and learn and grow together.

Biblical examples of learning communities include the “company of the prophets” in the time of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’ 12 disciples, Paul’s apostolic team, and Paul’s learning community in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9).

It is significant that nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus alone with one of His disciples. Even the interactions that appear to have taken place between Jesus and one person were always conducted with others close by. Certainly there are clear biblical examples of “one-on-one” mentoring such as Moses and Joshua or Elijah and Elisha, but in view of Jesus’ practices we may have to question some of our modern methods of discipleship and mentoring, for it appears that Jesus engaged in character building when the “family” was together. In addition, some of the unhealthy dependencies and transferences of dysfunctionalities that we often see in mentoring relationships would be avoided by a community approach to building disciples and leaders.

Secondly, as previously stated, the community of emerging leaders must itself be a part of a larger spiritual community. The learning community may be distinct but it must not be separate from the overall community. The two communities should not compete but should have one unified corporate agenda of building leaders. This larger community might be a local church or group of churches.

Both the learning community and the larger community must take initiative in building the relationship between them. It will help in this regard if there is some overlap of direct leadership between the two communities. It will be particularly effective if the top leader of both is the same person; this will help greatly to create a strong level of ownership of the learning community by the larger, spiritual community.

The larger community can take responsibility for providing:

The learning community can take responsibility for:

We will also avoid the frequent problems associated with “re-entry” into normal life after the learning experience. For example, after going through an intense learning experience that has lasted for several months or years, participants will frequently experience difficulties in reconnecting with their local spiritual communities. It is not uncommon for them to go into depression, discouragement, confusion, isolation or other forms of emotional and intellectual disequilibrium after the artificial “high” of the learning time is over. This can partly be avoided when they maintain their relationships and responsibilities within their normal community throughout the learning experience.

In addition, the gap between knowledge and practical ministry that usually occurs in traditional schools will also be avoided. When the emerging leader is placed in a far-away school for training and nurtured in an artificial environment for a long time, he will be too far removed for too long a time from the rugged life and challenges that he is to meet in the ministry.

When young people are educated away from their churches for long periods of time, that very education sometimes puts them out of touch with their congregations. They return to their people with strange ideas and habits. They are not even the best teachers of the people from whose intellectual and spiritual lives they have been absent for so long. They no longer know how to answer their difficulties or respond to their needs. They are out of touch with the people. The congregation has not grown with them, nor they with the congregation. They are now “outsiders,” and only a few exceptional people can overcome that profound difficulty. This will be avoided if the emerging leaders maintain their life, relationships and ministry in the local church while they participate in an intense time of learning, experience and growth.

As previously stated, if we can effectively do this – if we can move from the factory to the family in our leadership development – we will dramatically increase both the numbers and the quality of the leaders we build.

In our next Letter, we will begin a new area of study.

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