Ministering as a leader in a leader-hostile environment…

In the latest article on Livets Ord in the Christian Daily “Dagen”, we read about “Power” or more specific about leadership. I am one of the leaders in a multi-cultural church with a majority of Swedish members and others representing approximately 40 nations. Within this context we are learning a lot about leadership. As leaders in our different churches we are called to contextualize our way of being Church, being leaders and also how we present the message that God has entrusted to us through His word. Like I said, we are learning a lot about leadership (mainly through mistakes) as we are facing expectations, demands, theological viewpoints and experiences of cultural emphasized ways of leadership.

First of all it is important to conclude that there is more to leadership and even Biblical leadership that what we perceive to be true within our Swedish cultural context. There are many people in our churches who are used to the fact that leadership is exercised through consensus. Actually we are brought up in that kind of social environment which, if one dares to be honest, is far removed from the Biblical perspective on leadership. I dare say that we have a leadership hostile environment within the nation which has also permeated the Church in Sweden.

I have lived and ministered in five different nations (Holland, Sweden, USA, the Philippines and Japan) and besides that ministered in another 15-20 nations. In all of these nations there have been very different perspectives on what Christian leadership (or Biblical leadership) is all about. Even within our own church we have the two extremes with groups of people who have the deepest conviction that the pastor is to tell what is to happen while at the same time we have many who will always look for total consensus in vision, decisions and processes.

The fact of the matter is that many of our opinions about leadership in Sweden are culturally, rather than Biblically determined. It is not strange that a leadership style as practiced by Ulf Ekman is questioned, evaluated and scrutinized until the bone by many of us who are culturally inclined to go against any form of leadership which is not based on consensus. To my opinion; Sweden is a leadership hostile environment! Many of my Swedish (!) colleagues who are part of other church traditions than Livets Ord express so often their frustration how difficult it is to be a leader in a church in Sweden, and many actually leave the ministry because they cannot cope with the mechanisms of leadership within the rather rigid structures and praxis that we have formed within our churches.

Having said that, how do I look at leadership? Here are some pointers:

All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:

1. The only definition of a leader is someone who has “followers”. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

2. An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone “whose followers” do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

3. Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

4. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.

Another main question is what do these leaders do?
Regardless of their almost limitless diversity with respect to personality, style, abilities, and interests, the effective leaders I have met, worked with, and observed also behaved much the same way:

1. They did not start out with the question, “What do I want?” They started out asking, “What needs to be done?

2. Then they asked, “What can and should I do to make a difference?” This has to be something that both needs to be done and fits the leader’s strengths and the way she or he is most effective.

3. They constantly asked, “What are the organization’s mission and goals.

4. They were extremely tolerant of diversity in people and did not look for carbon copies of themselves. It rarely even occurred to them to ask, “Do I like or dislike this person?”

5. They were not afraid of strength in the people working with them. Whether they had heard of it or not, their motto was what Andrew Carnegie wanted to have put on his tombstone: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”

6. One way or another, they submitted themselves to the “mirror test“-that is, they made sure that the person they saw in the mirror in the morning was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect, and believe in. This way they equipped themselves against the leader’s greatest temptations-to do things that are popular rather than right things.

7. Finally, these effective leaders were not preachers; they were doers. I read a story the other day about a student who had read different historical books, he said: “Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?” The teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, “Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying.”

Dear friends, if we want to look at this difficult and complex subject of Biblical leadership let us ask ourselves; “Am I willing to die for the sheep that God has entrusted us/me?” If you can say “Yes” you might be on your way becoming a leader God has set His heart on!

That’s the Way I see it for now… God bless you,


PS… Check my article about leadership and an invitation to become a member of an union for pastors here in Sweden. DS

6 responses to “Ministering as a leader in a leader-hostile environment…

  1. Hej John. Bra blogginlägga. Jag tror att det sätt varpå beslut fattas inom svensk frikyrka lätt kväver initiativförmågan hos medlemmarna i församlingen. Det kan helt enkelt bli för betungande att genomföra sina ideer. Först skall ideer, hur små de än är, genom styrelsen och/eller äldste och sedan genom ett eller flera församlingsmöten. Det borde finnas en öppenhet för nya initiativ utan all “byråkrati” så länge det inte kostar några stora summor.

  2. robbert jan perk

    dear John,

    really excellent, this is right to the core of the problem of many churches.

    we have been bound by our cultural systems,
    who have become sacrosanct. True biblical leadership will always reflect the leadershipstyle of Jesus. Come and Go, are the central words.

    greetings and blessings from us in Nijverdal, Netherlands.

  3. John. I think you are wrong. If the culture in Sweden tend to be, verbally (not in practice) somewhat skeptical of leadership, I think this is largely due to the democratic heritage that have been planted in this country among other things through the example of the free church movement, which pioneered in making decisions together, abolishing titles, priesthood etc. This has of course changed since the free churches more and more took over the leadership pattern from the established church, and now more and more accept leadership thinking from the commersial world (talking about “effectiveness”, “vision” etc).

    There´s only one leader (kyrios, lord). Probably you know him… We should call no one “leader”. (Mt 23:8-12). We need churches where everyone is making decisions, contributing freely when we gather, expressing the gifts of the Spirit etc. We don´t need people having power over others.

  4. Jonas! Thanks for your reply; by the way you can write in Swedish – (I write in English to make the blog available to the world at large, to share some thoughts about the situation in Sweden).

    I do believe in the priesthood of all believers, I do believe that God has given gifts to EVERY single believer. I also believe that he has (and continue to do so) given the gift (and responsibility) of leadership to some. The equipping of the saints (body) as mentioned in Ephesians 4 presupposes a structure of instruction and leadership. Now, I am strongly against those who “lord over others” – leadership’s foundational characteristic is servanthood on which all ministry should be based.

    Tha’s a short reply to a big question / issue!

  5. Pingback: Todd Bentley – the fact that we are spiritually malnourished doesn’t mean we have to eat anything offered to us! « Synergetics

  6. Leaders are NOT made! Leaders are NOT born! Leaders are CREATED! Now go out and lead!

    Check out The Genesis Principle of Leadership blog:

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