As I reflect on the kind of leading we are to be engaged in the community of Christ, I am drawn to an image that portrays leading as cultivating versus leading through current models of leadership which focus upon elements of taking charge.
I was talking with a friend whose way of leading was described as consensus-seeking, rather than exercising a kind of leadership that would take a group of people somewhere. Such consensus-seeking was not seen as desirable leadership trait. However, I would say the opposite – it is exactly the kind of leading Christ sought to develop in his disciples.
Consensus-seeking requires cultivation. It requires engaging a community to discover their stories, their passions, their goals, the vision of where they would like to be in participating with God in God’s mission. Consensus-seeking requires exercising a way of leading that cultivates relationships, that cultivates being sensitive to what the Spirit of God is revealing, that cultivates having ears and eyes to see and hear what God is doing, where God is active in the world. Consensus-seeking focuses on helping a community to grow, to mature, and to find ways of articulating in what ways the community is developing as the community walks with Christ Jesus.
Seeking consensus is such a context is always on the lookout for what the Spirit is doing, where the Spirit is leading – because the Spirit leads in such a way as to bring the whole community along, to lead the community to exemplify the way of Christ in the world, to become more and more like God envisions human community to become. Leading through consensus-seeking seeks to discern the present activity of the Spirit as well as to give voice to that which is discerned of the Spirit’s moving among the community. In seeking consensus, the vision, the agenda never is set by the leader or the leadership, but always involves discerning where the Spirit is leading in accomplishing the redemptive, life-giving purpose of God in the world. And as the community grows and matures, so deeper insights are gained, developed as new consensus is reached and implemented. Such cultivation, such consensus-seeking is leading in the way of Christ.
In contrast, more directive approaches to leading are quite often antithetical and counter-intuitive to the organic growth that takes place in a community as it matures under the guidance of the Spirit as it follows Christ Jesus. Perhaps an image can explain.
An image of cultivation, inherent in consensus-seeking, expresses the careful preparation of the soil, providing an environment where seeds can flourish, where enough water is provided, so that seeds can develop root systems and flourish into growing plants. On the other hand, directive approaches to leading seem to want to pull on the plant, to try to stretch the plant, encourage the roots to hold on so that they might grow in midst of adversity and hardship. However, the effect is that the plants are uprooted rather than being given the opportunity to flourish.
Likewise, leading that cultivates enables a community of Christ to flourish; leading that is directive in ways that are counter-intuitive, instead brings trauma to the community, though it may seem like things are getting done. The fruit is evident in the long run – how many dead plants are lying on the ground versus how many plants are flourishing.
Missional leading, I contend, needs to be the kind of leading that enables a community to discern the activity of the Spirit in our midst so that we follow where the Spirit is leading in order to participate in the purposes of God. Otherwise, our ways of leading do harm, rather than produce fruit. Our ways of leading create violence in the community of Christ, rather than cultivating shalom. May we be patient to lead in ways which cultivates our being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit in our midst.