Leadership as “Space Making”

I join the many others in church circles who are reflecting, talking, and gathering about leadership. It seems that the more that we recognize congregational reality the more that we talk about “leadership” as the key factor in helping congregations become fruitful again. Strategies are many, actual evidence of those strategies working, few. It seems that what works is an intentionality and an ability to interpret, read, exegete the congregational and communal culture of a place and begin to ask questions about what God might be up to in that place.

So as I begin again, we are always beginning in some ways. I am recognizing that a key aspect of my leadership is to “make space” for discernment, story telling, and conversations around what God might be doing in our midst. What is God calling us to? What are the gifts we bring, the passions that fuel us? Why are we here? Why do we worship like we do? Go to Sunday School? Attend the administrative meetings? Who is our neighbor? Why does it matter? What are we working towards? What does it mean to be the church in this place at this time?

These are only some of the questions being asked. I rather not get quick answers, instead I want all of us to think about it, to reflect on it, and to begin to “make space” for the answers to emerge among us. As we look around and recognize our “place” many other questions arise, we begin to see our corner of the world in a new way.

There is also much hesitation. Space making makes many of us uncomfortable. How “large” is this space going to be? Who will it include? What about us, are we going to be cared for, nurtured, be primary to the emerging vision? What about our history, our traditions, our ways of living life together, will those have to change? If they change is it still us?

Making space allows for the question of identity to surface and I think in the end this might be the most important to the life of the church. Who are we as a gathered body? Why do we exist? What does it mean to be present in this place?

Leading into discernment takes time, presence, and as Edwin Friedman puts it, it takes nerve (I’ve been reading his book A Failure of Nerve). There is no “quick fix” that can turn our mourning into dancing. Pastoral leadership relies on relationships that need the strengthening of time, shared stories, and of “walking with.” Shining a light and “seeing” what others might not see demands action that at times might be unpopular but in the end necessary to our life together.

It is easy to discern what is comfortable and familiar. It is extremely difficult to be open to adventure, dream, visions, risk, and the possibility that we as a community of faith need to be converted to our baptismal call. That somehow we must be re-shaped and born again into a new vision of life together.

Making space for this way of life together takes leadership that is willing to de-clutter, to re-arrange, and to prioritize. When leadership moves in these ways it can be unpopular. Most of us are happy in our clutter, used to our arrangements, and comfortable with our priorities. Yet the Christian narrative calls us time and time again to examine our lives, to let go of the old self, and to be open to the Spirit that makes all things new.

I pray for wisdom as I continue the work of leadership in a Christian community. I pray for clarity that I may shed a light on what God is doing around us, that I may have the “nerve” to call the church to its mission time and time again. I pray that I can be a faithful interpreter, reader, and exegete of the gathered baptized community called the church. I pray that through my leadership space is made for God’s work in creation to be made present through our ministry together.

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