Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lincoln and Pastoral Leadership

I’m about halfway through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln's leadership genius. Lincoln is a fascinating role model for pastoral leadership. Here are three points that strike me about Lincoln so far:

  1. Lincoln deeply immersed his consciousness in the founding documents of our nation. I would not be surprised if he knew the Declaration and the Constitution by heart. The spirit of the founders animated his spirit.

  2. Lincoln’s style of leadership is not accidental; it is intentional, thoughtful, steps back and takes time to see the forest. He saw the big picture, and usually spent time in thought before he wrote or spoke.

  3. Lincoln knew people, understood interpersonal dynamics, needs, and conflicts. He was able to recruit and mobilize a functional “team of rivals” and keep them together to run the nation and win the war. He encouraged a diversity of opinions and ideas; he encouraged his subordinates to disagree with him directly if they thought he was mistaken (do you see a contrast with recent leadership in the US?). Lincoln wrote letters, kept connections alive, and expanded his sphere of influence.

For me, the application to pastoral leadership is clear:

  1. Immerse yourself – and your congregation – in our founding documents: the library of books that comprise the Older and Newer Testaments, not just for theoretical knowledge, but to inform practice. We cannot begin to follow Jesus today if we do not know the story of Jesus and Jesus’ context in history and scripture. Often, pastors get stuck in the details of ministry tasks and lose the compass of scripture. We fail to plumb the depths, and thus become shallow.

  2. Step back and discern the big picture. What is the history of the congregation and community? What is our context? What needs can we meet in our community? What should our map of ministry look like – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and beyond? How can I as pastor leverage my time and influence to help form the map/plan, and mobilize teams to accomplish the plan, to go where the map directs? If I don’t get the big picture, I can get lost in administrivia or chaplaincy, need-meeting compulsion. I know of a pastor who’s monthly reports consisted of lists of worship services presided over and homebound/hospital patients visited, while people stopped coming to church because of all the unnecessary, dictated changes in worship and church life made by the same pastor. He may have got some of the trees right, but he missed the forest completely. Visitation and presiding over the sacraments are good and necessary practices, but not sufficient – there is more to church leadership.

  3. Know people. Nurture them. Be aware of conflicts and personality clashes. Have a big picture of the ministry teams in the congregation. Map out a clear vision and job description for each ministry of the congregation. Keep in touch with people. Know their interests and needs. Communicate clear responsibilities and train and support. Praise and show gratitude. In the context of the church, in this area we mention the essential element of the spiritual, our relationship with the living God, our life together as the body of Christ in the world.

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