leading without power, part 4

in this series of posts (part 1, overview; part 2, competency facilitator; part 3, culture evangelist) i’m ruminating on the suggestion that leadership in the church needs to move away from the traditional notions of hierarchical power we’ve embraced for so long. and i’m unpacking 9 new metaphors for “powerless leadership”. here is metaphor #3:

Mission Curator

we’ve all heard the importance of leaders articulating and embracing the mission of the organization. but i see three significant flaws in how this often plays out:

first, this often merely means creating a mission statement that gets stuck on a website — a mission statement that sounds nice, but doesn’t actually shape how things are done. while creating a mission statement necessarily bad, this surfacy approach misses the point. the mission of the organization (business, church, youth ministry) is difficult to fully capture in one or two carefully word-smithed sentences. those sentences are often cerebral; while the real mission is more gut. real mission is the embodied fuel of why we exist. it’s something that needs to be felt more than written into a sentence (i’m not suggesting that articulation is misguided; but mission is more than that).

second, that approach to creating a “mission statement” is often produced with outdated (and unbiblical) hierarchical power approaches. a real mission is discerned. and, i would suggest, should be collaboratively discern, not brought down from the mountain on stone tablets.

third, real mission (the kind that can be lived out) has an unrelenting core, but liquid edges. real mission has some fluidity. real mission assumes a posture of humility and openness to change — not only in the implementation, but in the mission itself. real mission says, “this is who we believe god is calling us to be, for now; and we hope god will continue to reveal newness.”

mission provides rails for “where are we going?”

curator is an important word choice here. a curator doesn’t create everything. a curator creates space for interaction, participation and enjoyment. a curator understands that her power is in the role of ‘host’, not ‘dictator’. a curator points to others, to works of beauty and discomfort, and never points to self.

listening to a dozen speakers at last year’s willow creek global leadership summit, i had one take away. it was bill hybels’ point that leaders can’t merely say “this is where we’re going;” leaders have to start by helping people understand “why we can’t stay here,” why ‘here’ is not acceptable.

i’ve railed against our goal-setting obsession before; and it’s because i think we all too often get the cart before the horse. here’s the progression that is essential:

mission → values → goals

in other words: why we exist (leads to) what we’re passionate about (leads to) how we’ll embody this.

the powerless leader doesn’t dictate this progression; the powerless leader curates the process, hosting the dialogue and discernment, showcasing beautiful examples of the mission as well as examples that bring discomfort and move us toward the mission or away from things that are off-mission.

3 thoughts on “leading without power, part 4”

  1. Ephesians 4:12 says that God gave us spiritual leaders “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (ESV)
    I think you are spot on in so many ways. Our church leadership has many responsibilities and we owe them our utmost respect and honor for the positions which God has called them. However, they are to be pastors, and teachers, and evangelists…not CEO’s. If ministers today were primarily concerned with helping their flock to embody the qualities we find in Colossians 1:9-12, I truly believe our churches would be more effective and more “on message” with or without a formal mission statement. I think mission statements are great but, to paraphrase you, they are the cart and not the horse.

  2. Marko – Can’t tell you how much I’ve been enjoying this series — a little late commenting, but what’s new? :)

    I love the analogy of “curator.” To me, the best curators leverage their unique experience/education to find what is beautiful, true, and good — and help others to care deeply. I haven’t been able to attend one yet, but the ATP music festivals are curated by different musicians each year who choose the line-up. It’s always a blast to see the mishmash of artists they pull together — some surprising connections, new favorite bands, etc.

    The idea of curating is one thread that keeps me hanging on to full-time vocational church ministry. My seminary experience is not completely useless, if I can leverage it to curate and facilitate meaningful connection with how we can join God’s work in the world.

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