To Serve or To Lead

Over my years in ministry, I have developed the practice of avoiding the phrase “my congregation.”  Instead, I try to refer to “the congregation I serve.”  This both helps me keep my own perspective (I don’t own the congregation) and telegraphs that understanding to others.  Of course, congregation members often use the word “my” to refer to the congregation to which they belong.  I could let myself use it the same way and sometimes I do, especially in my fondest moments.

I could also refer to “the congregation I lead.”  So could the lay leaders.   This is one of the interesting challenges shared by clergy and lay leaders.  We are called to serve and we are called to lead.   Part of the challenge is understanding what those terms mean and how to balance them.  When do we make the things happen that the congregation wants and expects and when do we use our leadership to suggest a new idea or direction?

To serve could connote a servant that simply does the bidding of another.  To lead could imply a boss who makes all the rules.  Neither of these perspectives would do justice to what congregational leaders are called to do.  And perhaps they do not accurately describe what any servant or leader does in the best sense of the terms.

To find the balance, we need to fully understand what it means to have vision.  In Leading Change in the Congregation (page 17), Gil Rendle writes:

Too often, however, we short-circuit our full understanding of vision by thinking of it only as forecasting.  The other meaning … is vision as “perception” – the capacity to perceive realistically what is present.  Vision is also the ability to see, and help others to see the way things actually are.

In order to serve, one must be able to know the truth of the current reality.  To lead, one must be able to envision the futures that are possible.  To find the balance between service and leadership means having the creativity to imagine how to move effectively from one to the other.

We won’t always get the balance right, but if we are mindful of our relationship with those we serve and lead, we will get the feedback to move back into balance soon enough.

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