Sunday, 25 May 2008

Wright on leadership

The incidental Regent College comment there allows me to segue clunkingly into…

…not the more (in)famous NT Wright, Bishop of Durham and genius New Testament scholar, but Dr Walter Wright, longtime President of Regents College, Vancouver, a major evangelical seminary. His book Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000) raises and answers all sorts of interesting questions about Christian leadership and Christians in leadership. It is full of top secular thinking and management theory, and returns again and again to the tiny letter of Jude (located just before the Bible’s grand finale, Revelation) and what it has to say about leadership and anti-leadership. More on that later; for now, some provocative thoughts on volunteering, which came as a rebuke to me back in March as I was grumbling about recognition and remuneration.

Why do people volunteer? Why do they choose to spend their time and with a particular organisation? There are many reasons. People volunteer to gain love and acceptance. They volunteer to gain recognition and status, to have power. They may join because an organisation gives them an opportunity to influence decisions that affect them. People volunteer to be important… Jerry is an elevator operator in the Washington Monument. He volunteers eight to ten hours per week. He is very pleased to be part of this historic centre in his country. He pointed to his ‘volunteer’ cap with pride and told me that he had to be active at least 10 hours each month to keep his ‘status’. How many people in your organisation are worried about losing their volunteer status?

People volunteer to find self fulfilment and growth…

People volunteer to promote the cause they believe in…

They volunteer as much for the social connectedness as for the actual task…

And finally, behind all of these reasons, we hope that people are also investing in our organisations because they want to serve God. They see our organisation our community is one place they can work out their calling before God. I put this reason last because it is the one that frequently sidetracks Christian leaders, especially pastors. I have heard many pastors articulated the belief that I should volunteer to serve God and accept the assignments they have in mind as an expression of my gratitude to God. I wanted to counter this argument by noting that I am grateful to God and I do work for pay and volunteer to serve God. I do believe that all that I do is an outworking of my calling as a minister of Jesus Christ. However I do not believe that necessarily means I should work in your church in that assignment. [154-56]

Relational leaders take the volunteer’s needs seriously. This is essntial to the leading and motivating of people. Not something I feel very good at. Related to this is my occasional feeling of slowness or intertia at Hope. Does this come about because everyone is busy on other activities? Does it come about through the lack of the shared vision? Does it come about from a lack of top-down leadership? Or does it come about because I am an activist in theory but quite armchair in practice!?

Wright has more to say about how to treat volunteers well, and in passing points out that organisations (obviously including churches) simply do not need paid leaders.

Would that everyone could have a leader, a supervisor, committed to their success.

The supervisor or leader can be a paid member of the team or an unpaid volunteer. Salary does not make one a leader. I should note in passing that any position can be filled by an unpaid volunteer as well as a paid volunteer. I know unpaid volunteers who chief executive officers, Chief financial offices, chief administrative offices, directors, consultants, teachers, directors of marketing, development, etc. There is no position that cannot be filled by a competent qualified volunteer, paid or unpaid, with a good job description and the leader responsible for his or her success.

‘No supervisor,’ says ‘No one cares what I do.’ [168-69]

This is followed up with useful stuff on performance review, good people management practice, and other wise titbits and angles. A great book for long-term mulling.