The Leadership Table of our Indiana Conference met on September 20 and I missed their meeting due to having a bad cough and cold. But I understand that among their discussions was the question of the right word to describe the kind of leadership we want from our pastors and lay leadership. Our new Director of Leadership Development, Aleze Fulbright, has raised the question in several settings since her arrival, “What kinds of leadership do we want to develop? What word or words best describes a fully-developed, mature, Christian leader?” It is more than mere semantics. Is the right word Fruitful (that is what Aleze proposed after conversations with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Board of Laity)? Or is the right word Effective (that is what our current set of Conference Vision and Values says). Or is the word Faithful, as some have proposed? Perhaps even the word Efficient belongs in the discussion. In a similar way, we use words like Vital and Vibrant interchangeably, but are those words the same?

The Leadership Table decided to seek more input from the pastors and congregations of our Indiana Conference, and then at a future meeting they will discuss the issue again. So, in conversation with our new Communication Director, Skyler Nimmons, I am putting the question to you for your input. Skyler has even developed a survey to collect more responses. What do you think is the best word to describe the kind of leadership that the church needs today:

  • faithful
  • fruitful
  • effective
  • efficient
  • vibrant
  • vital
  • successful
  • or some other words

It is not just semantics, and it relates very much to how we measure, evaluate and develop accountable leadership.

For example: what if a pastor serves a church for several years and helps that church in a dying or dramatically changing community to finish its ministry with dignity, close its doors in a way that leaves a legacy to other ministries, and gives people a sense of a “mission completed” – is that faithful, or effective, or fruitful leadership? By some measurements, it could be called a “failure” and sometimes clergy feel that way when they serve in such a difficult situation. How do you measure the value of ministry/leadership in such a setting?

Or another example: what if a pastor is leading a growing church in a growing population area to receive lots of new members, but pays little attention to developing a sense of discipleship, stewardship, and service among those many new members? Some measurements would call that a “success” or “effective” or “fruitful” – but is it? How do you measure spiritual growth and leadership? What if those new members all leave when the pastor leaves – does that change our measurement of fruitfulness or effectiveness?

Or another example: what if a lay leader stands by his/her congregation over many years, often driving back into town to worship and serve in the life of that congregation, but never seems willing to mentor newer, younger leaders or to “let go” of that person’s power and authority? Is that faithful, effective, and fruitful leadership?

Or another example: what if a pastor and a key lay leader of a congregation become inspired to help lead that congregation to revise its ministry to reach a newer, younger generation, and if those proposed changes create tension and even resistance from some long-term members, is that faithful or fruitful or effective leadership? What if the proposed revisions are approved? What if they are not approved? Does that make a difference in how we describe the leadership of that pastor and key lay leader? Are they being faithful, fruitful, or effective just for raising the right questions, or must we see positive results?

Finally, this example: what if a pastor seems to have little measurable “success” during many years of ministry, but at that pastor’s funeral dozens of lay people testify to the impact of that pastor upon their personal life, including several who felt called into ministry and service because of that pastor’s influence, can we say that pastor’s ministry was faithful, fruitful, effective, or transforming? What word best describes such leadership?

So, help us out … click here for the survey to respond to this E-pistle and let us know what word or words you believe best describe the kind of leadership we want to develop in the Indiana Conference among our clergy and lay leadership.

What is the right word? Thanks for your help.