So — to chair or not to chair?

21 October 2008

Stephen Cottrell finds a leaders’ guide at its best on finer points


How to Become a Creative Church Leader: A MODEM handbook
John Nelson, editor

Canterbury Press £17.99 (978-1-85311-813-5)
Church Times Bookshop £16.20

YOU DON’T find many Christian books quoting Nietzsche approv­ingly, but these words towards the end of a long and mixed collection of essays on all kinds of aspects and approaches to Christian leadership put together by MODEM, the ecu­menical forum on leadership and management, seem to sum up what I found to be best in this book: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

This comes in a chapter by Tim Harle on “Sustaining a Process of Change” and is about that vision thing. If the job of a leader is to lead, and, in order to lead, decide what direction to take, then, unless he or she plans to walk alone, there must be real ownership about

where the community wants to get to, and why this route is being taken.

This is where vision and values align. The leader is the herald of the vision and the guardian of the values; or, as Tim Harle puts it, unless you can answer the question “Why are you doing this?”, no amount of knowledge about “How?” will ever help.

This book covers both, but in

my view is better on the details. Some chapters do cover the big issues, such as the chapter by Peter Brierley on “Thinking Strategically”. But some are very specific, cover-

ing issues such as when not to chair a church-council meeting, or how

to mentor an assistant minister. Leslie J. Francis is his usual clear and in­structive self, writing on psycho­logical type and leadership styles.

But some chapters seemed to me to stretch the envelope so much it started to tear. I’m not convinced that the prophet Habakkuk and “well-researched, contemporary leadership gurus are speaking much the same language”. This, for me, was a parallel too far. Though, in the desolate days of the credit crunch, many financial leaders will be experiencing much the same misfortune as the prophet, very few of them will have his remarkable ability to rejoice in the midst of it. But this chapter by Roger Standing still had some very challenging and useful insights.

Taken as a whole, this sort of large collection of essays rarely satisfies completely. But within it there are lots of individually good things. I’m not sure it will help me to be a more creative leader, but it will be something I refer to for further reflection on certain aspects of leadership. There is a poem by Monica Alvi which begins: “I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.” This book is better on the details than on the big picture.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Reading.

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