Christian leadership an interview with Peter Corney

INTERVIEWER:Peter what do you think are the essential qualities a Christian leader in ministry needs?
PETER: I believe they need the following things:
1. Conviction – a strong faith in Christ
2. Calling – to the task or role
3. Character – spiritual maturity, moral integrity, a strong sense of servanthood.
4. Mental health – While no one is completely whole leaders need to be reasonably healthy psychologically and emotionally. For example any-one with significant narcissistic tendencies, serious insecurity or lacking in empathy and emotional intelligence should not be encouraged. The pressures of leadership amplify our weaknesses and emotional disabilities and leaders with significant unresolved problems can become toxic for an organisation.
5. Gifts – there are gifts given by God that are clearly very helpful in leadership. EG. Verbal communication skills, ability to teach, personalities that attract people and have real empathy, organisational abilities, ability to take initiative and to think strategically etc. No one will have all these gifts but often gifted leaders have a combination of several. These are usually discerned over time by observation by others of people’s service in the context of their Christian community. Romans 12:6-8 lists leadership among the gifts of the Spirit given to the Church.
6. A solid orthodox theological and biblical education.
7. A willingness to develop competencies – skills in communication, in training others, leading and managing people, skills in managing change and conflict, organising and planning skills, etc. These can be taught through a combination of theory, modelling, practice and evaluated experience by a mentor, preferably one who observes them in action.
8. An ability to read the culture in which they are placed.

INTERVIEWER: Are leaders born or made?
PETER: I think both. But ‘born’ leaders need to be trained and skilled and have instilled into them proper attitudes to the task, such as servanthood and humility to counter our natural fallen nature and tendencies to ego inflation and pride. Someone said ‘Charisma without character usually leads to chaos’. A ‘made’ leader can be just as effective as a ‘born’ one. History tends to support the idea that every now and again God seems to raise up a special leader and ‘anoint’ them, such leaders often have history changing effects. E.g. Moses, Luther, Wesley, St. Francis. Many of these were not completely rounded people; Moses had a temper and was not an outstanding speaker, it seems he may even have had a speech defect. Wesley’s marriage was strained, St. Francis would today be considered to be extreme in some of his ideas and practices. So an effective leader doesn’t have to have to be perfect and have every gift we think is necessary! But there are some common factors that outstanding Godly leaders share:
* Passion and single mindedness for the vision and for God. These characteristics attract others to follow them to share in their vision. The passion rubs off!
* A number of them like Wesley were very capable organisers. Organisational ability enables the leader to create structures in which others can be empowered, mobilised, find a role and explore their own gifts.

INTERVIEWER: Are manager’s leaders and do leaders need to be managers?
PETER: It depends a bit on your definitions! But a manager can be a leader as well as a manager but not all managers are leaders in the capital L sense. But leaders definitely need to know how to manage and how to surround themselves with people with complimentary gifts to themselves.
A good manager may run a system and a task team well but not be a person who naturally thinks about the bigger picture, about strategy, vision and the future. They may not be the kind of person who can convey a passion for the big aim of the enterprise. They may not be a thought leader or major influencer and culture shaper.
The leader usually has to carry more responsibility than a manager, deal with more complexity, give more time and energy and be ultimately accountable for the enterprise its values and vision, success or failure. They have significant ‘power’ and authority. How and why they exercise that power and authority is of course a key issue. Excellent leaders are often transformers of organisations and can impact large groups of people.
The English word ‘lead’ comes from an Anglo Saxon word which means a road or a way or the path of a ship. ‘Managing’ is from the Latin meaning a hand – manus. The idea is handling a sword, a ship, a horse or machine. It tends to be associated with more technical skills like accounting, supervising a manufacturing process, etc.

INTERVIEWER: Are all leaders capable of rising to the same level?
PETER: No I don’t think so. Some people can lead well up to a certain level but the next step up may be beyond their gifts or abilities. But it is not always easy to tell early on if a particular person has the potential to develop further or not and so people need to be given the chance and senior leaders need to take controlled risks with people. By ‘controlled risks’ I mean giving people opportunities but supporting and supervising them closely. We also need to create a climate where all levels of leadership are celebrated and affirmed. Not just the senior leadership.

INTERVIEWER: In your experience what are the common traps or mistakes that leaders can fall into or make?
PETER: I think they fall into two general areas. The first is moral and spiritual; the second is in the skill and experience area. In the moral and spiritual area the things that trip up leaders and often end their careers are (a) sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships (b) financial misconduct (c) the abuse of power and people (d) neglect of family life (e) personal emotional and psychological wounding that is undealt with (f) plateauing, a failure to keep growing and learning (g) failure to develop personal disciplines early in their ministry, both in spiritual practices and use of time. In the second area of skill and experience some of the most common things are: (a) a failure to learn and practice basic organisational and planning skills. (Creating structures for people to work in is a key responsibility of leaders. It’s like the scaffolding for constructing a building, it enables the ministry to be built.) (b) not understanding the change process and so proceeding clumsily, too rapidly or without sufficient consultation. (c) a failure to understand how to recruit and motivate volunteers and how to build and lead teams (d) not understanding that building relationships of trust and friendship with those you are called to lead is a fundamental key to ministry (e) not being prepared to get in and get your hands dirty with the troops and do the ordinary hack work, like setting up, cleaning up, washing up, working bees, etc., the things that demonstrate a humble servant heart. (Now this does not mean you don’t delegate and organise teams to set up and prepare etc., but you show by your own involvement that you don’t think you’re above this but willing to work with others in the grunt work.) (f) The failure to make a constant priority the selection and training of leaders and key ministry people. (‘Ministry is multiplied by multiplying the ministers’.)

INTERVIEWER: What would you do differently as you look back now on all your years in ministry and leadership?
PETER: That’s a tough one! I hope I would try and pray more and listen to God more. I would put even more energy into training up leaders and lay people for ministry. I’d be more proactive and less reactive with my time and energy. I would try to be more strategic in my thinking and decision making, trying to ask myself regularly “What should we do now that will build a foundation for the future and make future changes easier and future initiatives more fruitful?” Given that the Gospel, and its communication so people will come to Christ, is our primary objective, the effectiveness of that task should always be the measure of our fruitfulness. But there is always a tension between preparation and action. You can be so focussed on quality and teaching and getting the base right that you never reach out. Another strategic question is “What are the current barriers to growth in both peoples maturity and attendance and how can we remove them?”

INTERVIEWER: What did you find most stressful?
PETER: I think striking a constructive balance between competing factors. Coping with the tension created by competing factors is constant in ministry and I don’t think I understood how challenging that is when I first began. In a reasonably healthy and open Christian community there are many tensions, e.g.: between outreach and pastoral care, between differing theological emphasise, between different styles of worship and music, between the particular enthusiasms of one group and those of another, between waiting on God and taking initiative, between different age groups, between stepping out in faith and waiting till you have the money, where to pitch your preaching- teaching the basics to new Christians or deepening the knowledge and faith of more mature members, etc., etc. The other stress is the fact that ministry is like housework in a big family – it never ends!

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any one thing you think is crucial?
PETER: Yes. Keeping a sense of humour and a sense of perspective!!

  • Shaz Jones

    I like the emphasis on being strategic, having structure and removing barriers. Great interview – thanks for sharing!