Graham Cray on leadership

Tuesday, 13 September, 2011

Graham Cray discusses leadership - growing leaders, investing in people, learning to let go, contextual leadership, the importance of mentoring, taking risks, local leadership and why investing in leadership is time well spent.

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Graham Cray: I became absolutely convinced of the importance of growing leaders from a context, indigenous leaders if you like, when I heard the story of an early church plant from one of the posher Holy Trinity Brompton churches and they planted into a needy estate in Hammersmith. The three teams were sent, three cell groups and a leader, and they all got deeply involved in the community. It was fresh expressions strategy before fresh expressions were called fresh expressions – they listened, they served, community formed. One of the cell groups began a children's ministry and they did it because the ramshackle old hall they'd been given as a base, they were meeting in. There was a knock on the door, there appears this dad, 'I'm a single parent, not much money, my kids' birthdays are coming up, please could we hold the party here?'

The group said yes, the group suddenly realised it was a children's ministry they were meant to provide. The dad who knocked on the door became the second leader of the church after the planter moved. He came to faith and was the first one and came to leadership. What the church planter told me was that during the time in that initial phase when they were there they built relationship and goodwill with large numbers of people in the community. When a local person became the leader, the goodwill began to turn into conversions and real discipleship 'cos there was a local person there that they recognised as one of theirs and that opened the door to the Kingdom.

If you're going to grow leaders in a fresh expression or any other sort of church, you're simply going to have to prayerfully invest in people. They don't self-select, it took Jesus a night of prayer with the Father before he came down and identified 12 and then you see a three year ministry of prioritising investment in those people, of involving them in his ministry, of sending them out to have a try, of debriefing them when they came back, helping them to learn from their mistakes and I think that is the primary Christian way – not only just to make disciples but to grow leaders. If a fresh expression begins with discernment, with listening to context, growing leaders from it comes from that same process of listening.

If you want to grow leaders you can't be a control freak, you're not teaching people to do exactly as you would do it and only when you're there to make sure that's exactly what they do. You're learning to take risks, to trust people, to let them develop the gifts they have – not force them into having gifts that you have which means probably God will re-shape the ministry you're talking about before your eyes as you see the people that he's giving you. I'm always struck by the story of the call of Moses where God says to Moses, 'What's in your hand?' He says, 'It's a stick' and God says, 'Just let me show you what I can do with your stick'. Well sometimes the people that God gives us, because of how narrow a model of leadership we have in our minds, seem about as useful as a stick. But if they're God's gift, just watch what God will do – not with a stick but with some human beings who aren't like you.

If you're going to grow leaders for a context you have to start listening and trusting the people for whom that is their context – especially if you've come from another one, even if it's just a contrast in style and culture and it's the same parish or circuit or something like that. Don't trust your instincts alone about reading the setting; begin to identify the people who seem to have a real wisdom about that setting, who seem to know it and as they grow in faith have good instincts about it. Probably you're being shown some leaders 'cos at the heart of leadership is vision, being able to read a context, knowing what is the next thing to do. But it does involve acknowledging the fact that there might be some people nowhere near as mature in Christ as you are who have better instincts than you about that place and who God might be raising up as leaders.

There comes I think a key stage where you move from apprenticing, which is teaching people some basic skills of Christian leadership, you are trying to be sensitive to context but that's mainly what you're doing, it's show and tell, into something that's much more a combination of mentoring and defending. You've trusted someone with some responsibility and you need to trust them to actually exercise it and not be watching them all the time and if you are releasing them to do something that you can't and that really is the vital sort of leader we need, there's no point recruiting people who can do what you can do. If the ministry's going to expand or engage with the context more substantially then you need some people who can do things that you can't. You can't apprentice them for that 'cos you can't do it but you can mentor them in the sense of seriously investing in their Christian character and accountability and being vulnerable to them yourself about your struggles with being a leader and a disciple. But if you're going to be a mentor I think you'll also have to be a diplomat. Sometimes we have to interpret for and defend people who perhaps are at the cutting edge of a fresh expression and the folk from our traditional congregation don't understand. That new leader is probably not going to be able to explain very well, they've never been trained to be cross cultural back into a world they don't belong to. But people training leaders within the mixed economy have go to be 'bilingual' if not cross cultural, explaining, defending, interpreting and sometimes doing some interpreting back. So I think you start as an apprentice maker and you end up as a combination of mentor and diplomat.

Just as in disciple making the training of leaders is going to be messy, people have got to be encouraged to take risks. Sometimes when they take risks they will make mistakes. Sometimes we will take risks with people and some flaw in their character we didn't know about emerges and they, in some way or other, let us down. Two things are essential – if we're going to mentor and encourage we must be equally willing to challenge and, if necessary, exercise discipline. Overall leaders have a responsibility to protect the flock from, if you like, the character flaws of new leaders making mistakes but we also need to remember the cross is written over the top of all of this. This is about grace, about learning mistakes and about new beginnings.

The Church of England has a category called Ordained Pioneer Minister; other traditions and denominations may well have something similar. One of the changes in our (CofE) regulations since September 2010 is that if you apply to be one of these pioneers you don't have to be full-time paid. You can be self-supporting or you can be what we call a Local Minister and this is really important for fresh expressions because as God grows leaders in a fresh expression that fresh expression will want to celebrate the Eucharist, want to baptise and within the Church of England at least that requires an ordained minister. We can now identify the ministers that God is growing through fresh expressions at the appropriate time and we should be making good use of the possibility of local ministers being pioneer ministers as we try and grow indigenous leadership through fresh expressions.

You might wonder reading the gospels why did Jesus spend so much of his precious time with that rather unlikely bunch of men and actually women - there were women travelling with him full time and they show up better when it comes to the crucifixion than the men do - but it was obviously a priority for him and if it was a priority for him it needs to be a priority for us. Fresh expressions can fail because the founding leader moves on or the initial team gets worn out, fresh expressions can just become events that we put on for others and no ownership of the Gospel or what it means to be a Christian can be taken on by, if you like, the local community with whom the fresh expression is engaging. It's much, much more serious not to try and grow leaders who are appropriate to the local context than all the frankly jolly hard work, sometimes disappointment, patience and frustration of doing it. Growing local leaders is essential and God will give the grace for it but, just like fresh expressions itself, it's not a quick journey or a quick fix.


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