What are the distinctive marks of leadership in fresh expressions? (Sara Savage)

Monday, 17 May, 2010

Sara SavageSara Savage asks what the distinctive marks of leadership in fresh expression are.

Visualise a painting by Pablo Picasso showing a subject viewed simultaneously from multiple perspectives.

Leaders in fresh expressions need to be 'Picassos' - able to perceive multiple perspectives on the issue at hand, and draw them together into a picture that makes sense. This doesn't mean leaders will be abandoning their own standpoint, aiming for some muddy middle ground. Leaders need to have their roots down into their own perspective, and their own spiritual tradition. They need to be secure in their own Christian roots. Yet, at the same time, they need to perceive the validity of the viewpoint of the other, who, in all probability, is a newcomer to all things Christian, or is perhaps a returner coming with baggage from previous, perhaps unhealed, church experience.

A good leader will be curious to find out how other people perceive what is going on in the fresh expression. If the leader connects with the way other people perceive and make sense of the world, communication becomes authentic, and two-way.

The psychologist Peter Suedfeld calls this capacity for perceiving multiple perspectives, and integrating them into an overarching framework, Integrative Complexity (IC for short). When people raise their level of IC, new beginnings become possible. Research shows that peaceful solutions to conflicts ensue. New understandings arise.

It's easier to have all the right answers, but it's better to pose the right questions, and then provide the scaffolding and the resources for the journey

In the early church, theologians wrestling with the human and divine natures of Christ needed high IC to be able to make sense of their experience of the risen Jesus while maintaining their commitment to Jewish monotheism. Leaders in fresh expressions also have to be able to weave together diverse, even opposing viewpoints, but without succumbing to a lazy compromise that loses the riches of the Christian revelation. 

Our globalised situation is one of conflicting perspectives, and people are suspicious of anyone claiming a monopoly on the truth. Leaders have the very challenging task of weaving together the Christian narrative into the real life narratives of people. To do this in a way that is not prefabricated, but involves a genuine conversation, is the art of listening. Hard to do. It's easier to have all the right answers. But it's better to pose the right questions, and then provide the scaffolding and the resources for the journey.

About the author: 

Dr Sara Savage is a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge. For more about IC, read Conflict in Relationships by Savage and Boyd-MacMillan (Lion/Hudson, 2010).


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