Leadership in Lockdown


A note to my friends in church leadership at this time.

I’m part of the leadership team at my church – there are 4 of us. We work closely together, not just in terms of roles and decisions, but we are also in close physical proximity as we work. All based in a pretty moderate office within chair-rolling distance of each other. We’ve worked like this for just over 18 months now. 

And then lockdown was enforced – a concept we could not have imagined even in February in the UK and is now our new normal.  

As a society we have adapted, we have changed the way we live, we abide by the rules for the greater good and to save the NHS. Humankind is amazing and versatile and agile and generally good.  

As I am observing these adaptations I realise that aspects of them are particularly tough. For those of us leading churches, leaders whose leadership role is relational, based on conversations, human contact, encouraging, enabling and influencing others, the impact on our identity as leaders could be especially challenging. 

A large part of my role as the Community Leader in our church is around developing people. The problem is you can’t  build relationship in the same way through a screen. So much communication, body language, understanding of the other person, nuance in the conversation is lost. It’s a screen, you’re sat eyeballing each other, talking over each other due to lags in the internet and feeling the pressure to speak all the time because silence and space for processing seems unnatural unless you give it permission. 

My guess is there are many pastoral, relational leaders out there right now who are struggling, wondering who they are now and who they will become as leaders.  What is my role now? How do I do my job?  These are tough times for more extrovert leaders whose energy is renewed by being with others, whose sense of purpose as a leader comes from seeing those we are leading flourish and grow, who like nothing better than gathering people together, seeing relationships forge and blossom, having the opportunity and privilege to encourage and inspire others in their work and life. Those leaders love having great conversations and being part of a physical community. 

So my concern is this. We need to provide opportunities for leaders to make sense of this seismic shift in how we lead. Now more than ever we need leadership that is resilient, hope-full, real and authentic. We want to avoid the gap created by feeling we can’t do our job properly being filled by self doubt and ‘what’s the point?’ 

Honest conversations with others perhaps those facing the same storm, or a coach who can listen deeply and ask good questions, or a spiritual director or a trusted friend who just loves you for who you are, could be the silver bullet at this time.  

If you’re a leader feeling any of this please do not carry on feeling these things alone. The church, more than ever, is an essential service. It is no longer contained within its walls. I for one am grateful of that. It’s scattered and knowing how to lead it when it’s no longer neat and tidy, rhythmic and routine is tough. But it needs leading and if that’s what you’re called to do don’t get robbed of it during this time. Please, we need you to recognise  your own disquiet, talk it out, pray it through and then carry on being WHO YOU ARE! We need you not to become paralysed by it or allow it to undermine you any more BUT give yourself the time and space to work out what your leadership looks like now and then lead.

The earliest forms of the word courage in Latin meant to “speak ones mind by telling all ones heart.” as Brene Brown says.  Our association of heroism and bravery with courage these days causes it to lose so much: “It fails to recognise the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and our experiences – good and bad.  Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage’.”

Find that ‘ordinary courage’ today and speak from the heart. It’s absolutely okay to do so and I promise you it will make the world of difference.  

It’s a process I’m going through as I navigate these strange times. It’s a process I’m really happy to help others go through too, so that we don’t lose our sense of leadership identity, so that we find a new expression of leadership that serves God, the church and our communities in these virtually connected, locked down days. 

Some questions to start with might be :

“How am I really feeling about this”

“Where do I feel it physically – head, heart, gut?

“What do I need in order to help me make sense of these feelings and find that ‘ordinary courage?’

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