Leadership in the Wesleyan tradition
In their new book, “Grace to Lead,” Kenneth L. Carder and Laceye C. Warner draw upon the early Methodist movement in Great Britain to distill instructive and formative marks of leadership for the church in the world today.
In “Grace to Lead: Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition,” authors Kenneth L. Carder and Laceye C. Warner examine the telos, or goal, of Christian discipleship and leadership; the significance of divine grace for understanding and practicing leadership in the Wesleyan tradition; the central place of Christian practices for leadership formation in the early Methodist movement; and the challenges and opportunities of leadership in the contemporary context.
This excerpt from the book examines the comprehensive vision of God’s holistic salvation that is required of leadership to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Qualities and skills needed to address challenges and opportunities
The challenges and opportunities confronting leaders in the twenty-first century call for leaders, both individual and corporate, with particular qualities and skills. The challenges of competing worldviews, the disestablishment of the church, pluralism, diversity, and polarization, as well as individualism and loss of community, have few parallels in history from which we can learn. However, the contemporary context highlights particular qualities and skills inspired by the Wesleyan tradition for Christian leaders to maximize participation in God’s mission of salvation.
Foundation repair and reinforcement is a necessary task of leaders in the twenty-first century. Effective leadership amid competing and conflicting worldviews requires a deep grounding in Scripture and the Christian tradition. Church leaders must address immediately and comprehensively the erosion of basic knowledge of Scripture and the doctrines and traditions of the Christian faith by those within the church. Otherwise, the competing worldviews will render our witness ineffectual and the church’s participation in God’s mission tepid. Without a solid theological foundation, efforts to revitalize and renew declining membership will be short-lived programmatic structures built on sand rather than the solid rock of the gospel.
We have a precedent in the early Methodist movement. John and Charles Wesley and their coworkers laid a foundation for the subsequent growth of the Methodists. Despite staggering numbers of listeners in open-air preaching, the early Methodist movement showed a relatively slow growth through an intense process of Christian formation in small-group gatherings resulting in changed lives. Priority was given to recovering “primitive Christianity” through teaching, preaching, writing, and practices that formed individuals and groups in accordance with holiness of heart and life. John Wesley’s extensive written and oral sermons, as well as tracts, letters, and treatises, were directed toward laying a foundation in Scripture and tradition upon which the societies, classes, bands, evangelistic strategies, and mission engagement were built.
Charles Wesley’s poems and hymns became a repository of theological interpretation, Christian formation, and evangelical and missional motivation, as well as vehicles of worship. They laid a foundation from which we benefit and upon which we continue to build.
Ron Heifetz distinguishes between two leadership challenges: technical and adaptive. A technical challenge is a problem for which there is an immediate and known solution. For example, a blocked artery can be treated with medication, a stent, or bypass surgery. An adaptive challenge is one for which no known solution currently exists and that requires a cultural shift. Thus, while a blocked artery calls for a technical response, heart health requires a lifestyle change. In the context of church leadership, membership decline can be treated as a technical challenge: one can deal with it by developing and implementing a marketing plan for recruitment. However, if renewal of the congregation through transformed lives is the challenge, then a cultural shift is necessary that will include education and formation over an extended period of time.
John Wesley approached the early Methodist renewal movement as an adaptive challenge, which required laying a foundation and a lifetime of practices. Contemporary heirs of the early Methodists confront the need for a cultural shift in the church’s life. Leaders, therefore, must address the immediate technical challenges with an eye on the long-range cultural shift necessary. Foundation repair requires patience and perseverance and a willingness to get one’s hands dirty and work without recognition and immediate visible results.
A comprehensive vision of God’s holistic salvation is required of leadership that meets the challenges of the twenty-first century. Christian leadership has always lived with the tension between the already and not yet dimensions of God’s salvation and reign. Eschatology is an essential component of Christian leadership aimed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. We celebrate the kingdom of God already present, and we anticipate its completion. It is the vision of a new creation brought to fulfillment that forms the vision of the Christian leader. The new creation encompasses the entire created order and forces us beyond provincialism, exclusivity, and homogeneity.