Audacious courage: lessons from a larger church 3

My final musing on lessons from leading a smaller and larger church is one that I’ve still not really grasped. The need for audacious courage.

The first principle that leadership is about courage rather than control is straightforward enough. In a small church if you work hard you can do it all yourself, from cleaning the toilets, writing and photocopying newsletters and minutes, preparing Sundays, visiting members and the occasional community function. In a large church you can’t because each of those things is at least a half time job. So your focus changes from doing things to getting things done through others; releasing them, encouraging them, connecting them to the bigger picture of church life. But letting go is not always easy. First there is the criticism that you never do x or y and that you ought to have dropped what you were doing in order to visit z before they died. Second, enabling other people means they will do it there way not yours. Third, however good you think you are at planning and communicating there will always be unintended consequences.

The second thing about courage is that you need it if you are not to shy away from every difficult situation, confusing choice or potential complaint. Part of leadership is the willingness to show up when you don’t feel like it, stand up for what you believe to be right even when others don’t agree, speak out what you sense God is saying knowing that some will not like it and getting shot at by others. And doing all of this with good grace. All these things are true in a smaller church to, what changes is the number and frequency of these occasions and therefore your ability to handle several of them at once, without much thinking time, whilst still responding with grace and diplomacy.

But the thing which makes the difference is how audacious you are prepared to be; your willingness to take bold risks. My experience is that larger churches are more risk averse and therefore it is harder to go after possibilities. In order to take the risks you have to push harder to get the initiative going; you have to commit more energy, vitality and reputation to enable the church to embrace and develop any initiative. And in a larger church where programs and initiatives are what creates a sense of belonging it is far easier to focus on excellence than experiments, fewer initiatives rather than multiple ones.

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