Leadership and Family Style: Toward Growth and Maturity

Leadership and Family Style: Part 1

Parenting styles are closely parallel to leadership styles. Good leaders, like good parents, help create individuals who contribute in meaningful ways to the life of a community.

The purpose of the church is to show the greatness of God and spread His kingdom. It does this by receiving his grace and power and releasing it into the world. Like the human body, it grows as each part fulfills its proper function.

Unlike the human body, the church has no human head. Its head is Christ. The role of leadership is not control, but rather is like the goal of parenting: to empower each member of the body to maturity, to reach their own potential in contributing to the health of others. In the church the creation of community is a primary goal since the essence of community is a place of safety and trust, and this enables participation and growth.

Personal dynamics in a church are very similar to those in a family. Some of these dynamics move toward health and harmony; others tend toward dis-ease and disunity. (This is not to say that healthy families do not disagree and even fight. In fact, families which do not know how to engage in constructive conflict find themselves uniquely challenged).

No single leadership style is "ideal." Rather, the mature leader, like the mature parent, is one who can grow along with his followers/children. The picture becomes more complicated because we all repeat the dynamics of our family of origin in other relationships. The degree to which we have resolved issues from our own family history will impact how we enter into relationships in the church and in turn how effectively we lead and empower.

What are the most basic elements for successfully raising children? Jack and Judith Balswick of Fuller Seminary argue that the two most basic elements for the successful raising of children to maturity are support and control (Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1989). Support is defined as any behavior that helps a person feel comfortable, wanted, valued and loved. Control is defined as any behavior, such as setting limits and establishing structure, intended to direct behavior in a manner desirable to the one providing guidance. These same elements can be used to understand effective leadership styles in the church family.

A Position of Power

Due to differences in knowledge and status, leaders are in a position of power over those they lead. While minimizing those differences, or even eliminating them, is a longterm goal, at early stages in community life the differences are noticeable. Similarly, parents are in a position of power over children. Power is defined as the ability to exercise influence over others. Good leadership, as good parenting, is the kind and wise exercise of power.

The message of Jesus was that he came to give abundant life. He provided a model of power which was em-powering; his model of authority was service. His radical reply to the disciples who wanted to sit in positions of authority was, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant." Jesus redefined the understanding of power by his teaching and actions in relating to others as a servant. He flatly rejected the use of power to control others, and affirmed it as a means of releasing others: to lift up the fallen, forgive the guilty, to encourage responsibility and maturity in the weak, and to give power to the powerless.

Every family has individuals at different stages of physical, emotional and spiritual development. In human families the goal of effective parenting is to bring children to maturity. The church family is no different. Maturity is defined as the capacity to be a servant to others. This requires real spirituality and the ability to love unconditionally. It demands that a person go beyond individualistic measures of maturity to an inter-dependency model. Abundant life is more than a self-centered life in which all of one's personal needs are met. It involves a meaning beyond the self. The gospel call to love, forgive and serve others is a call to extra-ordinary living.

The mature person is an empowerer. Empowerers help others become competent and capable persons who in turn will empower others. The goal of parenting is to create autonomous individuals who can leave home with confidence, making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their own successes and failures. Parental empowering is the affirmation of the child's ability to learn and to grow and to become all that they were meant to be in God's image and as part of His creative plan.

From a biblical perspective, empowering does not entail one gaining power at the expense of another. Such a "limited supply" view of power may work in the physical world, but is not true of God. When empowering the children of Israel, the Lord did not give up power, but rather offered it in unlimited supply. Jesus had authority and his power flowed from His person. A part of authority, whether in the church or the family, is the responsibility to lead others to maturity. The process of giving them power does not mean relinquishing God given authority, nor does it mean the loss of power, but rather authority and power that are given away is an expansion of the rule of God.

The goal of leadership is to work itself out of a job. Just as healthy children grow up and no longer need their parents, so healthy Christians, connected directly to the Head, no longer need human direction. Rather, they will themselves be discipling others as they get their instructions directly from the Top.

Furthermore, maturity results in multiplication: the healthy family has within its seed the capability to produce other healthy families. In the same way, healthy churches produce offspring (new disciples and new churches), and healthy church families produce mature disciples who in turn disciple others.

There are four parenting/leadership styles that every effective parent and leader must master: telling, teaching, participating, and delegating. The first style is appropriate for young children, and the last style for mature children. But the goal of an effective leader is to move beyond delegation to reproduce their own maturity in their disciples. In part 2 I'll discuss these four styles and show how they relate to healthy parenting and leadership.

Leadership Style: Church and Family Part 2

In part 1 I talked about leadership and parenting styles and defined the goal of mature leadership/parenting as empowering children/disciples toward maturity. I said that the two most basic elements in producing maturity are support and control. I defined maturity as becoming an empowerer: empowerers help others become competent and capable persons who in turn will empower others.

An environment that produces growth must create a high degree of safety. The degree of safety necessary to create a climate of growth for individuals will be directly related to the wounds they carry.

A safe environment, whether church or family, has two dimensions: love/support, and structure/limits/boundaries. Support is defined as any behavior that helps a person feel comfortable, wanted, valued and loved. Control is defined as any behavior, such as setting limits and establishing structure, intended to direct behavior in a manner desirable to the one providing guidance.

Picture the empowering curve as a bell shaped curve, low at the left, high in the middle, and low again at the right. The vertical axis on the left side defines SUPPORT, varying from low to high. Along the horizontal axis is CONTROL, varying from low at left to high at the right.

Support and Control At the extreme left of the curve very little empowering is being done, and leaders and parents who are fixed in this style perpetuate dependence in others. At the extreme right end of the curve there is high empowerment of others, the opposite of dependence. From left to right, the curve represents flexibility in leadership. The four different styles are represented at different points on the curve.

The leadership style at the extreme left, telling, is characterized by one-way communication in which leaders tell others what to do. This leadership style is needed when personal maturity is low. Young children need clear directions and close supervision. The telling style emphasizes high task control. Emotional support is slight but still part of relationship building.

The teaching style is best for people who are low to moderate in maturity. As they grow they may be willing to take responsibility for specific tasks, but still do not always know how to do this. Teaching differs from telling in that communication can be two way. Learners at this stage ask many questions and are able to learn through dialogue and discussion. Leaders need to know when to withdraw their own structuring behavior and instead simply offer encouragement.

In the participating style leaders become like playing coaches, and engage in activities with those being taught. Behavior is modeled more than it is taught. While it is true that modeling takes place at every stage, it is particularly important because the telling and teaching mode is less accepted by more mature persons (equivalent to the teen years). Working together on tasks is appropriate, planning events, etc. Although learners at this stage are quite capable of doing the tasks unaided, they often lack the confidence to do so.

The delegating style is for more mature people who are both able and willing to take responsibility and perform tasks on their own. Leaders will not need to offer high levels of task control or very much support. Leaders who are fortunate to see others grow to a point where they can handle delegated responsibility are also in a position where they will begin to be empowered in turn by those they teach. In fact, the willingness to learn and be empowered by one's own disciples is itself a sign of maturity as a leader.

Each of the four styles has its own contribution to the leader/disciple relationship. The delegating and empowering style requires a higher degree of maturity, and in fact some leaders never attain it. Those who cannot shift their style in response to growth in members/disciples will limit the growth of mutuality, and sooner or later these disciples will be forced to "leave home" if they wish to continue to grow and reach their potential.

There are essentially three types of parenting/leadership: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative. Next week we'll look at the three styles and their application to church and family systems.

Leadership Style: Church and Family Part 3

In part 2 we looked at support and control, the essential elements of pastoral and parental care giving. Support is defined as any behavior that helps a person feel comfortable, wanted, valued and loved. Control is defined as any behavior, such as setting limits and establishing structure, intended to direct behavior in a manner desirable to the one providing guidance. This week I want to talk about three types of parenting/leadership: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative.

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger..."

Where support is lacking and control is high, the leadership style is Authoritarian. Individuals are apt to feel imprisoned. They are likely to feel that they are only valued as numbers, as a way of affirming to the leaders that their group or church is "successful." Rather than feeling heard, their opinions are not really counted. They will find that their presence is only to provide the leaders with a sense of significance, or to accomplish some task that is valued by the leader.

Where individuals come into a group from a family history that was controlling or abusive, they may assume that the authoritarian style is normal and will be prone to manipulation from leaders via "guilt trips" when they argue with a position or fail to "submit" to authority. If they leave they will be labeled as "rebels" and may believe that the problem was their own. Authoritarian leadership creates conformity and dependence or rebellion and guilt, not maturity and self-reliance.

In the Authoritarian style of church or family the leaders do and say almost everything, and rules abound (even though they may be unwritten). This system also has a very low tolerance for diversity, and people all tend to think and act alike. As a result, creativity in the group is rare. The approach to conflict resolution is via blaming, and when there are tensions a scapegoat is quickly found.

Where control is lacking and supportive behavior is high, the leadership style is Permissive. Individuals in this group are apt to feel smothered. If their own family history was too close (enmeshed) they might develop emotional dependence and then lash out with the anger they experienced at their own parents. They are unlikely to learn to take responsibility for themselves and may eventually leave the group (run away from home) in an attempt to gain a healthy distance. They are unlikely to move toward maturity since they have not received real direction, and many people from an enmeshed background find other relationships where they can continue to relate in this style.

Where individuals are too wounded and needy to escape the over-involved style of leadership/ parenting they will develop increasing dependence on leaders. Emotionally crippled, they will not achieve any real ability to make their own choices or move in areas of giftedness, usually being limited to performance that is specifically approved by the parent/leader.

Where both support and control are high, the leadership style is Authoritative. In this setting there is acceptance and love, and structure and direction. In this family, or in this church, the climate for intimacy, and thus for growth, is solid. A high value is placed on interpersonal relationships; people enjoy spending time together. These groups are frequently found sharing meals and planning outings and other events where they can work and be together.

In the Authoritative setting persons feel valued and safe. Communication is open and clear, and dissenting voices are heard as carefully as the "yes men." In this group people know that they will be respected, supported AND held responsible for their own choices. They are free to fail without fear of condemnation, yet guidelines are clear and apply equally to all. In this setting people are free to take risks that lead toward growth, knowing that they will be upheld and encouraged.

Conflict in this setting is valued as a way of clarifying values and reaching consensus. Authority resides primarily outside individuals in clearly stated beliefs and ideals (or in a book like the Bible) so that questioning a leader or parent is not a threat to the system itself but can be resolved with some objectivity.

Painting a picture of these three styles is somewhat artificial since there are no pure examples of these groups but rather they are found along a continuum from one extreme to the other. But if you can identify primary elements in your church or family, then you know where you are! If you find yourself in an unhealthy setting, confide in someone you trust and seek help!

People who have not grown up in a healthy family are at a disadvantage. Rather than sensing an unhealthy group leadership style they will frequently be misled by slogans such as "we really value relationship here" or "diversity is one of our greatest values." Instead of listening to the talk, watch the walk! Learn to look beyond what leaders say to how they relate and to the feeling climate of the group.


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Last Updated on August, 2005