Gordon Cosby on Leadership

Gordon Cosby and the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, have influence far beyond their size. Since the birth of the community in the 1950s, it was “emergent” and “missional-incarnational” before anyone was coining the terms. In Call to Commitment, an book penned in the 60s by Elizabeth O’Connor, Cosby is cited in describing six qualities of empowering leadership.

1) A person must come to the place where she knows that the real issue is always an internal one. The temptation of the natural man is to focus upon what is wrong “out there.” The real question: “what in me blocks the coming of the Holy Spirit?” If we are to follow a heavenly vision, we can’t be overly concerned with what the church is not doing. The very word “vision” implies grace - -that which is not seen by ordinary eyes. To follow a vision, therefore, is to be out alone in a strange land, confident that God keeps us company there and with the faith that one day another willl join us, and then another..

2) The second quality of leadership is the capacity to take hostility. But why does hostility exist within a mission group which presumably has the Good News and is committed to the task of sharing it? We bring hostility with us and in the group it is uncovered. The pressures of mission as well as facing strange and alien circumstances bring hostility to the surface. Moreover, effective mission requires life in depth; this means that our relationships are involved at an intense level, where social veneer gives way to reality. Hostility is the consequence of fear, which has its origin in separation from God; it is thus known to everyone. We must have the capacity to bear hate and anger and persecution because this is the cost at which the kingdom is born.

3) A third closely related quality is the capacity to accept another where they are. There is a bit of the manipulator and perfectionist in each of us. We tend to set standards for ourselves and standards for others, and to become critical when they are not met. We feel safe if we are moving toward our ideal, or if we can stay close to the person or community we have placed on the pedestal. But this is an idolatrous relationship, which is broken when demands are made that can’t be met. We superimpose our ideal of community and then are disappointed. Criticism is often the gap between expectation and reality…

4) A fourth quality of leadership is the perspective which enables us to sort out the little issues from the big ones… One church meeting involved six people talking for one hour about whether or not to have the piano tuned. This is a loss of perspective, where the little issues act as smoke screens which keep us from seeing the big issues. The leader with the marks of the reconciler will know how to listen to opposing viewpoints and how to affirm each person so that there is an opportunity for perspective to be restored.

5) The fifth quality of leadership is a willingness to fail and to let others fail. Behind this risk taking is the conviction that if God does a new thing through us, we must necessarily be trying that which has not been tried before and there will be no way of knowing in advance the outcome. Our security focused world needs people who will let come into existence that which may fail. Our job is not to be successful. Our task is to provide structures in which the uniqueness of each of our people may be expressed. Lack of creativity makes for unfulfilled lives and dull Christians. At Dayspring.. it does not matter if we succeed or not. What is important is what will happen to us as we meet with success or failure.

6) The sixth quality of leadership is the most difficult to meet, yet sounds so simple. It is a deep caring for people — not just those who are important to us, those who can give us something, but for all people. “Our mission is to be able to say convincingly to antoher person, ‘I love you, and I always will.’” Unless there are two or three people at the heart of a community with the capacity to love, it is doomed.

Note: check out some fantastic interviews done by Cutting Edge Magazine a few years ago .. and still available online in PDF format. Fall, 2001.

And related, a Church of the Savior website: Inward/Outward

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• © 2005-2007 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in January, 2007