Leadership Matters And So Does Your Sabbatical

A certain type of self-understanding is essential for the parish pastor who wants to be a great leader.

I appreciate Anthony B. Robinson’s insights into the importance of the pastor’s self-understanding for leadership in the parish in Robinson’s article, “Leadership That Matters.”

Robinson draws his insights from James MacGregor Burns (Leadership, 1978), Edwin H. Friedman (Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, 1985), and Ronald Heifetz  (Leadership Without Easy Answers, 1994).

Robinson believes that Burns’ distinction between transactional and transformational leaders helps pastors who want to be great leaders “take seriously the hopes, needs and agendas of individuals and of a congregation, and yet not be trapped or driven by them.”

Robinson appreciates the family systems approach that Friedman takes with regard to a parish pastor’s leadership, especially Friedman’s discussion of “the difference between leadership defined as expertise and leadership understood as self-definition.”

In Robinson’s words, “…our greatest strength as leaders lies not in the accumulation of information or technique, but in knowing ourselves and being able to articulate and act upon goals and values that are central to us and which are rooted in our faith.”

Robinson also recognizes the value of Heifetz’ distinction between “technical” and “adaptive” work by an organization and its leader.

Again in Robinson’s words, “As the era of American Christendom has ended, and the mainline churches have lost their established status, we face an adaptive change which requires enormous learning to define the problems, much less to locate and implement solutions, Churches may try to approach their challenges as if they were of a technical nature. The problem is defined as ‘membership loss,’ and the solution is church growth techniques. But our situation is a great deal more challenging than that. The skills and knowledge, the ways of being the church, that were appropriate and served us well in the establishment era no longer fit the new realities of a much more secular and religiously pluralistic society.”

The parish pastor who strives to be a great leader is well advised to spend some time with Robinson’s article.

You may also want to consider how Robinson’s insights into leadership apply when it comes to your sabbatical.

Is the self-understanding that guides your approach to leadership as a parish pastor keeping you from taking a regular sabbatical?  After all, regular sabbaticals do not just happen.  The clergy sabbatical requires the pastor to take initiative and to maintain a “non-anxious” presence (Friedman) in face of resistance. The healthiest understanding of the clergy sabbatical is not about meeting anyone’s “expressed needs” so much as equipping leaders willing to take the risks necessary for the local church to adapt and change.  The sabbatical benefits the ministry of the “transformational” leader more than (better than) the ministry of the “transactional” leader (Burns).  Similarly, the type of sabbatical one structures likely will vary depending on whether one focuses on the “technical” work done in the local church or the “adaptive” work to be done (Heifetz).

One thing is certain: the minister who wants to be a great leader needs to be a leader when it comes to requesting and structuring his or her own ministry sabbatical.


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