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"Contemporary Church" Will Not Survive Without Strategic Leadership

Mal Fletcher
Added 24 March 2012
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Why Aspirational Leadership is not Enough

In the contemporary church scene today, we see a lot of aspirational leadership, but relatively little strategic leadership.

For that reason, we hear a lot about how fast the church is growing overall but see very little evidence of this in terms of cultural change in cities.

Aspirational leadership is important because it produces motivation; it provides people with motives for acting in new and more righteous or beneficial ways.

It is, however, not the only type of leadership the local church needs - not if churches are going to produce large-scale change over a long period of time and a wide area.

The contemporary church model worldwide has many strengths - not least its adaptability, its relevance of style and its ability to regenerate in new towns and cities.

Yet the contemporary church model worldwide for the most part lacks strategic leadership. That is certainly true at the level of most local churches - and even many networks of churches.

This is the kind of leadership, however, that is increasingly exercising the minds of global leaders such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and many others.

These leaders have not abandoned aspirational leadership. They have, though, recognised that something else is needed as a foundation for growth, if growth is to be more than an incremental phenomenon.

Aspirational leadership supports and facilitates change on a micro-level; that is, within individual hearts and minds.

This is obviously hugely important, as the gospel is all about connecting individual people with the Lord. Without a change of heart within the individual, there is no growth for the church!

However, strategic leadership provides the basis for longer-term impact within much larger groups of people - including local communities, towns and cities.

As individuals are spiritual reborn, they need to find avenues through which to act out their personal faith - to 'work out' their salvation, as Paul put it - so that they see change in their workplaces and beyond.

This is vital to the growth of churches if they are to become more than irrelevant subcultures sitting uncomfortably at the edges of the culture that impacts most people's lives.

Jesus did not intend the local church to be a marginal group in society, constantly motivating itself but never getting to grips with its community. He intended it to be a vibrant, proactive and positive force for good - serving the city, not just itself.

Even some relatively large churches have negligible influence on decision-making at the top-tier level within their cities.

We wonder why we have no voice when policy-makers and culture-shapers attempt to meddle with marriage and other fundamental cornerstones of the Christian worldview.

It is partly because we focus only on the short-term focus of aspirational leadership and neglect the more long-haul emphasis of strategic leadership.

Cultural impact may not sound very 'sexy' to postmodern Christian ears, but it is vital to supporting the work of proclamation; it is part of evangelism. The same Jesus who commanded us to go into all the world, preaching and making disciples, commanded us to behave as salt and light in the world.

Jesus likened his church to a 'city on a hill' - that is, a microcosm of what the city could be if it lived under the values he espoused.

The further a culture's ideals and values move away from the teaching of scripture, the harder we must work to bring even small groups of people into a relationship with Christ.

Hence the oft-repeated scriptural emphasis on sowing as the precursor to reaping. If the soil is not properly prepared and the seed is not nurtured, the seed will not take root and there will be no crop - no matter how skilful the reaper.

Jesus intended us to see that this is as axiomatic for entire cultures and communities as it is for individual hearts.

Sowing must be as well planned and deliberate as the reaping process. Yet aspirational leadership is focused almost entirely on the latter; only strategic thinking gives a practical basis for better sowing.

There is no such thing as pre-evangelism. There is only evangelism - and sowing is a much a part of it as reaping, albeit one that is now chronically underfunded.

Only strategic leadership, inspired by the Holy Spirit, can get a church out of an instant-results-only mentality into a more lasting culture-impacting form of outlook and action.

Strategic leadership, because it focuses on addressing long-term needs, produces the type of commitment and action that turn a local church into a hub of hope, ideas and activism for the city as a whole.

Aspirational leadership, because it focuses or relies largely upon the charisma of an individual leader, usually produces change over a relatively small area.

Some will argue that the power of media such as TV and the internet has changed this, allowing charismatic leaders to have influence way beyond their own locality.

That is true, but only for the very small minority of local church leaders who can afford to broadcast each week. And if you study the relationship between broadcast preaching and the shape of its audience, you find that any influence it produces tends to be thin and shallow.

That is especially true where the TV preacher has little or no relationship with the community into which he or she is speaking - and is making no attempt to listen to and respond to its particular needs.

As every local pastor knows, it is in the local community of believers that faith really grows. Faith needs to be applied in the service of and with the support of other people, in a localised community of believers.

Strategic leadership does not produce the same levels of reliance on the charismatic leader - which may be why some leaders avoid it.

It provides large groups of people with tools to produce change in their own worlds, consistently over long periods of time. It puts the emphasis not just on feelings of motivation but on pragmatic, measurable action.

Aspirational leadership, based as it is on 'current revelation', tends to shift its focus quite regularly. Again, this is especially true today as people access a multiplicity of teaching points, via media, simultaneously.

This is very frustrating for many a pastor - rightly so - because it exposes people to many (often competing) 'revelations' at one time.

Strategic leadership takes a more pragmatic approach. It measures revelation not simply by how current it sounds when presented from a pulpit, but on how much change it produces over a period of time.

In this respect strategic leadership is much more closely aligned with the challenge laid out for us by the biblical prophets - to appeal not just to people's self-interest, or to emotion, but to their social conscience and action.

Revelation is the core of all great preaching and teaching. However, true revelation usually takes time to unpack, as the leader comes to terms with all that it means and requires and patiently builds that into the people.

Revelation may be widely applicable - it usually is - but it is often most fruitful when it is developed within a specific local church or network of churches. That's because revelation received and developed within a particular local church will immediately align with the unique God-given mandate or focus of that church.

When the local church begins to truly live out its revelation, over time, the church then becomes a model for other groups to follow.

Aspirational leadership does not have the foresight or longevity that is needed to produce change over a long period of time. It doesn't provide a leadership legacy, so that the impact of our leadership is felt long after we are gone.

Strategic leadership sets up a future legacy of influence, both for the leader and for each person within the church. It teaches people the skills needed to bring lasting change in their specific areas of work. Each individual learns to see their role within the wider context of the church's impact on the city.

Believe it or not, pastor, most of your best people will not wake up Monday morning thinking, 'How can I build a great church this week?' They will go to work thinking about how they can impact their world for the Kingdom of God.

If they're in business, they will (hopefully) be thinking not simply about how they can make a profit, but how they might add value to people's lives. If they're in education, they will be thinking about how to shape the values of young minds and leave a lasting mark on a future generation.

In short, whatever your people are doing on Monday, it won't be primarily aimed at putting more bottoms on seats next Sunday. People need to be equipped for their work of ministry - or more literally, 'service' - in their environment.

Aspirational leadership might give them a burst of motivation to do better on Monday. It won't, however, provide either the vision, strategy or know-how to help them to build something of lasting significance in their world over a long period of time.

This is not an either-or proposition. We need both aspirational and strategic leadership.

However, the former does best when it serves the latter. Motivation toward personal growth carries much greater weight when it serves a bigger vision, the transformation of lives on a very large scale.


Strategic leadership is the focus of this year's Strategic Leadership Consultation, a unique summit for church network and major marketplace leaders, held in Spain.

Our special keynote speaker is General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army and one of Europe's most outspoken and forthright Christian statesmen. Lord Dannatt will speak to church leaders and take their questions on 'Strategic Leadership for the Emerging Europe'.

This is a rare opportunity for church network leaders and emerging network leaders to hear Lord Dannatt in a small group environment.

The summit is an invitation event, but if you would like more information, please contact us via email:

Keywords: contemporary church | contemporary church model | contemporary churches | strategic church leadership | strategic church leader | strategic leadership | strategic Christian leadership | aspirational church leadership | aspirational leadership

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