‘It’s time to end the myth of the complete leader; the flawless person at the top who’s got it all figured out. In fact, the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be.’
This is a summary of a large ecumenical research report, Leadership and ministry, lay and ordained: insights from rural multi-church groups, which explores leadership and the development of the ministry of lay people in rural multi-church groups. Leadership of multi-church groups is complex and often difficult. It requires engagement with and understanding of diverse contexts; listening, theological reflection, vision and planning; skills in training and enabling of others. It is important to emphasise that all these skills are rarely found in a single person and so to be most effective in mission, ministry, leadership needs to be collaborative. This is particularly so in rural multi-church contexts where the distances and distinct communities involved accentuate many of the challenges shared by local churches in all contexts.
Ordained ministers and lay people from the United Reformed Church, Methodist Church and the Church of England participated in this research, which is based on interviews and case studies from the three denominations across diverse rural areas of England. Almost all participants identified the need to share ministry and leadership with others. In different ways, almost all reflected on the complexity of doing this.
Those in positions of leadership (lay and ordained) had a diverse range of styles and approaches, illustrating that there is no single way of leading rural multi-church groups or enabling the ministry of others. However, the research has identified that some approaches to leadership and of encouraging and developing the ministry of lay people have more positive outcomes. Recommendations for helpful approaches include:
- Mentoring helped to develop confidence and skills in both lay and ordained
- Informal approaches to training and development of lay people had the greatest impact and effectiveness
- Formal courses were more effective when provided as locally as possible, so that more people could participate with limited travel distances
- Those whose roles included developing the ministry of others benefited from training and support to mentor others
- Multiple shorter courses to build confidence and help reflect on experience are helpful rather than longer periods of training
- Online approaches to learning are helpful, particularly ‘bite-sized’ courses.
The research found only a few instances of where training and development was provided on an ecumenical basis. This is a missed opportunity as there is much to be gained from working together to provide courses or mentoring ecumenically, since it enables a critical mass of participants to be formed and allows a wider range of expertise and experience to be shared.
In many ways what the research has identified as key challenges and opportunities that are specifically highlighted in rural multi-church contexts, can also be seen as challenges and opportunities for the wider Christian Church in a religious landscape that is arguably less Christian, more secular and more religiously plural than the one that gave birth to its inherited structures and approaches to ministry and leadership. It is within these inherited structures that the narrative of the rural church must change from a story that narrates only decline to one that is able to recognise the distinctive value that the rural context offers and the positive developments that arise as a result.
You can read the full report via the University of Derby website and download a copy of the summary report here.