Leading with Energy, Intelligence, Imagination, and Love

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Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? This question is asked in the service of ordination and installation of church officers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But there is nothing uniquely Presbyterian about this question or the identification of church leadership as servant leadership.

Leadership demands multiple intelligences to see the opportunities, challenges, and choices before a congregation.

When I hear this question asked, I find myself wondering if some have heard this question so many times that they are deadened to what it is asking. Leadership requires much of those who accept its mantle. Those who follow leaders deserve the best they can offer.

Leadership requires energy — physical and emotional, psychological and spiritual. Leadership calls for active engagement and considerable amounts of energy. It requires stick-to-it-iveness and stamina, since there are no quick fixes in leadership. Leaders are wise to seek sources to renew their energy within the congregation and the community in which they serve.

Leadership demands intelligence — conceptual and emotional intelligence, social and contextual intelligence. Leadership demands multiple intelligences to see the opportunities, challenges, and choices before a congregation. Possessing multiple facets of intelligence increases the likelihood that leaders will respond effectively in the context of change and loss, grieving and attaching anew.

Leadership calls for imagination — but unfortunately, imagination is often a casualty of loss in congregations struggling with change. The pain of loss, concerns over congregational survival, and pressures to restore the status quo threaten creative ministry and leadership. Many congregations going through change want leaders who are more able to repackage the past than to visualize the future. A lively imagination in leaders expands their capacity to be energetic, intelligent, and loving. Imagine that!!

Leadership requires love — love for the congregation, for the members and other leaders, for neighbors near and far, and for God. Leaders participate in a web of caring relationships. Therefore, attention to relationships is a core function of strategic leadership. Leaders without love for each of these are less able to serve, at least in the tradition of the servant ministry of Jesus Christ. Leaders with love for each of these will be followed for a long time.

Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? When I reflect on this question, I recognize that the congregational leaders I will follow are seekers. They yearn to grow as leaders in response to God’s calling and the needs of their congregations. They hold several convictions.

First, they believe congregational leadership is an expression of discipleship. They understand themselves primarily as followers who respond to God’s call, presence, and empowerment. They know that faithful following and service precede effective leadership.

Second, they believe that congregational leadership is grounded in relationships. These leaders recognize that healthy relationships are a key to effective ministry. They realize that their effectiveness is measured by how they assist others to embrace change and move forward together.

Third, they believe that congregational leadership is contextual. They grasp that an effective style of leadership in one congregation will not necessarily be effective in another where histories, members, and needs are different. Leaders who comprehend the distinct qualities and needs of their current congregations are likely to serve well.

Fourth, they believe that the behavior sciences, leadership theories, and other secular resources contribute important perspectives for congregational leadership. Yet they assess these perspectives through the “eyes of faith,” identify their contributions and limitations, and incorporate their best practices to strengthen ministry.

Finally they believe that leadership is learned. Whatever natural gifts they bring to ministry, they realize that there is always more to learn about leadership. They understand that learning to lead increases their capacity to serve.

The call to lead is before you: Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?


This article is an excerpt from Strategic Leadership for a Change: Facing Our Losses, Finding Our Future, Copyright 2009 Alban Institute. Used by permission.

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About Author

Kenneth J. McFayden is Academic Dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary, in Richmond, Virginia and Professor of Ministry and Leadership Development. He is the author of Strategic Leadership for a Change: Facing Our Losses, Finding Our Future (Alban Institute, 2009).


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