What kind of leadership?

As we look toward the formation of a new group of Friends in eastern Indiana, we need to give serious thought to what kind of leadership we need.

Several Friends have written to say that they don’t want a traditional superintendent. (The title of “superintendent” was borrowed in the 1880’s from the Methodist church.) A few Friends have said they want to have a “field secretary”. Others have suggested a “released Friend”. Others have talked about someone who will be a “servant leader”.

These different job titles suggest that we need to ask ourselves what we want a leader/staff person to do. Here are some roles or tasks to think about:

• We need someone who will encourage communication and fellowship between local meetings. Most of our meetings are starving for meaningful contact with each other.

• We need someone who will encourage us to worship more deeply. Sometimes this means coming as an inspiring and inspired guest speaker; sometimes it means asking questions about whether what we’re doing on Sunday is really reaching people’s hearts and minds.

• We need someone to remind us of the wider Quaker world of missions, service opportunities, schools, gatherings, special events and organizations. It’s too easy for us to focus on the needs of our own local meeting and forget what’s out there.

• We need someone who will encourage all of our meeting’s leaders – the pastors, certainly, but also the clerks, youth ministers, committee leaders and emerging new ministers. A good leader keeps an “incubator list” of people to encourage, and helps them find ways to use their gifts.

• We need someone who can engage with our young people, and especially with our young adult Friends. This isn’t so much a matter of age as outlook and energy – we need someone who can hear what our younger members are saying, and encourage them.

• Most of all, we need someone who is a good listener – as one of my own mentors used to say, who can “listen us into our truth”. Sure, I’d like a great preacher and teacher – but I think we need a good listener most of all.

The old Indiana Yearly Meeting has an unbroken tradition of male superintendents. It shouldn’t matter whether the person who leads our new group is a man or a woman.

We don’t need a central office. A post office box can handle the paper mail. For many of today’s leaders, their “office” is wherever they can connect to the Internet or make a phone call. Let’s not build our identity around a single location.

We probably can’t start with a full-time person. In an earlier post, I said that most yearly meetings struggle to afford one full-time staffer for every 2,500-3,000 members. We will probably start out with 600-700, so we will either need a volunteer or a part-time person.

A couple of people have suggested to me that we might try to find an intern or seminary student. Although this idea has some good points, I think we need the continuity of a leader who can stay with us for at least 2 or 3 years. It would be great for us to make use of the gifts and talents of a seminary student or minister in training for short-term, focused special projects.

Finding the right person with the right mix of skills and attitudes will be challenging.

• able to help plan and organize exciting special events – gatherings for worship, workshops, leadership training and educational events

 computer literate – we can’t afford to hire someone who can’t use today’s tools

experienced with a variety of worship styles, and willing to participate in both pastoral and unprogrammed worship

knowledgeable about Quaker history and beliefs, the Bible, and the wider Christian church

be able to travel around our scattered meetings

• an extra language is a definite plus

non-defensive and open to the experiences of others

Good leadership doesn’t “just happen”. We need to ask ourselves what kind of leaders we want and need, and then start looking and praying.

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4 Responses to “What kind of leadership?”


  1. 1 micahbales January 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

    I appreciate these thoughts, Josh!

    One thing I’d add is an encouragement to wait and see what particular calling and gifts the Lord is raising up in your midst. Rather than moving to fill a job description, this new association is in a great position to listen, respond and encourage the ways that God is preparing leadership for the body!

  2. 2 Keith Esch January 23, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I think I am joining Micah Bales in suggesting we “wait and see.”

  3. 3 Gina January 24, 2013 at 4:32 am

    I rather think it does matter whether the superintendent is a man or a woman. The callings of female ministers have not been respected for several generations, despite the legacy of Elizabeth Fry, Mary Dyer, and Margaret Fell (notice that all of these women are white, another problem), and nor have the needs of female congregants been fully met. Only Christ can truly fulfill all needs, but as representatives of Christ on Earth we can do a lot better than we have done before in regards to our sisters in the Church holy and apostolic.

  4. 4 C. Winslow January 26, 2013 at 12:26 am

    I do not think we are ready to decide a name until we have a clearer picture of what the powers and duties of the new association officer entail. I can suggest some titles running the gamut from Association Czar to Association Whipping Boy, e.g., Association Secretary, Association Coordinator, Association Clerk; Field Secretary, etc. How about Association Pastor?


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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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