Clashing Shepherds: Leadership in the UMC and a Way Forward

For some, leadership looks like the shepherd out in front of a flock. This shepherd carries with them a staff they use to defend the flock. The shepherd has a vision and is going in a direction that the sheep are to follow. Some sheep may wander away and that is okay to this shepherd because this shepherd has a vision of what a flock can look like and only has energy for those sheep that can keep up.

Others view this idea of leadership to be less than ideal because there are many sheep that are lost and left behind. This second view of leadership is like that shepherd that takes time to ensure that every sheep is in the flock. This might look like a a pastor making house calls to every member to ensure that everyone is okay and tended to. This "lead from the back" shepherd keeps an eye on every sheep and pushes them forward as best as the shepherd can. 

For most of my ministry these two versions of leadership have dominated. There is the pastor as CEO (lead from the front) and the pastor as caretaker (lead from the back). Both of these types of leadership are called for at times however, these forms of leadership are no longer as helpful in the current time we live in. When things like collaboration, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency are values of the day, leading from the front or back creates more problems than they solve. 

The third way of leadership is not by leading from the front or the back but among.

This style of leadership is frustrating because you will loose sheep, you cannot protect them all, you are not totally in control of the direction or pace and you are among the smells and biting of the flock. However, it is this style of leadership that is called for in our time: leading among. 

The Bishops "A Way Forward" is, I believe, a leading from among. It is not perfect. It has the same weaknesses such as loosing some of the flock and not being completely in control. However, it also is an attempt to uphold the values of collaboration, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency.

No one is surprised that there is disagreement in the UMC on the issues of human sexuality. What is a bit surprising to some is the disagreement on what sort of leadership is needed in our time.

The UMC has clashing shepherds.