Caring for Missional Community Leaders

June 7, 2013 — 1 Comment

In this series of posts, I am going to unpack the strategy and structure of leadership development we have implemented at The Austin Stone for missional communities.  I’ll be looking at:

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Caring for Leaders

I’ll be the first to admit that this is an area of struggle in the missional church, and also in my own life.  In leadership, I want to intentionally keep the gospel as the foundation, the mission in front of our people, but I also need to check the engine light and occasionally get a tune up.  Our leaders need it too!

I’ve found there are two forms of care to consider when creating a leadership development system – proactive and reactive care. Both need to be planned for in maintaining a healthy system that continues to make disciples and develop leaders.

Proactive Care

On the proactive side, you consistently need to fight for organizational health and quality relationships.  Most leaders on mission struggle from time to time, and often the most basic form of care is knowing that someone is checking in.  There are two primary ways we do proactive care at The Austin Stone – coaching and celebration.

Coaching and Assessment

The axiom of “what you measure is what you value” is generally true, but certainly needs to be thoughtfully applied when it comes to people.  No one wants to be a statistic, but everyone wants to be valued.  Part of proactive care is valuing people as people, but also showing you value your vision by checking up on it.

Especially when you’re leading a larger number of communities on mission, it’s easy to slide into a depersonalized, metrics-based form of leadership because you don’t have relationships with every leader.  I’ve found that it’s crucially important to foster relationships where leaders are pursued, and we do this in the form of coaching.

In addition to coaching though, we want our leaders to know that we care about what is happening and the practices we have taught them.  We reinforce our care for them as people by gently reminding them of our values and practices.  We’re on a mission to make disciples, and we need some accountability toward that end.

The basic rhythms of coaching and assessment help foster a culture of proactive care, showing leaders you value them and what they are doing.

Celebration

Sometimes I can get caught looking forward to so often that I completely lose sight of all that God has accomplished.  Another means of caring for leaders is continuing to share stories of God’s faithfulness and looking backwards.  We do this through a few different avenues:

  • Gathering as leaders to simply tell stories and share a meal
  • Thoughtfully recognizing leaders both publicly and privately
  • Capturing and telling stories of transformation through our Story Team
We naturally celebrate the things that we value, and part of proactive care is celebrating the people who are leading the charge for God’s greater glory in our cities.

Reactive Care

There are always circumstances in leadership that no one really plans for.  What happens when a crisis emerges?

Perhaps it’s a marital infidelity, severe medical trauma, the loss of a job, or the death of a close relationship – whatever the circumstance, you need to be prepared to give care.  I’ve also found that people who are uniquely gifted in leadership are often not well suited for times where presence and deep soul care is needed.  I certainly am in that category, although by God’s grace I am growing.

Systemically, then, we need to ensure that in times of crisis, our leaders are well cared for, which often requires identifying uniquely gifted people toward that end, and ensuring they are available to give the time and emotional energy that crisis care requires.

Our campus elder teams are primarily responsible for the reactive care of the saints.  We intentionally do NOT load them up with strategic leadership and organizational ownership so they can be faithfully present in times of great need and care for the saints.

For us, we want each leader to be one phone call away from and elder, and to have someone at their bedside or in the middle of the crisis within the span of a few hours.  There are two critical pieces to making this effective:

  • Having called, qualified, trained elders who primarily care for the needs of the saints
  • Having a clear means of communication between the leader and their elder

For the first point, we are clear in articulating the call to eldership at The Austin Stone means that we are going to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to us, and this means being available to those sheep who are hurting and need care.  For the second, we have our elder teams present at a local campus, and strive to keep them visibly in front of the body and our leaders so they are known and available.

In all circumstances, we operate as a plurality of elders, but there is a point leader who ensures that the proper care is being administered to the person in question over time.  With available leaders to give care and a team to support them in that role, by God’s grace we hope to provide care in times of great trial.

What else should I be considering when it comes to leader care?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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