Day: April 3, 2008

Christian leaders manage meaning

Making Spiritual Sense I’m reading a great book by Scott Cormode, the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary.  Titled, Making Spiritual Sense: Christian Leaders As Spiritual Interpreters, Cormode says,

To the extent that Christian leaders provide people with a theological framework for action, they are proclaiming God’s message of love and justice….Pastors lead by providing God’s people with the theological categories  to make spiritual meaning.

That, he says, is the difference between leaders of organizations and leaders of the community of faith called the church.  Unlike the leadership models borrowed from corporate, military, or sports worlds, Christian leadership is about “the leader as ‘manager of meaning.'”  I like that.  After all, that is what Jesus does, and Cormode gives plenty of examples of how Jesus redefined reality in his “you have heard…but I say unto you” statements.  This is far different also, than tacking Christianity onto the culture in which we live, or adding “spirituality” to all the other consumer choices available to us today.

Cormode argues that we use a repertoire of tools to interpret and decode the world around us.  One of the most intriguing examples he cites is how humans use stories to interpret events.  He gives the example of seeing a crying child in a grocery, then watching her run to an adult male with great relief.  Cormode says that before he realized it, he had told himself the story of a little girl who got separated from her father while they were shopping, only to be greatly relieved to find him again.   The stories we tell ourselves help us interpret events around us.  It becomes the task of the Christian leader to lead church members to see events through the story of God’s work in this world.

Another pertinent point is that we all have expectations.  Churches often have expectations that a new pastor will solve all their previous problems, including attendance, budget, fellowship, and vision.  But, Cormode says, sooner or later, pastors will fail the expectations of their members.  Quoting Ronald Heifetz, Cormode reminds us that ‘leaders have to fail people’s “expectations at a rate they can stand.”‘

If you are looking for a very helpful, solid book on the task of leadership, pick up a copy of Making Spiritual Sense.   You might find it a refreshing break from the leader-as-hero myth that dominates our culture, including our church culture.

-Scott Cormode is also the founder of the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Journal of Religious Leadership, plus the website,