What, in fact, makes a good Christian leader, wondering about leadership after a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald, citing research from Dr Michael Valenzuela, leader of Regenerative Neuroscience in UNSW's School of Psychiatry, speculated that there was a clear relationship between the number of employees a person may have supervised or been responsible for and the size of the hippocampus (part of the brain).
Although the report speculated that managing other people at work triggers structural changes in the brain, protecting its memory and learning centre well into old age, it could also be true that people with larger brains and more 'social' intelligence make better leaders, and the others fall by the wayside. Perhaps the report did not accurately reflect the scientists' broader conclusions in this respect. (www.theage.com.au)
This research is not new. It has been known for more than 40 years that the brain is more 'plastic' than researchers had previously thought. We all know of people who have learnt new tasks as they have got older - he himself has become an artist - and patients who have suffered strokes can 'retrain' parts of their brain to take over the damaged sections.
Then, in 2000 it was shown that London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus than the general population, and this is perhaps a better 'controlled' study than the study of leaders, because taxi drivers spend a lot of time and effort learning 'the knowledge' of London streets before they are permitted to obtain their taxi licence. (www.independent.co.uk)
However, whatever the reason, it seems that it is now demonstrated that leaders have bigger brains than those they lead. This demonstrates what many in Christian Churches and Missions have observed over centuries; that once in a leadership role, Christian leaders have developed and nurtured the types of leadership skills that are described in this report, whether or not they had the hidden capacity beforehand, or whether they 'learnt on the job'.
Thrust into leadership
Countless Christian leaders who have been given or thrust into leadership positions have not only grown in themselves and in their ministries, but have risen far beyond expectations and shown great skill in people management and pastoral oversight. Sometimes these may have been younger people, or those not part of the dominant congregation or management situations.
Leadership is greatly sought after in Christian Ministry and Mission life, and sometimes these people have been unexpectedly pushed to take on these roles. When they have actually risen to the occasion, to the surprise of those who silently or otherwise objected to their position, this can give rise to actions that lead to leadership tensions.
Perhaps some of those conservative or dominant or elderly members of the 'rank and file' had become resentful of the success of the 'new boy' or the 'unconventional appointment'. Perhaps these people were hoping the new leader would fail. We all know of instances either through history or our own experiences where someone who has seemed immensely intelligent and qualified, makes a very poor leader indeed, but it is only successful leadership being contemplated in this article.
One has "only dig a little" into memory and experience in Church and Mission life to see many stories where these situations of leadership conflicts because of the sudden and unexpected rise of a good leader. Church politics can be ugly.
Nonetheless, Christian leadership is more than simply leading people in an office. Christians believe that prayer for Holy Spirit leading for wide decisions in leadership is a mighty contributor. There are many factors involved in Christian leadership that assists those in such positions to enhance their Ministry skills which in turn points to growing and maturing leadership skills.
One of these is what might be loosely termed as a "Saintly disposition", that their life and witness to Christ is so exemplary that others are drawn to them, seeking wisdom and guidance in all manner of issues. Another is "unmistakable Holy Spirit leading in their ministry" in that so many things turn out perfectly in their sphere that others want to be part of this. Another still, is "theological expectancy" where a person exhibits such trust in the Lord that good-things happen and others seek to be part of this experience and rejoicing in the Lord.
Therefore, Christian leadership has many different aspects to making it tick, but notwithstanding, experience illustrates that once a person is given Christian leadership they often grow and mature in that leadership.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html