Monday, August 26, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Calling of Congregational Leadership" (Larry McSwain)

This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on June 21st, 2013.


TITLE: The Calling of Congregational Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing Ministry (TCP The Columbia Partnership Leadership Series)
AUTHOR: Larry L. McSwain
PUBLISHER:  St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2013, (288 pages).

Leadership is a calling. It is a ministry of being, of knowing, and of doing. Larry McSwain is a Professor of Leadership at the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. The main idea in the book is about how congregational members can "model communities of obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ in who they are and what they do." Aimed primarily at congregations that are local and autonomous, and structurally not as hierarchical or connectional, the author believes that God's power flows through the local congregation of the Church as they touch each other's lives, through the practices of being, knowing, and doing ministry.

Part One deals with the being aspect of a congregational member. This is linked with a response to the calling of each member. For people are meant to be unique, not uniform. There are four ways to understand calling. Firstly, calling is beyond the self. God must call the person. Secondly, the calling involves an experience from within, to generate purpose and passion. Thirdly, the call to leadership comes from the Church. This has implications for pastoral leadership and the ecclesiastical call, where serving the Church is not about an employment contract, but about vocation. Such a vocation is that deepest desire to serve. Fourthly, it means learning about vocational calling and discernment remains a core responsibility of the Church leadership. The response to the call is then through deeper self-knowledge, deeper growth in spiritual disciplines, and deeper responsibility in leadership.

Part Two is about knowing the mission of God. It requires the leader to know the cultural realities of the church community. It needs the leadership to understand the uniqueness of their DNA, and live intentionally God's mission for their unique contexts.

Part Three is the most practical part of the book. Congregational leadership is demonstrated through eight ways, all of which are interconnected and important.

  1. Dreaming: This is important for hope is tightly connected to dreams. Just like the Christian lives in anticipation of the promises of God, the Church leadership must adopt "pastoral imagination" that embodies the call of the people, the needs of the neighbourhood, the mission of God, and the strategic vision of the Church.
  2. Caring: It is the art of compassionate ministry that distinguishes Church leadership from other kinds of leadership. The three circles of care are pastoral care, internal congregationalcare, and external community care. Pastoral care involves friendship, comfort, confession, and teaching. Compassionate preaching can be done over the pulpit. Caring preaching can minister to the hurt and needy. Grief ministry to the suffering. 
  3. Proclaiming: The purpose of the gospel is basically to be made known to as many people as possible. The Church's mission is to declare it to their neighbourhoods. 
  4. Organizing: If there is no people to plan activities, there will be nothing for the people to look forward to. Activities in the Church include worship services, learning programs, liturgy, hospitality, social, evangelism, and so on.
  5. Resourcing: This is essentially about stewardship. Out of the need to practice holistic stewardship, education, training, and giving structures need to be attended to.
  6. Conflict Management: With change so prevalent everywhere, people do come into conflict from time to time. Various conflicts and the responses are suggested on how to deal with each.
  7. Evaluating: In order to improve, one needs to evaluate themselves.
  8. Celebrating: Serving well also means celebrating well together.

So What?

This book presents a comprehensive picture of what a Church needs. The objectives are clear. The flow is logical. The suggestions are practical. It is a powerful handbook for Church ministry and leadership, and congregation members can benefit from the book in many different ways. The three parts of the book shows us that every leadership consideration must involve recognizing the who we are created (the being). Then, we  need to be clear about the mission of God in our Churches (knowing). Know who we are. Know what we are supposed to do. Then, go ahead and be equipped for the work to be done. Churches that are aimless often do not know who they are and where they are supposed to go. It is because they lack knowledge in these, they are unable to be trained or seek education. In other words, they start barking up all kinds of different trees in search of something to do. The tragedy is that they may end up doing things that are totally out of sync with their calling. Finally, the doing aspect of the book contains many practical advice and program steps. Many of the ideas can be easily adopted by any congregation.

My suggestion is that readers should not jump too quickly to the last part of the book. Instead, they need to spend a 40-30-30 percentage. For 40% of the time, pray and fast to discover their being, their calling, and to affirm one another their uniquenesses. For the next 30% of the time, take time for knowing the self, the congregation, and the community at large. Finally, the last 30% is about implementing all of the above in specific ways. For any Church, certain ministries will be more developed than others. So, different ministries will be at different phases at any one time. Thus, it is important to take a step back and not presume the whole Church is stuck at any one phase.

Even though the author has indicated the book as meant more for congregational members of churches that are non-hierarchical and non-connectional, I think the ideas in the book can benefit the Church at large.

Great leadership resource!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Chalice Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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