How do you lead people you’ve never met? How do you grow a culture when you’re the newest kid on the block? How do you gain people’s trust when they’ve seen staff come and go for over 40 years? I’ve just started a new job in a church that is over 150 years old. There’s a lot of tradition, and some of the people here have been coming for longer than I’ve been alive. Everything I’ve read on leadership tells me I need to take time getting to know people, and listen—really listen—to what they have to say. That’s hard. It’s so much easier to do what I know will work, what I can do well, what has been tried and tested in the past. But I’m drawing on my past, not theirs. And we need to work out a future together. I need to listen.
But listening isn’t enough: I also need to lead. At some point I will have to say to the teams here: ‘This is the right way, and it’s the way we’re going to go.’ I’ll need to rely on God’s guidance, and what I’ve learnt from the Scriptures and my experience. And I’ll need to make a call. If I’m praying lots, and I know my Bible well, and I’ve been learning from my past mistakes, then it will be the right call. But here is the delicate point: will it be the right call for this church? That’s why I need to listen and take my time. I’m currently three months in, and there’s a real temptation to feel like I should fix a whole bunch of issues. ‘But three months is just a drop in the ocean!’ I hear you say. ‘It’s just a tiny square on the calendar of your life!’ You’re right, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the middle of it.
How do you lead people you’ve never met? With patience.