I had some insight into why I shy away from leadership within local churches today. I was reading the latest Scientific American on the train this morning, which focuses on “New Insights into Leadership,” and was drawn to some incisive comments by the authors (Reicher, Haslam and Platow) on the nature of leadership and the importance of social identity for effective leadership.
“… leaders are most effective when they can induce followers to see themselves as group members and to see the group’s interest as their own”
“When a shared social identity exists, individuals who can best represent that identity will have the most influence over the group’s members and be the most effective leaders. That is, the best leaders are prototypical of the group – they not only seem to belong to it but also exemplify what makes the group distinct from … rival groups”
“…the most effective leaders define their group’s social identity to fit with the policies they would promote”
“… the development of a shared social identity is the basis of influential and creative leadership.”
This was rather timely. I’ve been mulling over the importance of identity quite a bit lately, particularly in terms of its importance for social and religious movements, and this article has really crystallized some of my thoughts.
I now realize the problem is this, my identity as a “missional” Christian is far more important to me than my identity as a “local” Christian. I have only been a “local” a few years, spend the bulk of my waking hours elsewhere and have very little commitment to a village mindset. That is not to say I don’t have local friends, I do, but our friendships are only rarely based us simply being “locals”. More often they are based on shared interests and our geographic proximity is somewhat secondary. I can see I could be drawn into a more local Christian identity if more local Christians were missional but that is precisely the problem, few are. Few are interested in even discussing missional approaches to Christianity, let alone identifying with them. Few are actively engaged with the local community beyond the walls of the church, let alone doing risky mission amongst them. In this situation I have gravitated towards a more parachurch way of doing church.
This creates problems for me when I contemplate leadership within “local” church. I have doubts about how effectively I can lead people I only tentatively identify with on the basis of a broader Christian identity, a broader identity that equally encompasses Christians in Africa, Asia and America, or on the basis of a secondary Christian identity, as a “local” Christian. Hmmm. I just realized I have been using the word “them” rather than “we”. Says it all really. I find a shared social identity, a sense of belonging, is elusive. Thus I hesitate to lead, even when leaders are sorely required. And I should add I feel rather torn by this because I actually do want to belong.