Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Coming of Age - leadership and the young

I hope our esteemed Moderator takes no offense to this, but I've recently been prompted to think about some things in regard to the hectic schedule our denom has put on him, in his role as moderator. For those of you unfamiliar, the moderator's role is to... moderate the discussion, facilitate the meeting. In the local church, the pastor moderates the governing body of session. In the Presbytery (the elected body that includes many churches from a geographic area), a moderator is elected to preside, usually for a 1 year term at the monthly/bi-monthly/quarterly/annual presbytery meetings during the business/discussion time. In the (formerly) annual meetings of the entire national body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), a moderator is elected from the members as well. Now, meeting only every-other year, a moderator is elected for 2 years, and they travel to various meetings, churches, conferences for 2 years representing the national church. For this post, people actually offer their names and kind of "run" - the election happens as the first order of business at a General Assembly. In essence, it's like having a mini political campaign for the Speaker of the House. Fortunately, a lot less time, money & effort is put into these races than the US Presidency. But I digress...

What Bruce Reyes-Chow, our moderator has caused me to contemplate, is the whole idea of young leaders and the transitioning of leaders. It is also particularly appropriate as we welcome a new President in 5 weeks who is significantly younger, with a younger family, than anyone since 1960 & JFK (help me out if I'm wrong - I'm Canadian don't forget). The fact that the Republican VP candidate had just had a baby, also put this question before me, but it's not just about family...

Here's the thought - "maybe, there's something to be said for biding your time & learning, apprenticing behind good men & women, before taking on the mantle of leadership at an age & stage in life where it is fitting." Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone who is ascended to leadership as a 20something, 30something or whatever. I love to be able to look at the face of our moderator, the president elect & others in leadership and say "they're young like me, that's awesome! Maybe they'll have some great ideas about how to do things better." But at the same time, I come face to face with the question of timing. And I come face-to-face with the issue of leadership models. Quickly...

Leadership the "very old" way kinda looked like this - you rose to power with strength of will or arms and held on until someone pried it from your cold-dead hands. Leadership the "old" way meant that you chose a successor and once you'd done everything you wanted to, you handed over the reigns to someone else so you could go and have fun. In both of these situations though, the leader was often autocratic and entirely in control. For the "younger" people, this caused frustration and anger over being left out of decision-making (Vietnam, teen-spirit "angst") - and they either dropped out, or took it on as a challenge and attempted to rise quickly and take power by force. But, with the rise of new communication technologies in the late 20th & early 21st Century, including social media, the world is not simply shrinking, it is becoming flat - the corporate "ladder" is somewhat of a misnomer. Think Al-Quaeda, think the Starfish and the Spider - this is the new way of leadership and it poses some interesting opportunities.

In the old style with power being focused in 1 person, it required that person to be everywhere, be involved in everything and make final decisions. That kind of time commitment and brain power just doesn't fit if you've got a family & young kids to raise. That is, unless you're willing to sacrifice them (which is an entirely different post). So, if we're going to participate in structures that continue to utilize that kind of model of leadership, I'm personally in favour of allowing us young people to wait to ascend to high levels of leadership. Wait, learn, bide your time, be apprenticed, raise your kids.

However, if we're talking about participating in other structures, structures that are less hierarchical, where power is based less in an individual and more spread through a collective, this opens up the opportunity for young leaders to emerge - because they don't have to be everywhere, don't have to be all-knowing and don't have to be all-powerful. (Wow, did I just compare hierarchical leadership to challenging God's authority - oops!) At the end of the day, I'm hopeful that THE Church, as well as our national & local churches, will be able to accept a more Kingdom oriented idea of leadership and structure. I think that's the only way we can allow young people to bring their gifts and talents to places of leadership without having them sacrifice their families...


Reyes-Chow said...

Don - VALID VALID VALID comments and questions to raise. No offense taken, in fact, I think you are right on in many ways. I think we are in between a structure that NEEDS people like myself - and thank you for thinking i am young - who can do some bridging into whatever may be next.

What I think we have to look at more is that not all people ARE called to every ministry. Depending on what "young means" in many ways there is so much depending on experience, personality, etc. that is not age specific.

Sure . . . just living DOES give you some extra life experience, but as we know that does NOT automatically translate into wisdom.

What I bring is a particular set of experiences and gifts for a particular time. Out of the four candidates this year, I had the most experience at the GA level so I think given a headstart in navigating some of these waters in the hopes that I can be part of some kind of movement.

Starfish leaders would suffocate right now in our system at the national level, but that does not mean that we are not in some areas headed that way. I suspect that day will come when a new style and structure of leadership will develop and by that time I hope there is the space and room for it to be embraced.

At least that is my justification and I am sticking with it ;-)

Thanks again for taking the time to raise some good questions.

Don said...

Bruce - thanks for that great comment. I do agree that the PC(USA) is in a liminal time and "special" leadership is required to help us traverse this gap. And age, as I'm sure you've seen first-hand, is not a guarantor of anything other than luck - luck that a Mack truck hasn't come by and taken you out.

So certainly, gifts & talents trump age and when they're a good fit, you've got to jump.

I'm actually interested in how the structure of the system in which one is a leader, is affected by their stage of life, probably more so than their age. Being single affords different opportunities than being married, or being married with children, particularly young children. Having grown children is also different.

If you're interested in replying, I'd be curious to hear what the biggest adjustments have been for you as a husband and father of 3 during your time as moderator, and in the future, what ways you think the moderator position could/should change (or be eliminated?) to better facilitate the work of the church in a flat world?

Thanks again!

Reyes-Chow said...

Sorry not to have gotten back to you on this. Some of this will be addressed in future blog posts of mine as I think these are crucial questions. Be well. Bruce