leadership lessons from the school classroom

I have vivid memories of being instructed to set my imagination loose during primary school. I loved those moments when I was told things like ‘Write a story’ or ‘Paint a picture’.

But the one thing that was always guaranteed to bring me up short was being refused the gift of limits. Vague injunctions like ‘Just draw something … anything!’ or ‘Write a story — it doesn’t matter what it’s about’ were sure to strangle any inspiration I might have. Such unlimited, directionless freedom felt like an immobilising weight.

I needed some limits. And direction. Something like ‘Write a story about what happened during your holiday (or what you wished had happened)’. And my hunch is that you were the same.

I took you on this little jaunt down memory lane because I’m convinced that the power of such directing and enabling constraints is the key leadership lesson to learn from the school classroom. For having grasped that Christian leadership is downwardly mobile and is given a fundamentally pastoral shape by our perfect (prophetic and priestly) shepherd king, the question remains: How should we lead?

The answer Ephesians 4 gives is well known. I quote verses 11-13, where Paul enumerates the gifts our ascended king bestows:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Christian leadership is all about equipping God’s people to serve — to build up the body of Christ. It’s not a one-woman or -man show. It’s a creative partnership. All are called to contribute.

But if I’m right in suggesting that we ought to learn from my childhood classroom experiences, Christian leaders will need to pursue this creative partnership by providing limits and direction. Not as arbitrary impositions (because ‘Someone has to call the shots’). But through the hard work of teaching and persuading…

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