Before ministry, I was a  Facilities and Building Services Manager. At one point, it was a “front-line management” role; I had 25 staff. Aside from the routine work, I took the lead in coordinating the disaster recovery team. It was a high-pressure role; on more than one occasion, my decision-making saved the British part of a multinational company from financial catastrophe.

Yet, in my early years of ministry, I needed to prepare for leading volunteers. My skills had been managing situations rather than leading people through them. For instance, I was used to people deferring to my knowledge. However, in ministry, I quickly realised this approach needed to be more effective; management often involves overseeing tasks and ensuring they are completed efficiently, while leadership is about inspiring and guiding others towards a shared vision.    The starting point to leap from management to leadership is understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses. That requires listening to others   – you will be surprised at the skills and gifts others identify in you. Remember, we can’t be good at everything, and there is no shame in admitting that, but we have to find ways of working around our shortcomings. And I want to share some of the things I have learned over time about leadership.

Leadership in ministry is not a static role but a dynamic process that demands continuous development and adaptation. The roles we are called to in ministry today are vastly different from what many of us were trained for. Every ministry is transitioning from the past to the future while maintaining the present.    This challenging task cannot be accomplished with a traditional management approach.    We need to evolve and embrace the changes and challenges that come with leadership, a journey that requires us to be open to learning and growth. For instance, one of the challenges I faced was the shift from a hierarchical structure to a more collaborative one, where decisions were made collectively rather than by a single authority figure. This adaptability is a key trait for successful leadership in ministry.

As leaders, we must be honest and ask the difficult question  – am I the right person to lead this particular team?   If you consider yourself the born leader,  as I did, you may need to be humble and accept that someone else is better suited for a particular leadership role. Your part might be offering others support and encouragement, which can help develop their gifts. Even if you have the skills and choose to lead the team, you may step back from the leadership when the time is right and let someone who has developed confidence through your mentorship take over. Then, your role shifts to being available for support, which is equally crucial to the team’s success.

Success in ministry requires respect and competence in the core skills before people trust you to lead them into new areas of ministry. These core skills vary depending on the ministry but often include effective communication, leading worship pastoral care, and planning. If the effort is not being put into these core ministry skills, it is most unlikely that people will choose to follow your lead.

Communication is vital. You might have it all thought through and believe all the bases are covered. But, if you stand in front of the congregation and announce a family ministry starts next month, “ I am looking for volunteers”, unless the vision has been shared, you will have blank stares. Effective communication in ministry involves sharing information, listening to others, and understanding their perspectives. People require time to consider the benefits and ask questions. Share your vision with others, particularly those with passions for a particular ministry, and listen to their thoughts.   Invite openness and honesty within the team by giving space for feedback and being willing to adapt.      When starting a team, begin with a small core group and enlist others to help and grow the team as people discover their gifts.   For instance, I brought two unchurched people onto a family ministry planning group, and this benefited the team by opening us to a worldview we were remote from but trying to reach.

Finally, read about leadership, speak with others you respect as good leaders, and take study leave to reflect upon it. A book I recommend is “ Canoe the Mountains, Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.”

Rev Andrew Robertson, Minister, Duns and District Parishes