What Does 21st Century Leadership Look Like?

Are you an institutional leader or a movement leader? Where do you fall on the continuum?

William Barber leads a movement.  Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell lead an institution. And it’s common wisdom that – today – people are more inspired by joining a movement rather than an institution.

This is some of the good stuff I learned in Baltimore over the weekend with all the Presbytery and Synod Executives and all the Stated Clerks from throughout my denomination – the Presbyterian Church USA.  In a nutshell: we need more movement leaders.

Think about your last church committee or board meeting.

  • Were you bored and checking your phone?
  • Did your eyes glaze over at some point?
  • Did you wonder why the group is spending time on “this”?


  • Were you energized?
  • Did the conversation make you feel hopeful?
  • Was your theology stretched a little?

This is the difference between institutional and movement leadership.

Institutional Leadership focuses on building up the institution, perfecting bylaws and budgets, and perpetuating the usual way of doing ministry.

Movement Leadership focuses on impact in the community, reaching the most people, and trying new ways of doing ministry.

My hero BW suggested that we try going through a whole meeting in which all questions must be answered starting with this: “Because Jesus . . . ”

  • We are participating in Room in the Inn again this year because Jesus teaches us to serve the poor.
  • We are increasing our line item in the budget for summer camp scholarships because Jesus teaches us to nurture children.
  • We are getting rid of meetings during the season of Lent in 2020 because Jesus didn’t die for the library committee.

People of every age want to make a difference.  We want to serve and bless others.  We want to be a part of a movement that believes in resurrection and healing and justice.

21st Century Churches are craving movement leaders.  (Or if movement leaders scare them, they will stick with institutional leaders and those congregations will slowly die.)  Who wants to move towards equality for men and women?  Who wants to move towards a world where every child gets a good education?  Who wants to move in the direction of peace on the streets, at the borders, in the homes?

I do.  And that’s why I love my work.  Every day I get to be with people who want to be part of the movement started by Jesus.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

This is how Jesus expects us to lead. I’m in.


2 responses to “What Does 21st Century Leadership Look Like?

  1. Leading like this is one thing, getting buy-in is another.


  2. It looks nothing like any of us are getting anywhere in the world at present, sadly.


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