Dissertation: Applying Servant Leadership Principles in a Conflicted Church

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Applying Servant Leadership within a Conflicted Church: The Project as an Act of Ministry

My church, the South Iowa Chapel, like many modern churches, is a church in conflict. Conflicted churches are problematic because they drive parishioners away from church, and, possibly, away from Christ. Conflict in a church can also be a difficult situation to remedy, because of the different personality types and leadership styles of people involved in the church. However, I feel that a significant part of the problem is that people are using traditional leadership styles in church. Jesus Christ was not a traditional leader. On the contrary, He was the epitome of a servant leader, one who leads through service to others. Obviously, He did a wonderful job leading the early church. Moreover, three of the most inspiring religious leaders of our time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Desmond Tutu, all practiced servant leadership. Therefore, my project was to teach servant leadership to five key members of the South Iowa Chapel, in the hopes that doing so would empower them to help reduce the level of conflict in the church. From a self-selected group of volunteers, I chose those people whom I thought would be most likely to learn servant leadership skills and incorporate them into their dealings with the church. The project was successful in that each participant learned servant leadership skills. However, the project taught me several important things that I will take with me into my future work, the primary thing being that all people have some capacity to be servant leaders.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 5

Chapter Two: Theological Foundation of the Project 26

Chapter Three: Description of the Project 74

Chapter Four: Project Results and Evaluation 78

Chapter Five: Literature Review 83

Chapter Six: Discussion 108

Chapter One: Introduction

My church, the South Iowa Chapel, for all of its strengths, is what is best described as a conflicted church. A conflicted church is a church in which there is discord and animosity. Conflicts can be large and can impact entire denominations, like whether or not to ordain gay or lesbian clergy members, an issue that is causing massive disagreement in the modern Episcopal and Anglican churches. However, to threaten a church, conflict does not have to be large. Instead, the conflict that can destroy a church can be small and can be wholly unrelated to issues of doctrine or observance. Conflict can be caused by just a handful of difficult churchgoers, who choose to bring negativity into all of their interactions, threatening the life of the church. How does a clergyman deal with such an issue? One cannot follow Christ and suggest that the way to eliminate conflict in a church is to refuse to welcome the difficult members. After all, if Jesus could spend His time ministering to prostitutes, lepers, and other outcasts from society; it could hardly be considered Christian to reject those who do not fit nicely into the fabric of a church. On the other hand, is it fair to allow just a few negative people to destroy the loving community in a church? Obviously, the answer to that question is "no." However, that answer begets another question: how does a clergyman reconcile the needs of individual churchgoers, even the troublemakers, with the overall needs of the church?

Like many churches, South Iowa Chapel is experiencing a general decline in membership and church members have a waning interest in maintaining the church, which, I believe is partially attributable to the sheer volume of conflict within the church. It is my theory that incorporating servant leadership into the church will have a marked positive impact on this conflict and help restore peace to the church environment. Having learned about the impressive things that servant leadership can bring to a church, I proposed teaching servant leadership principles to five lay ministers and the parish council president of the South Iowa Chapel, using a Bible study framework developed by C. Gene Wilkes and James C. Hunter's audio training course, "The Servant Leadership Training Course." My selection of servant leadership as the ideal way to help this congregation was based upon my prior experience with the South Iowa Chapel, which is detailed below, as well as my belief that Jesus led people in a way that was fundamentally different from the leadership most people experience today. Bringing Jesus' leadership style back into the church seemed like an ideal way to help heal some of the rifts that had developed in the South Iowa Chapel.

Background

This project developed out of two earlier projects that were done in pursuit of my degree. My work in these two projects was essential to my growth as a group leader and helped reaffirm my commitment to the concept of servant leadership. The first of these projects was working as a growth-group leader. The second of these projects led directly into the servant-leadership training that forms the basis of this project, because it helped identify those in the church who might be interested in and successful as, servant leaders and growth-group facilitators. Those two studies are described below.

Project One: Small Group Leadership and Facilitation

Purpose

The purpose of this project was to develop leadership functions and the necessary skills required to lead a small group in a church-setting. The group was what is commonly referred to as a "Bible study" and its purpose was to meet and discuss significant principals from the Bible and how to apply those principals impact and influence daily life. Small group Bible study is a vital, but oftentimes neglected part of church life. Bible studies are needed to prevent the decline of church membership and to foster community within the congregation and increase church membership through its use as a means of educating, enhancing and contributing to the spiritual, mental, social development of those who are a part of the group. The relevance of these groups is evident by the steady decline of the neighborhood church. The hope is that small-group Bible studies will delay and perhaps prevent the exodus from the local church to the large mega congregations that have become so popular.

Method

These Bible study groups were set to meet on a weekly basis on Wednesdays from 7:00 P.M. To 8:00 P.M. The groups were composed of three different age groups: teens (13-17), young adults (18-25) adults (25 and older). The gender and ethnicity of the group varied according to the overall church population, but the groups were open to anyone, without regard to church membership. However, the groups were primarily composed of church members.

Though it is difficult to define leadership duties in a small-group design because the group greatly impacts the direction of the session, one can define the roles of the leaders of Bible study. First and foremost, the leader of a Bible study gathers the group together and sets it in motion. For example, as a leader, the author's duty was to establish topics for the Bible study. Next, the leader teaches growth-awakening relating by trying to be as self-revealing, caring, and trustful of the group as he would like them to become. The leader also facilitates development of group identity through significant relating and sharing, by fostering group-centered interaction. The leader must be aware of both the individual and the group, because groups become more than the sum of their individual parts.

Results

It was surprisingly difficult to become a group member and not distance myself behind the wall of leadership. A recent graduate offered this sound advice on enhancing my effectiveness in teaching: "Howard, let it all hang out!" Translated, I took this advice to mean that I had to take a risk. It was difficult to do so, but once I learned to relate to the group members as a member of the group, rather than as an authoritarian leader, I found that group participation became more fulfilling for me and seemed more fulfilling for the other group members.

In addition, it was interesting to see how the group changed over time. One might assume that group members were initially reticent with each other because they did not know each other. However, this assumption is not always true. First, the small group setting meant that many of the group participants did know each other, at least on a superficial level. Moreover, the support-group-type setting sometimes lent an air of anonymity to the groups that actually seemed to encourage serious discussion and self-revelation, despite the lack of strong relationships outside of the group setting. Of course, this was not an immediate result of the groups. On the contrary, at first members barely listened to themselves or each other; with help, they tuned in on the wavelength of feelings.

Furthermore, when groups began people naturally turned to the group leader for direction and advice. It would be accurate to state that most of the relating was to the group leader at that point. However, by exercising linking… [END OF PREVIEW]

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