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State of Christian leadership in Canada

State of Christian leadership in Canada

by Dr. Don Page


It is commonplace in most organizations, including Christian ones, to acknowledge that the success or failure of an organization or ministry is more dependent on one measurable factor than any other: leadership. Thus, knowing the state of leadership in Canadian Christian institutions is critical to measuring and improving the effectiveness of their ministries. Collecting data from a survey of 146 respondents representing every province, denomination, para-church organization and age group, Trinity Western University set out to discover to what degree Christian leaders are investing in leadership development, and how this investment is being made. 

Are we investing in future leaders?

While it is easy for those in leadership positions to acknowledge that leadership development is important, the real question is whether this translates into actual investment of money and time for either themselves or others. Staggering research results found that over 70 percent of respondents wished that they had more time to invest in personal leadership development. The desire therefore exists, but it is encouraging business leaders to equip their staff and volunteers with the tools to successfully develop their teams. The boards of Canadian churches and ministries need to carefully consider putting together strategies that support their teams to have the necessary financial support to be able to grow as leaders in Christian ministry. Over 80 percent of respondents found that they needed more support from their church to develop as leaders in their ministry. 

The need for leadership development amongst Christian ministries is evident through the research conducted by Trinity Western University. Nearly 70 percent of respondents admitted to seeing the value and need for developing the future generation of leaders in their organization. Strategic planning, succession planning, and talent retention were among the top areas of desired growth. Throughout the evolution of leadership in an organization, it is clear that strong management with weak leadership will inevitably lead to the demise of an organization. Strong leadership is a vital part of propelling an organization and ministry forwards. The need for sustainable growth will only be allowed if the teams are supported with valuable development tools. Developing a new program with no regard for implementing administrative systems that are managed and led effectively, will surely result in a failed strategy. 

Leadership vs management

Leadership and management can no longer be viewed as the same skill. 

When it comes to overseeing how a church will set out to accomplish its vision, the balance between leadership and management often shifts. In the early stage of setting out to conceive a ministry, the emphasis is on leadership. Once established, a common shift often occurs where management skills are emphasized far above any form of leadership. This is a key portion of the research findings from TWU. In order to actually see growth, plans must be implemented that incorporate programs such as mentorship, professional development programs, and conferences, to take action in invested leadership growth. 

Thirty-six percent of respondents indicated personal and professional development was provided primarily through conferences, indicating this as their primary means of professional development opportunities. Weekly staff meetings, in which leadership development was an intentional and significant part of the agenda, was another important means of growth. Certified programs, books, and podcasts, were identified as other popular channels through which leadership development is being provided. 

There was no single book, apart from the Bible, that the respondents thought was the best on leading, though they tended to gravitate towards certain Christian authors, especially the award-winning author, Patrick Lencioni, followed by John Maxwell and Bill Hybels. It was clear from their responses, however, that there are plenty of resources available, both Christian and non-Christian, to assist in leadership development.

The research conducted by Trinity Western University unveiled numerous findings that highlighted an overarching need for organizations to invest in developing the leaders of tomorrow. There is a clear gap where the desire to grow in leadership is greater than the current investment; however, it is encouraging to see a clear recognition of the value in developing leaders altogether. 

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Don Page is the author of Servant Empowered Leadership: A Hands-On Guide to Transforming You and Your Organization (2009) and a former Academic Vice President at Trinity Western University, where he introduced the idea of teaching leadership skills and attributes into every course in the curriculum and launched the Master of Arts in Leadership program as well as the Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa.