Strategic Leadership

Published 11th December 2023 by Aike Kennett-Brown

Over the past year I’ve been on a leadership journey, taking part as the pilot cohort for the Growing Faith Foundation’s ‘Strategic Leaders’ Programme. Delivered via a mix of asynchronous e-learning and a 2-day residential, over the course of a year, we’ve covered topics around vision and values, change management strategies, how to handle conflict and how to communicate well. We’ve also had to put our learning into practice, by crafting a ‘How do I…?’ question, tackling a live work issue, and staying accountable to work through the challenge, during zoom ‘coaching huddles’.

On Friday 8th December, the 20 people in my cohort met at Lambeth Palace liby to celebrate our year of learning and gave short 5-minute presentations to summarise the journey we’ve been on.

Here are 3-words beginning with the letter ‘C’, that sum up my key take-aways:

CHANGE – Change doesn’t faze God!  Each of us is continually faced with God’s call to repentance, to change the direction of our lives. But changing what we do on a personal level is hard. We’re used to our routines. Making changes on an organisational level, such as a local church, or trying to steer a Messy Church movement, is hard work and takes time.

My Messy Church ministry lead role is about encouraging Messy Churches to start well and be the best they can, resourcing and equipping local leaders. However, we do have missional challenges as a movement. This course has given me some tools and a framework to start to address these.

My ‘how do I’ focus has been around a desire to want to raise up leaders that reflect their local community, particularly those from global majority heritage. In 2022 we hosted an international Messy Church conference and out of 150 people, we only had 3 people whose ethnic background was not white. They were only at the conference because they had been personally invited and sponsored. I knew we could do better, because in God’s kingdom, we are all one in Christ. Messy Church will be a better version of itself, if all God’s people are welcomed, and included and encouraged to develop their God given talents. Children and young people need role models that look like them in their different settings. Making changes to enable this to happen, will take time.

CONTEXT – If you want to see change happen, it requires knowing your context. To know your context, you must be curious and keep listening to God, to other people, to those we serve. It’s a journey of constantly learning and adapting and being flexible.

I saw this in action when I visited 2 Growing Faith hubs in Salisbury and Guildford Diocese. Both fantastic projects, that worked well for their context: In Salisbury, the new Sherbourne youth council, that feeds ideas into the local town council, fits perfectly it’s local historic and geographic context of being a market town. Here, local church leaders facilitate the forum where local primary and secondary (Church of England) schools to gather. The shape of this project wouldn’t work where I live in London, but the guiding principles might.

In Guildford, the project linking the church and school in Basingstoke, fits with the local demographics of a young population, an enthusiastic priest, good church-school relationships, and parents who are eager to see their children perform in church. The project fits that context.

Back to my ‘How do I’ question – I realise that my Messy Church in southeast London operates in a very different context to a Messy Church in for example, Somerset. I am used to living in a diverse multicultural community and want my Messy Church team to reflect all the different people that come along, making sure everyone has the same opportunity to be involved. I’ve worked with Southwark Diocese, which has developed an anti-racist charter, so I’ve been thinking, reading, reflecting on this area for several years. However, this is not the case for all Messy Church leaders, particularly those in more rural settings. They have a very different context. I realise I’ve got to take people on a journey. What’s obvious for me, is not obvious to others, because their contexts are different. It’s a slow journey, but over time we have included new writers for Get Messy! magazine. February’s ‘Learning to live together’, was written by our first ethnically diverse team.

What we’re doing is starting to get noticed. I received an angry complaint from a Messy Church leader in a rural setting, that the national Messy Church team has gone ‘Woke’, as I had mentioned Black History Month and our ‘Learning to live together’ session in October’s newsletter. As requested, I removed them from future emails, and realised that not everyone will want to travel on this train. If you want to see change happen, then know your context and seek to understand other people’s contexts.

COLLABORATION – serving in God’s kingdom, is about working together. It’s not about being the lone ranger hero who saves the day, it’s about Ephesians 4:16:

From Christ, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

As a former Osteopath, I love this image of joints and ligaments, this is my language! The unit on collaboration resonated with me, because most days I feel inadequate as the Messy Church Ministry Lead, even though I feel very affirmed that God has put me in this role for this season.

There was one TED talk about collaborative leadership which described that,

Interdependent leaders need other people. When you ask for help, people start to lean forward to see where they might fit in.

This was a relief to hear, and I was able to recognise that this is my style of leadership, and it’s healthy not to have all the answers.

However, to work collaboratively, a key message throughout this programme is that it’s all about relationships. Where there are healthy, life-giving relationships, you will notice God’s kingdom starting to grow and you will be better able to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road.

This was obvious to me in the hub projects that I visited. Things are happening because there are really passionate people involved and great working relationships between the school and church.

Collaboration is about relationship, relationship, relationship!

This should not surprise us, because we believe in God who loves us so much and wants a restored relationship with us. So great is this love, that God came to earth as a vulnerable baby, to be God with us – Emmanuel.

So that makes a 4th word beginning with ‘C’ – CHRISTMAS!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Aike Kennett-Brown

Messy Church Ministry Lead

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