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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Appointing a senior leader? Keep disciplemaking in the conversation

In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Susan Beaumont speaks about ‘liminal seasons’, referring to the threshold between the old and the new. For churches, a good example of a liminal season is the transition from one senior leader to another. Rather than seeing the liminal season between leaders as a place to linger, we often want to move quickly from the end of one thing to the start of another, without pausing to reflect properly.   

But without that instructive lingering – frustrating and wearisome though it may sometimes be – we can miss the opportunity to make the most of the new season we’re moving into. In other words, if we rush into something new, we increase the risk of making poor choices.   

Vacancies in a church can last for any length of time – sometimes years – and this presents both challenges and opportunities. The challenge of ‘keeping the show on the road’, often with a small and increasingly tired group of people; or the feeling that nothing can move forward while you wait for someone to take the reins. But there are also opportunities, as people step up into new roles and discover new giftings. 

The liminal season of a vacancy is also an opportunity to consider where whole-life disciplemaking fits into a church’s life. Is it a core value? An occasional theme? Or perhaps not there at all? Even when it’s a core value it can easily be shunted down the priority list as other things become more immediate. It’s important to keep whole-life disciplemaking part of the church’s conversation throughout a vacancy. If we don’t, it’ll also have a knock-on effect when we come to appoint a new leader.  

Prioritising a passion for whole-life discipleship 

There are a lot of moving parts to sync if we want to appoint someone who has a commitment to (or even just an awareness of) whole-life disciplemaking, on top of all the other attributes we’re looking for. But prioritising it during this crucial appointment process massively increases the chance that whole-life discipleship will remain a value for your church going forward. And on the flipside, even if your church has a long history of equipping people for discipleship in everyday life, that focus can easily be sidelined if a leader comes in with a completely different set of values.  

 

This doesn’t just mean asking one question about whole-life discipleship at interview (though that’s important). It needs to be a clear priority from the start. Whatever your denomination, church style, or network, you’ll need some kind of profile for your church when you advertise. If whole-life disciplemaking is already part of your church’s values, you’ll need to make sure it’s highlighted – perhaps in the list of your church’s values, or in the description of the kinds of things you do in services or small groups. For example, if you run This Time Tomorrow slots in your services, mention them! Most importantly, a passion for whole-life disciplemaking can be included in the characteristics you’re looking for. 

If whole-life disciplemaking is something you’ve become convicted of during a vacancy and want to see in your church going forward, that can be mentioned, too. All of these things will help shape the appointment process.  

The bottom line is that if whole-life discipleship is important to your church, it needs to be in the profile, because it’s the key document for all those involved in the appointment process – including those who may not be part of your church leadership team. In the Church of England, for example, the panel includes representatives nominated by the PCC, the diocese, and the parish patrons. While they may each have their own set of priorities to work to, they should all be looking to appoint based on what the parish has asked for in its profile – so make sure it’s in there! 

In every church, we want to see the right person for our church prayerfully appointed. That’s why vacancies can be so important. They’re a time to discern where our church is at and where God wants us to go. However you run the appointment process, whole-life disciplemaking is clearly not going to be the only consideration. But we can make sure it’s a part of the plan to continue to give it priority in the new season ahead.

Jules Gadsby
Church Engagement Specialist 

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