Amid high profile scandals and the pressures facing the Church, Rev Archie Coates, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, talks influence, accountability and why it’s important to hang onto hope

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When we’re thinking about the Leadership Conference each year, we trying to discern: Who is going to bring hope and inspiration for Christian leaders? Whether it’s in church, business, charities or the social sector, how can we lift their eyes and hearts and bring encouragement? That’s needed more now than ever probably.

Leaders need to inspire, encourage and raise up others. But they also need to be encouraged and inspired. Leadership is lonely. We’re navigating complex, difficult times. Especially now, I often think: Why would people choose to be a leader?

Influence and leadership

People are quite interested in being influencers, but not always in being leaders. Actually, there’s a very close correlation: leadership is essentially influencing.

In the past, people wanted to be a leader. Now, there’s a reluctance. Actually, I think that’s a beautiful thing. If you think about Jeremiah, Moses or King David, they were reluctant leaders. In other words, the central plank of their leadership seems to be humility and vulnerability. That’s a much better way of leading. But how do you hold on to that humility while not losing confidence in leadership?

Leadership has always been a discerned vocation - something that you’re chosen for as much as you volunteer for. But in some ways, everybody is a leader: everybody has influence; everybody can step up and take responsibility. You don’t need a title. In fact, sometimes the title can muddle it! People who want the position sometimes get it the wrong way round.

Church is the place we’re supposed to be able to be vulnerable and open, but often it’s the hardest

Essentially, leadership about leading people rather than structures and process. That is always complex. When I think about some of my greatest mistakes, they’ve nearly all come when I’ve put projects in front of people. I’ve rushed and haven’t taken care to bring people along with me. As much as you want to get the job done, we also need to slow down enough to care for the people that God has put around us. The leaders that I most admire are able to keep the vision while also being brilliant at caring for and bringing people along with them.

Creating culture

At HTB, we’re always working to play our part in the evangelisation of the nation, the revitalisation of the church and the transformation of society, but what does that mean for our present generation amid what’s happening in the world?

When we’re looking at scandals and failings within church leadership, many people are asking: “How do we stop this? How do we create contexts where leaders don’t fall? What needs to change?” The ‘Soul Survivors’ podcast has been really helpful; I listened to the most recent one with Matt and Beth Redman last night.

Every time something like this happens, it causes us to hold a mirror up to our own leadership. Safeguarding is a broad term, but it should also include healthy leadership practices, such as emotional health, relational leadership and wellbeing - all those things that are sometimes called ‘soft skills’ but are actually the basics of leadership.

People are quite interested in being influencers, but not always in being leaders

Accountability is really key. There are structures that force accountability but leaders are, in some respects, as accountable as they make themselves. How do you ensure that you’re not isolated, and that you really are encouraging people to say what they think?

People are sometimes reluctant to point things out to you as a leader, so you have to intentionally ask the right questions. That’s a culture we try to create with our staff team: “Please, if you have a whiff of anything that just doesn’t quite feel right, find someone you can speak to, because we need to know.” Everyone has blind spots and you don’t notice them until someone points them out.

Church is the place we’re supposed to be able to be vulnerable and open, but often it’s the hardest. There is often so much going on and you don’t want to be seen as difficult or negative. It’s complicated, but really important.

Coming together

At this year’s Leadership Conference, we’re hoping that 5,000 people, from every sphere of life, will leave knowing that leading is a really, really high call, but also that it’s the most joyous, valuable, important thing. Leadership moves people to a better future, and that’s what the world needs.

It’s always a good principle in life to look to others, to never think that you’ve got all the answers. One of the things I love about the conference is the different denominations and cultures coming together from the global Church family. People have all kinds of life experience and backgrounds, but there’s a lot we can learn from one another.

Nicky Gumbel often says: “You might not agree with everything that you hear”. But why don’t we lean into that and have a posture of: I wonder what the Lord might want to say to me? There’s always something that you can learn.

Psalm 47:2 says that God is “the great King over all the earth”. There is a leader of leaders, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we sit under his rule and reign. For all leaders everywhere, I pray that will give us a greater sense of confidence in the days ahead, whatever the challenges we face individually or as the Church.

Find out more about the Leadership Conference and book tickets

Archie was speaking to Esther Higham on  Premier Christian Radio’s Inspirational Breakfast. Listen to the whole conversation here