my relational leadership

my relational leadership

by dwight friesen


Over the past few months I elicited a small group of friends to help me evaluate my person and leadership. This small group comprised of three men and two women have known me for an average of three and one-half years and we have been meeting weekly as a small group for most of that time. The observations and comments detailed below came through a series of conversations in February and March of this year.

Evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses in leadership:
Rather than walk through a list of the “pro’s” and “con’s” of my leadership I want to look at just two characteristics that are both strengths and weaknesses.


Leadership as faith more than certainty

“I don’t know,” has become one of the mottos of my life. I have a sign hanging above my computer reminding me of this. Giving up my “right” to the certainty of my knowledge has been a process. Raised in a conservative Evangelical (maybe even Fundamental) home, church and culture (southern Manitoba) my ability to present myself as a person with great certainty was prized – I did this well. Having more answers than questions was deemed a sign of maturity and leadership potential.

Today, more areas of my life and leadership are marked not by certainty nor by doubt but by faith. My growing rejection of certainty is making me more open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the lives of others and more open to dialoguing with the community and together seeking God’s direction for us. Simultaneously, this “uncertainty” often creates the impression that I don’t know what I’m doing – both is and is not true. And those participating in our community life who want strong/certain leadership regularly get frustrated with me.

Leadership within interpersonal relationship

I do my best to lead from a position of personal knowledge. I do not lead from position, external authority or title, rather I lead from intimate friendship. I have made a commitment to personally know every person I lead within my Christ-community. This is just one of the reasons why our community has adopted a size limit. I boldly encourage people to follow me as I follow Christ, and as such, am committed to letting people see my life, to know me and my family, to be in our home and to observe how we live; to be open about our struggles and our celebrations. We have estimated that we have approximately 1,500+ people in our home each year. Letting those we serve see our life is demanding as it requires we actually live a life that would invite others to follow. Committing to relational leadership has many challenges: I am not perfect and the better a person knows me the more they see my imperfections. I often fail to love. Sometimes there is not a natural affinity between myself and another; a definite barrier to relational ministry. Relationality necessarily impacts the scope of our immediate ministry, it is limited in size as those I serve must be able to know me, and I know them. All of these things are potential strengths and weaknesses.

It would be inauthentic for me to proclaim “relationality” with God and one another while living in performance mode, or living in isolation. I believe life together with Christ, the church and all that is important is all about relationship; therefore I am committed to doing what I can to place relationship as my priority. Conflict, misunderstandings and missed opportunities to love happen more in deeper relationships; thus processing those relational failings become a vital part of the us of leadership.

The role of vision and voice in me as leader:
I understand my voice to be my person. In this sense I am the vision. What I embody, is lived out values and vision. As Terry O’Casey (a friend in the same doctral program) said in one of his online postings, “What makes a leader is; voice is authenticated by lifestyle.”  I am the vision does not mean that the vision is about me. As this essay points out I am not an isolated being, my leadership is the perichoresis of Christ/Dwight/Community. My leadership is foundationally relational. As best as I understand it, my leadership is not doing anything in particular, but is being exactly who I was created to be, within the relational context God is placing me in. Authentic leadership is little more than discovering my completeness in Christ, and being fully present in my Christ-community and local context.

I am very cautious when using the word vision. I believe the popular usage of “vision” within the church often has more to do with self-promotion and grandeur, rarely is a vision articulated the places at its center “our decrease for Christ’s increase.” More often than not, vision has to do with my/our increase; vision rarely leads me/us to the crucify self. Thus, I am increasingly convinced that the clearer my sense of vision (a type of certainty) the less likely it is from God. Vision will lead me/us to dependence on Christ. God will always lead us opportunities to trust him, rarely will God lead us to five year plans with actionable items and quantifiable results – though sometimes he may.

Action plan
Clear action plans require antecedental clarity. Since my strengths are my weaknesses and my weaknesses are my strengths the only action plan available is to immerse myself in relationship. I am Dwight and can only lead as Dwight in community. I desperately need God and the people he is placing in my life. My goal is not to compensate for my weaknesses as much as it is to embrace them as the gift from God that they are. My weaknesses are one of the greatest invitations to relationship with God and others that I have been given. It is my strengths that are one of my greatest enemies; my strengths make me feel like I don’t need others. Therefore, my one engagement is to live as best as I know how to live within the unique relational dynamic of my life with Christ in the community he has placed me. The closest thing I can have to an action plan is a faith commitment, like a vow of marriage. A public commitment to pursue humility, service, openness and love of others.

Some of the commitments I regularly revisit, and often fail at are:

  • I vow to lead within the context of loving relationships.
  • I vow to receive personal criticism as a sober gift and to search it for God’s invitation to me.
  • I vow not to teach or preach if I cannot interact with people.
  • I vow to ask more questions and make observations inviting participation rather than give answers.
  • I vow to hear, see, know and learn from Christ in others.
  • I vow to decrease, to become less and to celebrate others more.
  • I vow to ask for forgiveness when I wrong, to love when wronged, and to regularly express my need of others.
  • I vow to love my limitations.
  • I vow to be open seeing God where I might least expect him – “You never know.”

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