Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leadership art in the church

Written by: on April 25, 2015

Leadership is an Art,[1] by Max Depree, pulls together leadership theories, while weaving in insights surrounding the more abstract idea that leadership is an art form. Depree, himself, has demonstrated his own ability to be a strong and effective leader within both national and global settings. Throughout my career as a consultant, I’ve worked with many organizations and have been blessed to learn from some amazing leaders. When I begin with a new organization or meet a person in a leadership position, I can typically ascertain right away if they are a good leaders. There is a certain spirit and climate that one can sense within the realm of good leadership. And, there is an equally disturbing environment in organizations that fail to leverage their leader’s capabilities or in those that allow bad leaders to reign. When an organization or church faces change, obstacles, or crisis, good leadership is often evident in the way that workers adjust and face their challenges. Likewise, followers trust a good leader and are willing to accept changes that the leader throws their direction in order to enact positive momentum forward.

If leadership were a model that could be easily taught to just any student, then there wouldn’t be so many books and programs on the subject. When we think of leadership as an art form, we understand that a person with natural leadership capabilities can improve upon and refine their skills just as an artist might learn to work with new techniques or methods. Listening to the wisdom shared from strong and tenured leaders is a great way to learn and grow one’s own ability in this area.

I often think that people put too much emphasis on their own leadership skills, so much so, that the focus shifts to following techniques or making great efforts to be transformational. The issue that I see with many “want to be leaders” is that they lack the passion, experience, strategic mindset and artistic ability that it takes to influence and move an organization forward. One thing that Depree points out that I believe is significant, is the fact that leaders are responsible for quality and the ability for an organization to change, and for business literacy. One of the more important points that he makes is that leaders are obligated to provide and maintain momentum.

The fact that Depree writes from a Christian worldview, I believe, is significant. Too many times, I hear from church or Christian organization leaders that they are “not a business”. This mindset has sometimes contributed to complacency toward what is expected from leaders, and this can create an atmosphere that is difficult for organizations to thrive. Depree recognizes the unique gifts that God has given individuals, and places emphasis on the outcomes expected from leadership vs. specific ways of getting the job done. Too many times, we equate good leadership to “let’s just all get along” and to those who can preach good messages. In my own experience, the best leaders are those who learn to leverage the strengths that God has given them and to mitigate their weaknesses by appropriately tapping into others in the community who do have the gifts. Unfortunately, sometimes organizational structures and bureaucracy don’t always lend to this. Look at the organizational structures where you work…do they lend towards developing leaders who can lead in the way that Depree indicates? I am reminded of small churches in denominations where pastors are forced to play the “jack of all trades” and their day-to-day work isn’t necessarily complemented by the greater denominational work. Are we allowing enough room for people to develop the art of leadership? Are we allowing individuals to remain in leadership roles despite their ineffectiveness, lack of business literacy, and inability to engage people to positively change? If the answer is yes, then how is this impacting the church’s ability to impact the world for Christ. Has the church lost the art of leadership?

[1] Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Currency, ©2004)

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

6 responses to “Leadership art in the church”

  1. Travis Biglow says:



    I praise God for your insight. And you are right too many pastors become the jack of all trades and the master of none. Its important to understand what we are most proficient at and to really focus our major attention to that. In my essay i have been reading about leaderful leadership in which leaders allow leaders to be leaders. In other words allow people to lead without being so controlling. We have to foster and environment for leaders to lead and not get in the way of the development of effective leaders. “Transformational leadership is when leaders develop other leaders” – “An Integrative Theory of Leadership”-Martin M. Chemers! Love it!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thank you, Travis. I’ve learned over time that my strengths can also be my weaknesses and that I can learn from other leaders, but I must also develop my own personal leadership style. Everyone has someone else who speaks into their leadership, so I must intentionally learn to listen to Christ over other voices. Part of the art of leadership is learning what voices to listen to, and which to ignore.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    “the best leaders are those who learn to leverage the strengths that God has given them and to mitigate their weaknesses by appropriately tapping into others in the community who do have the gifts.”

    Great words of wisdom, Dawnel. Sometimes the church places unrealistic expectations on a pastor to do everything and lead everything. At other times, the pastor places themselves in this position. Either way, the best interest of the church is not served. When we lead from our strengths and are secure enough to allow others to lead from their strengths, a great atmosphere of creative, artful leadership is free to emerge.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Brian,
      Have you ever felt times in life when your own leadership is stifled? I have, and when this happens I typically know it is time for change and carefully seek Christ for next steps. Too often, I find that pastors stay in roles for job security even when they know it isn’t the right fit. I highly admire those who are willing to follow the leading of Christ and to venture into new territories when He calls.

      You mentioned, several weeks ago, that you are changing direction in your own ministry. While I don’t know the reason for your changes, I admire the fact that you have been obedient to Christ’s leading. Part of the art of leadership is discernment. Being able to discern direction is essential to ensure that one is moving in step with Christ, at the right time and in the right way.

  3. Mary Pandiani says:

    Reading your post, Dawnel, you made me realize that DePree probably set the stage for the movement of Theology of Work – how one’s ministry is wherever he/she works, in education, business, or other places of vocation. As you speak about the need for quality, I see that same need not only in churches but also for where people work outside the church too.
    I’m curious if this book taught you anything new with all your experience in the workplace. In light of adding to our Personal Leadership Development Plan, I’d love to hear (after all our papers are done:)) what you find useful from this book or others in the last two quarters.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I agree – in every vocation, we must work as God calls us to. The concept of calling is often neglected when we talk about work or ministry. I’d define my own career as a journey on which Christ has taken me, grown me, and allowed me avenues in which to serve Him. I guess that I don’t really consider myself to have a vocation as my consulting work has taken me into different industries and roles, and my work has evolved as I have gained more experience. My vocation is to serve Him wherever He calls, in whatever capacity. He always provides the knowledge and resources to complete the tasks to which He assigns me. In my own experience, leadership is often like playing chess with God whispering in your ear. Over time, your discernment, skills and abilities get sharper – but each new opportunity presents new challenges to overcome. Exposure to other leaders and frequent feedback helps to further sharpen my skills.

      In this week’s reading, I especially liked that Depree presented the idea of a covenant relationship within the context of leadership responsibility. This semester, I’ve put a great deal of focus on the concept of shalom within an organization. To have shalom, the obligations of the covenant relationship must be fulfilled by the parties involved…and justice is one resulting benefit.

      In both Christian and non-Christian organizations, justice and welfare of people involved in the work being accomplished is a concern. Too many organizations or leaders neglect to value their workers (including churches and mission organizations). When organizations fail to create an environment for workers to thrive, they destroy their own ability to fulfill their mission in the world. Seeking blessing at the expense of others will not bring shalom. Too many leaders focus on their own development and vocation, but forget to consider that others need the same opportunities. We do a lot of talk about leading, and even about servant leadership…but I observe very few people actually stepping up to lead in the workplace.

      You asked about books that I’ve found helpful this semester…
      The books we read about leadership are easier for me to digest and resonate with my own experience in organizations. I love the way that every new reading assignment challenges our own assumptions and presents us with new learning opportunities. However, I often learn the most from engaging with everyone in our cohort, and gaining perspective through the various views presented across our group. So far, I have specifically enjoyed Katherin Tanner’s Spirit in the Cities and Marykate Morse’s Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence.

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