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The Arrow Leadership Programme - a Reflection

By James Lawrence.

David slumped into his chair. Seven years in post was taking its toll. He'd started with such energy and enthusiasm, so many high ideals and plans for change. Fifteen years of preaching. Fifteen years of pastoring. Fifteen years of praying. Fifteen years. David wondered about the next 30 years. Would he finish well, or would he be another casualty of ministry? Not that he expected to commit some terrible sin, or even to lose his faith, but just somehow to lose his passion, his vision, his dreams. At 39 he was still young, but he sensed he was also drifting, wandering around caught up with the urgent, with little time for the important. His wife suffered, his children suffered, the church suffered and ultimately he felt he suffered. He longed to live the life he was encouraging others to lead, and yet the gap between his public life and the private reality seemed to be daily getting wider. What was it he'd read recently? "Be warned when the work you're doing for God begins to destroy the work God is doing in you."

Rebecca was thrilled - her first appointment. She still struggled to believe it, 28 years old and a Youth Pastor. Training completed, post secured, and young people to reach. What a buzz! She relished the opportunity to reach out to the kids, to lead others and to develop her skills. At the welcoming service the speaker quoted from a preacher she hadn't heard of: "Your people's greatest need is your own personal holiness." Rebecca wrote it down in her journal that night. Instinctively she was caught by the wisdom and the challenge of those words. Her college tutor had said something similar just before she left - to not only grow in the skills of youth work, but to give equal time to developing her character. But there was a nagging question that refused to go away. In large letters she wrote in her journal: "HOW?"

Michael was confused. The accolades were plentiful, the job offers regular, and the opportunities legion. Christian leadership was so stimulating he wouldn't want to do anything else, but where should he invest his time for the next stage of his ministry? Senior ministers talked of 'developing a wise career portfolio'. Friends urged him to follow the inner desire to try something radical. Colleagues predicted he was destined for 'higher things.' His earlier sense of calling to pioneer new work was still there, but fainter than before. At 36 he feared a wrong decision now might have long-term consequences. The arguments went round and round in his head and never ended conclusively. Once again he found himself walking with the dog tugging at the lead, asking himself 'Where is God leading?'

David, Rebecca and Michael might be in your Church. Leaders of all ages face struggles, yet our experience of working with primarily Anglican Church leaders has highlighted that younger leaders face some very common and specific issues. It was with this in mind that we established the Arrow Leadership Programme.

Originally founded by a Canadian, Dr Leighton Ford, Arrow is a leadership and evangelism development programme for leaders aged between 25-40 aimed at not only developing skills, but also deepening character and discerning calling. We completed the first UK Programme in July 2000 and began the second one in September 2000.

The Vision

The original vision for Arrow came from a combination of factors in Leighton Ford's own life. Having travelled extensively throughout the world, he began to recognise what he called a 'global emerging leadership vacuum'. Methods of training and developing leaders in the first part of the twentieth century were no longer so common place in the second part of the century. The world was changing fast, and there seemed to be little reflection within the Church on changing styles of leadership. Then, his 21-year-old son died on the operating table when Leighton was in his early fifties, and through the pain and grief he eventually sensed God calling him to invest his life in the next generation of leaders. After some years of research he wrote a book (Transforming Leadership) and then sought to establish a way of investing in younger leaders. The Arrow Leadership Programme was born. The title comes from Isaiah 40.2 where the author says of God's servant that "he will make me into a polished arrow". The programme is now established in six countries - America, Canada, Australia, Poland, Norway and England.

The Aim

The aim of Arrow is to enable leaders to be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus and to lead more to Jesus. It seeks to provide a learning community in which 24 leaders can explore issues of character, calling and competency over an 18-month period while continuing in their jobs. There are four residential gatherings, monthly meetings with a mentor, regular meetings with a small cell of other participants, and various assignments.

While running the Programme we regularly have people say to us "But why limit it to 25-40 year olds? We need something like this for older and younger leaders as well." Our response? Amen! We'd love to set up further programmes to tackle the issues of leadership development in other age groups, but with limited resources we've focused ourselves on this age group. There are a number of reasons for that.

First, many younger leaders (25-early 30's) are forming patterns for life and leadership as they take on increasingly significant leadership roles. Like Rebecca, they are looking for help from older leaders to help them establish good patterns, yet they often lack the opportunity, courage or discernment to link with experienced senior leaders. Arrow provides them with a context to explore their developmental needs, and help in establishing key support and mentoring networks.

Second, gifted individuals in their 20-30's are often 'recognised' and find themselves in significant leadership positions by their mid-30's. The energy of youth, the excitement of ministry, the motivation of high ideals and the encouragement of others are an intoxicating combination. Consequently, little time and energy may be invested in corresponding character development to match the pace of gift development and responsibilities undertaken. If this situation continues through the late 30's and on to the 40's, they are likely to walk down well-rehearsed tracks. These tracks commonly lead to a dead end, preventing the leader from growing in ministry.

The classic scenarios are:-

  1. Burn out: busy-ness, over-commitment, and pressure take their inevitable toll. Fooled by ongoing fruitfulness, emotional, physical, relational and spiritual depletion eventually lead to burn out.
  2. Drop out: unfulfilled dreams, discouragement and disillusionment lead to the person leaving their area of 'ministry' to engage in a different occupation.
  3. Level out: the person reaches a plateau, feels unable to resolve certain life issues and questions, and continues their ministry on a plateau, deep down longing to move off the plateau but never finding the path.
  4. Fall out: fuelled by unmet emotional needs and over busy-ness, the leaders becomes 'strangely vulnerable to escapist sin' (Bill Hybels). Money, sex, power, and habitual substance abuse are the classic fallouts.

Arrow creates a context in which foundational character issues are identified and tackled in a safe context. It aims to develop leaders' character to help prevent them from taking these well trodden paths in their forties.

Third, many gifted younger leaders struggle with a sense of confusion about where God is leading them. Like Michael, trying to discern where to invest one's time and energy is not always easy. The most common plea from those who are on the Programme, and, interestingly from those who supply references about them, is how do I balance the many demands on my time? Our calling is not only a long-term issue of what job should I do in the future, but also a short term issue of how I should spend each day. How is God calling me to invest my time today? Tomorrow? And on into the future?

Arrow seeks to help the participants discern more deeply God's call on their lives. For many that is the rediscovery of their primary calling to love God and worship him, to love their partners/family and care for them, and to love those who don't know Christ and reach out to them.

The Approach

I've been to so many conferences and come away inspired and challenged and determined to do something about it. But, if I am honest, six weeks later no real change takes place. The conference notes are buried under a pile of things to do; the inspiring words have faded behind the grieving words of the recently bereaved parent; the determination to change is lost in the determination to get through the week.

For this reason Arrow is not another conference. It is a Programme, with a carefully worked out process of application and accountability. Through teaching, relationships, self-assessment and a process of learning over 18 months, Arrow provides key leaders with opportunities for real change and growth in their lives. Arrow seeks to provide a context in which participants can shape their values, clarify their vision, and sharpen their skills.

The Lessons

The Programme is far from perfect! Running the first programme has taught us a huge amount, and we will continue to look for ways to develop and hone the process. However, there are a number of things we've identified that have wider implications for the church and the development of leaders.

1. Survival

If younger leaders are to survive, we need to develop honesty. Many of those who come on the programme are longing for a place to be real. Real about themselves, real about their situation, real about their doubts and struggles. Such honesty, openness and vulnerability develop in the context of healthy and trusting relationships. Are we setting an example within our own churches, fraternals, chapters?

2. Growth

If younger leaders are to grow, we need to create a climate of risk. We all know and give assent to the statement that it is in our weakness that God is strong, that when we fail we learn the most, that pioneering work for the gospel will involve risk. Yet churches often stifle risk, and frown on failure. No, a younger leader may not do as good a job as we are used to. Yes, investing in that scheme may mean we lose some money. No, we many not be able to keep control of things in the way we would like. Yes, it may mean we have to align ourselves with a venture that has 'gone wrong'. But without taking risks, accepting failure, and giving opportunities so much will be lost for the kingdom.

3. Development

If younger leaders are to develop, we need to foster mentoring. We've not been able to identify exactly why, but many of those who are senior leaders in their fifties, sixties and seventies seem to be somewhat reluctant to offer themselves as mentors for the younger generation. It may be busy-ness, or humility, or lack of models, but whatever the reasons we recognise that younger leaders long for wiser, more experienced senior leaders to invest in their lives. The value of an older leader prepared to invest and give time to a younger leader is immense.

Mentors are not magicians, expected to perform some miraculous work. Nor are they museum pieces, carefully preserved in perfect condition. They are disciples themselves, learning and growing. But never underestimate the effect of investing in a younger leader's life:

  • be it a ten word sentence - I'll never forget the person who encouraged me after the first time I read the lesson in church age 13;
  • be it a ten minute conversation - I'll never forget the international Christian leader who gave me 10 minutes at the end of his talk to chat with a precocious 17 year old;
  • be it a ten month relationship - I'll never forget the couple who adopted me into their family for 10 months while I was abroad, and put up with so much nonsense from a 19 year old;
  • be it a ten year investment - I'll never forget the wise Christian teacher who has gently guided me through many hurdles.

And if you are reading this article longing for someone to do that for you, why not start by doing it for someone else?

4. Models

If younger leaders are to become more effective in ministry, they need good models. Senior leaders who will inspire those who follow, not by their magnetic personality or unbelievable gifts, but rather through their faithful following of Christ, their willingness to be transparent, and their gift of time given to those who are following on behind. During the Arrow programme we have a number of well known senior leaders come and teach. It is those who are willing to be real, grapple with the difficult issues and offer a pattern of faith and living who are most inspiring.

The Future

The Arrow Leadership Programme is a small attempt to address some of the issues leaders face today. We're very aware that there are issues for leaders of the future. One of the most exciting developments is the way the principles at the heart of the Programme ripple out from those who have been a part of it into their churches, families and communities. For if leadership is to be fostered and grown within the Church we need to take an all age perspective, nurturing leadership in children and young people. We need to grow gifts, develop Christ-likeness and shape direction in those who already can lead as young people, and who will increasingly lead churches in the future. We're committed to doing just that.

David, Rebecca and Michael are currently high profile leaders within the Church. Let's resource them in any way we can as they seek to lead like Jesus. But let's not forget that other leaders are to be found in our crèche, Sunday School and Youth Group. Who will help them to be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus, and lead more to Jesus?

The Revd James Lawrence is Director of Evangelism at CPAS, a Springboard Missioner, Director of the Arrow Leadership Programme, an Anglican minister, and author of Lost for Words (BRF) and Men - the Challenge of Change (CPAS). He lives in Warwickshire with his wife and three young children.

For further information about the Arrow Leadership Programme please contact: The Revd James Lawrence, Arrow Core Team, CPAS, Athena Drive, Tachbrook Park, Warwick, CV34 6NG. Tel: 01926 458458

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You are reading The Arrow Leadership Programme - a Reflection by James Lawrence, part of Issue 21 of Ministry Today, published in February 2001.

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