On the Corner ‘Aspects of leadership’

By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief

The driving metaphor of our church portrays its members and leaders as an “army.” We have officers and soldiers, divisions and corps, uniforms and commissioning.

So here we are, enjoying the ceremony and celebration as a session of cadets—Ambassadors of Holiness­—becomes officers in this Army.

The military metaphor

The military metaphor works well for us except when leaders—either officers or soldiers—use it in a “command and control” manner. The metaphor fails in church leadership where the common culture is built on concepts such as liberty, freedom, equality and individualism. These values dominate the American ethos. New officers cannot come into an appointment and begin giving orders, making decisions, administering discipline and assuming that they are “in charge.” To do so is fraught with danger.

Subcultures differ

Up front, your initial task will be to “know the territory.” No two corps are completely alike. While each corps embraces the Army’s basic theological principals, each, also, has developed its own “subculture” in respect to the means by which those principles become articulated to the congregants and the community. This is the way the corps operates. It has, over the years, developed its own set of “norms.” These are the unwritten rules and customs that guide the group’s operation. When you know the norms you begin to have a general idea about the nature of the subculture. Respect the norms.

The new corps officer begins to impact the norms at the welcome meeting—whether you are visible and friendly prior to the meeting—whether your conversation with people seems genuine—whether you seem trustworthy—whether your acceptance of people is nonjudgmental. By the way, never discuss with a second person a prior conversation with someone else. When you do, trust evaporates. Also know that your non-verbal behavior speaks volumes more than what you say.

So, the individual subcultures have much in common related to the foundation principles that guide the belief system and the value orientation of the group—but  this does not mean two different appointments are alike. To assume that they are, also, is very dangerous. Each is unique.


Goals are broad, over-arching statements. Objectives indicate the means by which goals are achieved. You will have some personal goals, and the corps membership will have some of their own. There will, we hope, be considerable overlap. Usually, neither you nor they have them written down. Everyone thinks that they are all on the same page, but it’s often not the case.

Do not start thinking about fundamental change until you are completely aware of the culture and the personalities that impact it.


People seem to achieve at higher levels when they feel a warm, personal and caring connection with leadership. A connection like this requires contact—being together. This demands visiting people, building small groups of people who will share feelings about Scripture and about themselves. Christianity is a relationship religion, and we are in the business of building relationships.

Concentrate on careful listening with your ears, your mind and your heart. People trust those who are able to paraphrase a point of view expressed by another. It affirms the other, gives them confidence and builds the relationship.

Heart and soul

Don’t forget that you are also in the “heart and soul” business. The doorway to spiritual development is through emotions. Daft and Lengel in their book state: “The energy that moves people forward with enthusiasm is not intellectual or rational, but comes from feelings.”

I pray you have access to your feelings and that your first sermon will not sound like a term paper but, instead, will reach out to the feelings within the congregation you serve. I hope you will work to bond with people, build attachments and remember that the entire reason religion exists is to build positive, caring relationships.

Except I am moved with compassion, how dwelleth they spirit in me?(Orsborn)


The third verse of Albert Orsborn’s memorable and moving song begins with this sentence:


It is not with might to establish the right,

Nor yet with the wise to give rest;

The mind cannot show what the heart longs to know

Nor comfort a people distressed.


Don’t worry about objects and things, build emotional energy with acceptance, forgiveness, nonjudgmentalism and powerful relationships. Effective corps officers have abandoned the norms of the common culture that emphasize ideas that thinking is much more important than feeling. They’ve put aside their fear of revealing feeling and discovered the bottomless reservoir of leadership energy found in emotion. Always remember—love is a feeling word.

Be assured of the continuing affection with which we hold you close to our hearts.


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