Foundations of Leading Well over Distance

March 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Over the past 15 years I have constantly sought to answer this burning question, which I call the “Ten Day Rule of Heart:” If a global leader has no more than ten days per year of face-to-face time with his or her co-laborers in a multinational context, how can one appropriately serve, strengthen, inspire, align, equip, and coach those field leaders to live and lead well throughout the other 355 days?

This question informed my recent thesis research on servant leadership across distance and cultures. This series of posts will share some of the insights I gleaned from exploring Scripture, current research and best practices, and interviews with more than 80 global leaders.

The Need for a New Paradigm

Effective spiritual leadership across distance and cultures is a crucial topic for all Christian missions right now as the lines between local and global cultures blur, as the majority world surpasses North America in sending missionaries, as hierarchical organizations flatten into peer networks, and as a new generation of volunteers and full-time laborers assume responsibility for the Great Commission. Ministry in the 21st century will require character-grounded, innovative servant leaders who can flex with God’s Spirit and who are comfortable leading over greater distances with less control over God’s people.

Where do we find models of leaders like this? Whether you are leading across a city or across time zones, you are probably experiencing some of the challenges of 21st century global leadership. The New Testament offers abundant examples of servant leaders who led well in local and distance contexts.  If we focus on the ministries of Jesus and Paul, we find that while their immediate scope may have been different, many foundational elements of their leadership were the same.

Jesus: Up Close and Personal

Jesus’ ministry was primarily local and focused on one people group. The Jews to whom he ministered shared a common heritage, language, and culture. Geographically, the majority of Jesus’ ministry events recorded in the gospels took place within a 15-mile radius of two primary locations: the Sea of Galilee in the north and Jerusalem in the south.

Paul: Loving Over Distance

In contrast to Jesus, Paul’s ministry was primarily cross-cultural and conducted over great distance. Paul and his missionary teams would have covered about 1,200 miles as the crow flies from Jerusalem to Berea in Macedonia, one of their most remote areas of church planting. They covered great distances in relatively short periods of time, rarely lingering more than a few Sabbaths in any particular location.

Though Jesus and Paul ministered in different contexts, their ministries had many similarities.  We’ll look at some of these similarities in the next three posts.

If you have led locally and over distance, what are some of the similarities and differences you’ve encountered?

 

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