Rebecca J. Girrell D.Min.
No Longer Servants, but Friends: Toward a Relational Approach to Spiritual Leadership Development is a participatory action research project in which the pastor-researcher and the leadership development team (LDT) of a small United Methodist congregation worked collaboratively to shift the team’s mindset and methods from nominations to leadership development. Using a shared leadership model and tools of appreciative inquiry, the pastor-researcher encouraged the LDT to identify gaps in the church’s leadership system and brainstorm and implement possible solutions. The intervention took place during the 2019-2020 program year and was, therefore, affected by the unanticipated challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pastor-researcher’s move to a different church. This allowed the pastor-researcher to observe the LDT’s shift in mindset and methods under the pressure of these circumstances.
The pastor-researcher observed the LDT’s process and outcomes and evaluated the members’ self-reported experiences via questionnaire, group interviews, and meeting transcripts. The key findings of the study illustrated that the LDT members experienced their process favorably, especially as evidenced by adopting the collaborative and systemic approaches they experienced in the intervention and applying these approaches to their work with other church leaders. Additionally, the study found that LDT members reported reduced anxiousness in their tasks, increased confidence in their effectiveness, and strong commitment to their shift in mindset, even in the face of the unanticipated crises. Most LDT members attributed these positive experiences to aspects of the intervention, including shared purpose, understanding of the church leadership system, collaborative leadership, and relationship with the pastor-researcher. The pastor-researcher identified opportunity for further study regarding long-term effects of such interventions and the impacts of interpersonal relationships, particularly with the pastor, on the experience and process of church leadership development.