Training Lay Leaders - Lesson 4

Social Contexts of Leadership

You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the social contexts of leadership from this lesson. The lesson covers different aspects of leadership in social settings, including the historical, cultural, and political contexts that shape the role of leaders in society. You will also learn how to analyze the impact of these contexts on leadership, and how to apply this knowledge to your own leadership practices.

John  Johnson
Training Lay Leaders
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Social Contexts of Leadership

I. Introduction to Social Contexts of Leadership

A. Importance of Social Contexts in Leadership

B. Overview of the Lesson

II. Historical Contexts of Leadership

A. Historical Periods and their Impact on Leadership

B. Historical Movements and their Influence on Leadership

III. Cultural Contexts of Leadership

A. Cultural Beliefs and Practices and their Impact on Leadership

B. Cultural Diversity and its Implications for Leadership

IV. Political Contexts of Leadership

A. Political Systems and their Influence on Leadership

B. Political Environment and its Impact on Leadership

V. Conclusion and Application of Social Contexts of Leadership

A. Summing up the Key Points

B. Applying the Knowledge to Your Own Leadership Practices

  • Leadership is difficult to define because it is both a science and an art. Effective leaders often display styles that are markedly different because of their personalities, varying contexts and the expectations of those around them.
  • This lesson teaches about the common elements of leadership and how to develop them in oneself and others.
  • This lesson will provide knowledge of cultural contexts of leadership in the Bible, including the role of leadership in the Ancient Near East, cultural expectations for leaders in biblical times, and challenges faced by leaders in the Bible.
  • This lesson provides an in-depth exploration of the social contexts of leadership and its impact on leadership practices.
  • This lesson teaches the key principles and strategies for creating great teams in a ministry context, including enthusiasm, camaraderie, common vision, mutual support and communication.
  • This lesson teaches more about the seven rules for creating good teams, including paying attention to follower readiness, treating people with dignity and respect, stewarding resources with wisdom, keeping everyone focused on the mission, and communicating with your team.
  • Character makes you a leader worth following. Some people have been great leaders without exhibiting moral values, but it is more difficult and often comes at great personal cost. Justice, integrity, loyalty, diligence, humility, compassion and courage are important core values.

  • Mission is the broad philosophical statement of why your organization exists. It states the purpose of your organization and defines your objectives. A vision is the ability to see into the future and articulate a mental picture of what you want your organization to do. The mission gives you the framework. The vision is changeable but always within the framework of the mission.
  • Strategies are systematic choices about how to carry out the mission and vision, how to deploy resources, achieve goals, maximize strengths and reach the desired outcome.As you choose strategies to implement your vision, it's critical to submit them to the leading of the Spirit.
  • Objectives tell us who is responsible for completing the strategy and when it will happen. While strategic planning is broad based, future oriented, giving direction, objectives are the tactical side of leadership. Objectives are the measurable statements that translate the strategy into operational terms. They get down to the day-to-day functioning of the organization, the daily details. They are the operational plan, and hence are more concrete.
  • Leadership is transformational by nature. Leadership and change are like joint travelers on the same road. Fundamentally, people by nature do not like change. Moving from the known to the unknown may affect people’s competencies, worth, and coping abilities. Organizations get heavily invested in the status quo. It's important for us to value change and help people work through the process.
  • Some attributes that you can develop to help you become an effective change agent includes creating a clear vision, invoking passion, making clear decisions, inspiring people and becoming a person of character.

Dr. John Johnson describes leadership as being both a science and an art. In creating and managing teams, it's important to take into account social and cultural contexts. Your values determine mission and vision so you can identify objectives and create strategies to accomplish them. Since leadership is transformational by nature, it's important to know how to initiate and manage change when it happens.

Dr. John Johnson
Training Lay Leaders
Social Contexts of Leadership
Lesson Transcript


A structural lens helps you see where the authority lines are and what your role is. A human resource lens focuses on individuals, their feelings, maturity levels and relationships. A political lens helps you evaluate element like power, conflict, competition and coalitions. The symbolic lens reminds you of the importance of the story and identity of the organization.

A. Social Context:

Let’s move on to social contexts for this is the second major aspect of leadership. We have talked about culture and now we will deal with social. By social, we are dealing with four different frames where each frame gives a different picture of reality. When a leader walks into this room, they have to see the different ethnicities, the different cultures, the different ages and also the different social frames in which we exist in. If I can expand your vision to see through these four frames, you will be a far more effective leader. The first frame is what we call the structural frame. Every organization has some form of structure, some skeleton which keeps it together. Our church is not some floating ameba; it has a skeletal structure to it. A leader has to understand this structure for if they don’t, there can be a lot of mistakes. The structure can include the chain of command if there is one. Who is accountable to whom? One such chain of command could be with the pastor being at the top, with staff coming next and then elders and finally the congregation. If I come in with the assumption that this was the structure, but if it isn’t, what might happen? Somebody may think that they have assumed some authority that they don’t have. Lots of leaders make this mistake because they didn’t see the structural frame that exists. So, when you begin to lead someone or an organization, the first thing you need to ask is what the structural frame is. What is the role I have within that? When I went to the church in Holland, I discovered that they had Elders and Deacons and also Elder Deacons. I had to figure out where I would be within this mix; otherwise I could have made some huge mistakes. Structure also looks at performance and an order in how things happen along with time lines and accountability. The metaphor would be like a machine; for some people, this is the glasses they wear. This is how they see things.

B. For Some, Everything is a Machine:

The first church I pastored, there was this man who seemed to see everything with structural glasses. Everything to him was a machine. Many churches have this kind of person; they carry the bye-laws or the constitution with them everywhere. He was all about structure and every time I touched on one of them in regards to my authority, he would let me know. I realized that I also had to see through those glasses as some people only see through such glasses. As a machine metaphor, you are looking at logic, central concepts or rules or goals and policies and meetings. For some, you can always assume they will attend certain meetings because they see things through these structural glasses. I remember once, we had finished a meeting early, but Jim had arrived late because of being out of town. He looked so sad because we had finished the meeting early. So, the image of leadership would be flow charts expressed in the constitution and mission statements. Now, every organization has to have this frame; it is vital, otherwise there would be anarchy and chaos. Here are a couple of leadership challenges. Within this frame, a leader sees less of the individual and more of the whole. What I want to underscore here, while some can just look those glasses, a leader must look through all four glasses. Another leadership challenge, you must guide the organization to an appropriate structure. This is because restructure is something that occasionally has to happen. Since you are leading, there is movement and hopefully that means growth and thus the size is fluid and changing and the size of the structure has to change.

C. Bringing About Structural Change:

When I came to village in 2001 we had a deacon board. I ask where the Elder board was of which they didn’t have. Then I ask who the elders were. I found that I was the only elder. This model was built on a smaller church of a hundred or so people. They have a board of deacons and the pastor is sort of the elder in charge. But the church was around twelve or hundred then; I couldn’t be the elder of this many people. So, we had to restructure and move to an elder board of which I am on; but I have this strange pastoral role also. You as a leader have to see what the structure is and then you have to ask whether or not you need to restructure or not. So, the first year in the Netherlands I saw that something had to be done. There seemed to have been a war going on between all the boards that met. My philosophy is that a church should only have one board; with different boards there are different competing authorities and as a pastor you can get caught in the middle. So, we are leaders; how long does it take to do those changes? Well, as long as it takes to get people to come together. It would be a mistake for a leader to try legislating structural change. In Holland, they had had these layers for years; they saw the wisdom of change and it happened within eight months. But in the case of our board here at the Village, it took about a year. Now, we have pastors and elders who make up our board of about twenty people. This is too big because we can’t make decisions very well. It is like turning an Aircraft Carrier in a harbor. If we are going to lead this church into the future, we need to be more nimble. So, how to you gear down leadership. Should pastors be elders? But normally pastors are accountable to elders. These are illustrations of the kind of questions that you have to sort through. We are at a place where we are realizing that we have to restructure for the church of the future needs a more nimble leadership. But how do you make sure that your structure doesn’t get too narrow with a small group making all the decisions.

For example, in congregationalism, my first church was congregational rule which meant that the congregation ultimately made all the decisions. So every decision that the board worked through, had to be brought to the congregation. Well, imagine a church of eighteen hundred people. You could never make any decisions. Interestingly, on the inside of the hymn book was a church covenant and this was written in the 1940’s. I tried to make a simple change but the rules said that the whole congregation had to agree. Of the two people that voted no; neither one didn’t know why they had voted no. The fundamental problem here was structure. They had created an archaic structure and the church was held hostage to this structure. When you start serving structures that is when you start to die. Those are some of the leadership challenges.

D. The Second Frame – Human Resources:

These ideas come out of a book by Bowman and Deals, Reframing Organization. The second frame is human resources. When you put on this pair of glasses; you walk into a room and see people. You are seeing humanity and feelings and moral. The leader has to see this; you may have led them to a particular summit where are then drained of energy. Are these people ready to go forward? The human frame is where you are seeing more of the individual, not so much the collective organization. You may be looking at people’s sense of security and belongings. These are important things within the organization; you see their self-esteem and how they feel about themselves. You are seeing their maturity level or their immaturity or their ability to move forward. For the first frame, the metaphor was represented by a machine. Whereas the second frame, its metaphor is family. The central concept is relationships and belonging, personal needs; the image of leadership here is one of support and empowerment. It is expressed in the church with those who are care-givers, equippers and coaches for example. The leadership challenge here is to make relationships a priority in your life if you are to see through this frame. You have to listen to people and discover who they are and build relationships with them. You have to invest in people and understand what their passions are. You wouldn’t come to a church like village or any church organization and talk about where we are going if you don’t know where people are at; how they feel. It is very important for people to think globally. That is part of the DNA of the church; this is what Village is known for. If I came in as leader and wanted to stop giving to missions; I wouldn’t last very long if I tried to do that! Missions are part of our DNA; it is who we are. These are important values for us. A leader needs to see those things and make use of people skills.

E. The 3rd Frame – Political:

The third frame which is perhaps the most challenging one; this is the political frame. This is about understanding the ethos or ecology of a place. The first frame or glasses that I put on, I saw structure and chain of command. When I put on the second frame of pair of glasses; I see hearts and feelings; perhaps people who are hurting with going through a lost. It could be people who feel alienated or really upset. Then I put on this frame and I see tribes, coalitions and power groups. I am constantly amazed in churches in how many tribes there are. I find relations and cousins of people who used to do things in the church; there are histories and webs of relationships. The leader has to be very careful in regards to these tribes; sometimes I might alienate a brother which in turn alienated others that are associated with that person. I learned this the hard way in my first church where we had to take some harsh action with a person whose behavior wasn’t right. Suddenly, I had about ten people who were ready to hang me. I was confused until I realized that churches to a certain extent are made up of these tribes or coalitions. These coalitions work together representing a large influence. Most churches only have so many resources and all these tribes want those resources. But there just isn’t enough to meet everyone desires. This is why the budgeting process every year is sort of unnerving as these coalitions unite in power to get at these assets. This influence involves networking with certain people that you know. You find yourself as a leader in the midst of all of those things. The metaphor here represents a jungle or the mob. The central concepts are power and conflict and competition and coalitions. The image of leadership is a politician, advocate or negotiator. In my idealistic way, just coming out of seminary, I said that I would never play politics. That was a very naive statement. Every leader to a certain extent has to play politics; this means you have to make decisions and see who your supporters are and the ones who resists are. You may have to understand the reason for the resistance.

After about six years, I said that the church I was in would never grow if we didn’t move. We were in a bad part of town and we were limited by parking. After saying this, I had a lot of supporters and also a lot of resisters. Many churches have a church boss and my church had several. I couple of them were women; they were people who had a lot of power and influence. One of them was Virginia. I ask her why she felt so strongly about this. She was baptized in this church and the altar is where she had got married. So place was very important to her; for many, there is something sacred about a place. Sometimes, leaders make a lot of mistakes by rushing through something like this. Once I understood that, it helped me to hold a more positive view about the place, but maybe it is time to create new memories. The challenge is to understand our role with the people of the church and sometimes this can be really difficult. My church in the Netherlands, I had a church chairman who was very much into power. The one person you should be very suspicious of is your main cheerleader when you get called to a church. Because sometimes your main advocate simple advocated for you to do his will and the first time you go against his will, there can be hell to pay. I discovered this in a very painful way. One time, he came up to my office and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘you are the most autocratic man that I have ever met.’ The reason behind this, I was a threat to his power. I really didn’t think in those terms but for him it was all about power. So, a leader has to see the politics, the landscape, the terrain, the tribes and the control people and church bosses who don’t necessarily have any official titles as such. Another church boss is the one who has the money and everybody knows that they have to get in line with that person, otherwise they will not receive the necessary funds to do ministry. I am not saying that is why you should make decisions, but you need to be aware of this; it can be a reality. I am grateful for village, though we are not a perfect church; there isn’t a lot of this. Part of the challenge is to be direct and diplomatic; map the political terrain along with your supporters and resisters. Know where the land mines are; know that if you bring up a certain subject, it could be a controversial subject. You need to know a little about the history of certain subject in how to approach different subjects. A leader is always going to need help; with certain people on your side, things are going to be a whole lot easier.

F. Good Will:

A leader has to know how much money is in your bank. Every time you make a decision as a leader, it is a withdrawal from your account. It always cost. There will be resistance with most of the decisions we make; it is change. You always have to know whether you have enough money in the bank to make this withdrawal. Some leaders foolishly make withdrawals with their accounts are already at zero. Hopefully, if you have been faithful and people trust you and you have made good decisions and you love them; those are deposits. Hopefully every week as a leader you make deposits into your bank. But you need to look at your account to see how much is there. This needs to happen almost on a monthly basis. This is to let you know if you can make that big expenditure or not. When I came to village, we had what was called faith promises which I stopped after a few years. Some people are still upset with me for stopping it. I would have been a fool to stop that at the beginning. What I didn’t like about it, it set categories of giving from general to faith promise. One day I stood up and said that it was all according to faith. All of our giving should be about stepping out in faith and it should all be about commitment. When I changed this, it was a big withdrawal from my account. In the monopoly grame you get so much money to start with and this is the way it is when you first start out in church, but you are only given about five hundred dollars to start out in the game. The first time around the board, you spend it very quickly. It is kind of like the first month. So, know what you have available. Politics within this frame sometimes will cost you a lot of resources.

G. The Story:

The final frame is called symbolic. When you put on this pair of glasses, now you see the story, the symbol, the meaning. Another word here would be the history of what you are leading. You see the identity and what makes you different and unique. Every organization has its own unique culture which is driven by stories, ceremonies and rituals. When I was in the Netherlands, our church had a distance relationship with the Southern Baptist Church being part of this organization called EBC. So, the first conference I went to in Frankfurt was in a Southern Baptist world. The Southern Baptist churches are known for their rituals. A person came up to me and asks about some Lottie Moon offerings. I didn’t know what he was talking about. It was this famous missionary and every church took a Lottie Moon offering which makes a statement on how you feel about missions. I didn’t know the story of this, but a leader has to know the story. In a different situation, I had lunch at Nike the other day; now to be a leader at Nike, you really must know the story. Or if you were in HP Computers, you have to know about the HP way or at Nordstrom where you have to know that the customer is always right. These are part of the story themes and a leader must figure out those themes, stories and symbols. The metaphor for this frame is theatre with central concepts of emotion, feelings or ceremony. The image of leader here is a poet; someone who inspires and expresses enthusiasm and storytelling. The challenge is to be the person who tells the story, to discover the history and draw upon it and articulate the vision. This is one of the most important things a leader must do. You come into whatever you are going to lead and the first thing you need to ask is what the story is? What is behind all of this?

The first week I was at Dallas Seminary, we had a Dallas Seminary night. They came and told the story. We want to tell you a story about Lewis Berry Shaffer, the founder. He and a group of Godly men were praying one day; the seminary was about to fold financially. These men of faith prayed in a small little office with Harry Ironsides saying Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills; please help us Lord, we are not going to make it as a seminary. In nearby Fort Worth, there was a trainload of cattle that had just been sold. The owner felt unusually led to call Dallas Seminary to give the proceeds to them. The secretary came and knocked on the door and whispered in Shaffer’s ears what had just happened. While the men were still praying the secretary said to Harry that God’s had sold the cattle. So, this is the story. Most every organization has a story.

My fundamental mistake in my first church being a young idealistic pastor, thirty three years old and finishing my doctoral program, ready to take the world and just go full bore. I had this vision and had these dreams. These were a group of mid-western people and an eighty year old conservative Baptist church, stuck in their ways and they certainly dug their heels in. It was a difficult group to lead, one of my hardest leadership endeavors. If there is one thing that I would have changed, I would have figured out the story and I would have owned it. They resisted change, resisted moving; they just resisted being somebody else. I discovered after I had left; it was in 1907, twelve of them had gathered in an apartment near Foster Road and told God that they wanted to change the area they were in. And in faith, they built a church and started doing amazing things. I wish that I had known that, but it was no bodies’ fault but my own. This was what I would have said, it is our story, we go back to being people of faith; God raised these incredible people to go against unbelievable odds. The church has come to this point; it would be a major mistake if we let the church stop. We have a great story. Virginia would have said then that I was one of them. One of the people that I had a hard time persuading said this to me, ‘pastor, you need to understand something; you are our thirteenth pastor. Pastors are just the renters but we are the owners. You guys come and go but we stay. That wasn’t the kindest thing somebody had to ever said to me, but I set that up by not being the chief story teller. If I had become the story teller, I think people would have seen me as one of the owners. If you are going to be an effective leader, you have to put these glasses on. You have to know when to put different glasses on. We have to keep turning the lens to see which frame to help us to make the right decision.

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