When you hear the word “community,” what comes to mind? The geographic area in which you live? The church to which you belong? Or do you think of actions like service, development, or outreach? As a leader, have you considered how you lead within each context?
Community leadership is unique in its approach and goals. It is not about managing or coordinating people or events. It is not about dictating or imposing ideas onto others. So, what does it mean to lead within a community?
To answer that question, let’s start with a biblical image of a community called “koinonia.” Although the word “koinonia” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept we seek to live. It is a Greek word which means “fellowship, sharing in common, or communion.
It is first used in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Koinonia is a key aspect of Christian community. Jesus followers come together, as a community, in love, faith, and encouragement.
Images of Koinonia
Several images of koinonia are found in the words “one another.” Some of those images are:
- Being devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
- Honoring one another (Romans 12:10)
- Living in harmony or peace with one another (Romans 12:16, I Peter 3:8)
- Accepting one another (Romans 15:7)
- Serving one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Being kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Holding one another accountable (Colossians 3:16)
- Encouraging one another (I Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13)
- Prompting one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
- Offering hospitality to one another (I Peter 4:9)
- Loving one another (1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 3:23; 4:7; 4:11-12).
The essence of koinonia is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus.
With that in mind, what does it mean to lead within a community? In addition to traits of effective and courageous leadership, such as integrity, vulnerability, and responsibility, here are ten traits you need as a leader:
Leading within a community means not only thinking for today, or even tomorrow but being able to make wise decisions that will still benefit people long after you are gone. It is Jesus who connects us. Value what holds the community together as followers of Jesus regardless of cultural, denominational, social, or political differences. Keep the main thing the main thing and move toward your goal.
Leading within a community means people are your business. People are your greatest resource. So, invest in the people entrusted to your care. Focus upon what you can give people instead of what you can get from people. Keeping your purpose in mind, what can you contribute to the people around you so all may share in the life and love of Jesus?
Leading within a community means you develop deep and meaningful relationships. Koinonia involves active participation in giving and receiving. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells of Gentile believers in Macedonia who had nothing in common with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem except Christ. (Romans 15:26-27). In The Acts of the Apostles, Luke focuses upon the relationship among believers (Acts 2), while in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul focuses upon the generosity within the community. (II Corinthians
4. Identify and Maximize the Strengths
As a leader within a community, you work with volunteers. They might be elected by the community, assigned to work within the community, or have stepped up to help. In any case, these are the people in whom you invest. It is your job to identify the strengths and interests of each person, to engage each person in the community, and to celebrate each meaningful contribution.
5. Recognize Needs
While each person brings unique strengths and talents, each person also brings unique needs to be met. Some have a need to control, while others have a need to be appreciated for time and service. As a community leader, your job is to recognize and balance the needs of the people while keeping your focus on your purpose. Here is another place to remember that your leadership is not about you.
6. Work as a Team
Community leadership involves equipping people for the good of the whole community. As convenient as it is to “just do it yourself,” leadership within a community means you equip others to work together as you focus upon your purpose. As the leader, you model the difference between being an efficient leader and being an effective leader. An efficient leader might take a task away from someone who is not completing their work in a timely manner. An effective leader will ensure that the person gets the support they need to complete the task. Effectiveness takes more time than efficiency. Community leadership is about building relationships, coming alongside people, and working together. To lead a team of people takes time and patience. But the purpose of community is to support one another and to assist one another along the way.
7. Lead by Example
There is a myth that leaders lead, and doers do. But in a community, leading by example is often the most effective way to get full buy-in and participation. There are no “hands off” approaches when leading within a community. Your leadership includes arriving early, staying late, cleaning up, and generally rolling up your sleeves to pitch in.
8. Be Accountable
Leading within a community is about people. Yes, there are policies, processes, and procedures to oversee, but your leadership is about people. Because people are your business, you are accountable to the people you serve. Be authentic and vulnerable. Stay focused upon why you are doing what you are doing, assess the needs, identify the strengths, take responsibility for finding the potential in people, and develop that potential. Leading within a community is about assisting people to become who they are created to be.
9. Recruit, Equip, and Mentor New Leaders
Leading within a community is about leaving a legacy. Learn to give your work away as you keep in mind the people who will be around after you are gone. Develop a succession plan to keep the community strong as you move forward into the future. Too often leaders get caught up in what needs to be done today and forget about tomorrow. Developing leaders for the future is an important aspect of community leadership. Having a healthy base of leaders to take on new responsibilities is an indicator of a healthy community.
10. Lead from Within and Not from Above
Leading within a community is about demonstrating effective and courageous leadership. You start with self-leadership and self-responsibility. Then you lead by example. You come alongside others asking what they need from you to get their work done. Instead of seeking entitlements and privileges, you are empowering others to demonstrate effective and courageous leadership as well. You walk beside them, listen to them, and assist them in discovering and developing their own potential as leaders. Instead of taking on problems and attempting to fix everything yourself, mobilize and guide others, and facilitate what needs to be done to provide long-term health and vitality of the community.
The essence of community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. So, how are you leading within your community?
Practice What You’re Learning
Taking in consideration the above, here is an exercise that will help you lead within your community. I learned this exercise from the comedian, Michael Jr.
As you reflect upon how you are leading, think of three people within your community. People other than family and friends. Get their faces in your mind and their names on your lips. Now, this week contact each of them and say these three sentences: “I love you.” “I appreciate you.” And “I’m sorry I don’t say these things to you enough.” Let me know what difference it makes in how you lead within your community. remember, who you are is how you lead.
When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I introduce “community” as our topic for the month of May. Our discussion will be on “Three Aspects of a Nurturing Community.” If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, I invite you to join us for Episode 176. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.