The Butcher, the Baker, & the Candlestick Maker: Characteristics of Today’s Leader

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1.10)

I think it is safe to say that wisdom and knowledge are two desirable traits of any leader. After all, who wants to follow a misguided leader, invest in someone who hasn’t done their research, or trust in an indecisive decision maker? The question is what is a leader required to have knowledge about – is it a clear direction towards a certain outcome? Is it being an expert in a particular area?

It seems that to be a leader today calls for a different type of wisdom and knowledge. As I reflect on people that I currently see exemplify and exude needed characteristics for today’s leaders, I think of my husband, our current Transitional Executive Presbyter, and my Head of Staff – all who are pastors that I work closely with and that have been called to work with churches or presbyteries in transition. I call them the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker. It may seem odd to nickname them after a nursery rhyme, but I do so for a couple reasons: 1) they all have similar temperament and leadership styles so I tend to lump them all into one tub; and 2) although they are similar, they also posses very distinct leadership qualities which oddly enough can be compared to the occupational requirements of a butcher, baker, and candlestick maker.

The Butcher

One’s familiarity of a butcher may be what you see at your local supermarket. Although it is important for a butcher to have great technical ability to chop, cut, and slice meat, it is also vital for them to hold other basic skills, depending on their occupational context – meat packing plant, sales, or grocery store. It is helpful for a butcher to possess the knowledge of an animal’s anatomy and health, the ability to assess animals in order to make a good trade, a familiarity of different spices that compliment different meats, creativity to develop new recipes and put together a sales presentation, amenable demeanor for customer service, and forward thinking abilities for problem solving.

Depending on one’s ministry context, similar skills are required as well. For churches seeking opportunities to redevelop, no longer is the slash and cut method of ministry effective (although I would argue that it never was effective). It is vital that a pastoral leader possess the knowledge of what makes a church a healthy congregation, the ability to assess the health and needs of a congregation, creativity to adapt to the ever changing needs of a congregation and its community, a pastoral demeanor, and forward thinking abilities to lead a congregation to the next steps of its future. All these I have seen my husband use and develop as he worked at a new church development and as he continues to work with congregations in transition and looking at some kind of redevelopment.

The Baker

Baking is a fine art that takes precision and timing in order to be executed properly. It is important to be exact in measurement and technique. However, to be successful as a baker, it is important to be creative and develop new flavors, style, and decoration. It is also vital to be a good leader especially if one is leading a team to mass produce baked goods for hungry customers.

For the past five years, my presbytery has been in transition – going from having two co-presbyters to an interim executive presbyter to a possible designated executive presbyter – only to realize we didn’t know what we needed and hired our current transitional executive presbyter. His main task is to move the presbytery forward in finding a presbyter that is a good fit, but also begin the healing process that is needed so that we can move forward. From the beginning he has been clear that he was confident that all this will be achieved by the end of his one year contract. Many were skeptical mainly because previous presbyters were unsuccessful. Now with only a few months left in his contract, it is amazing how far we have come. Not only was he exact in his purpose and focused on his task, but he listened; he brought the right people to the table to be a part of conversations. He spent time building relationships and trust and connecting people together so that there was transparency in the work that was being done. He was intentional about bringing creative, inspiring people together, providing space for them to use their gifts. With his leadership, I’m excited to see what will arise in this phase of the process, where this will lead us when all the preparation and baking is done.

The Candlestick Maker

Ever since the invention of the light bulb, the candlestick making business has taken a plunge. But if one looks at the entire history of candle making, the industry has always experienced periods of change and adaptation. Whether it was finding better materials to use to burn – beeswax, animal fat, plant products, or oil – or improving ways to make and manufacture candles, the candle industry has always adapted to the changing needs and challenges of its consumers. Although candles are not used as a major source of light, they continue to grow in popularity and use. Today, candles symbolize celebration, romance, ceremony. They are used to set the mood, soothe the senses, and accent any space.

In 141 years of ministry, my church has gone through a lot of challenges and changes. From the newly built church being completely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake to almost 900 members in its heyday to a pastor charged for sexual misconduct, it is amazing how strong and healthy our faith community is today. Much credit can go towards my Head of Staff. After 20 years of ministry at this church, he has not slowed down in creativity, energy, passion, curiosity, and asking “what if?” He is not afraid of trying something new even if it fails terribly. He is not afraid to share leadership, power, and authority. He is ever willing to let go of what used to be so that we can dream what might be.

As a leader in my church, community, and presbytery, I am blessed to be in the company of such leaders that show me what it means to be collaborative, creative, innovative, and flexible – who show me that it’s not what I know, but knowing when and who to bring to the table. What characteristics do you find necessary and helpful in a leader?

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