Today we’re exploring an issue that comes up frequently in our coaching huddles: how do we lead our peers?
If we are involved in leadership, inside or outside the church, there will inevitably come a time when we have to lead our peers. By peers, we mean those who are of the same age or stage of life to us. It’s often easier to lead those who are younger or even older than us. But leading our peers can present a number of different challenges.
To lead, or to be led, by peers often requires a great amount of emotional intelligence and resilience but if we are to be effective leaders of small groups, missional communities, or whole churches we need to face this challenge, wrestle through this issue and allow God to help us come out the other side.
We’d love to hear what you’ve learnt from your experiences (both good & bad) and the wisdom you’ve picked up along the way. Post them in the comments section or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can continue to grow and help others grow.
We asked Rich Robinson, director of 3dm UK & Europe, to give his thoughts on this issue:
Years ago, when I first started leading the kids work at St Thomas Church, Philadelphia most of my team were either my peers or a few years younger. At that point I’d even recently trained on a discipleship course alongside some of those who had now become part of my team. There was potential for it to be quite an awkward dynamic. Fortunately, my team were incredibly gracious! I learnt some helpful lessons, and developed some effective principles through this experience, which I’ve continued to use and develop since then. Below are some of those principles which I hope will be helpful to any of you who find yourselves in a situation where you are leading your peers:
# Godly character
This should always be core to any leader. Paul writes to Timothy to “teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.”
As we demonstrate Godly character and integrity we both impart a powerful message to peers submitting to our leadership, and also create a culture that makes it easier for peers to trust us and so follow us.
# Clear vision
It’s always important to have, and communicate to others, a clear picture of where you are going, what it will look like when you get there, a sense of why you’re doing it and how you are going to get there. This applies to any leadership role and dynamic but is especially important when leading peers. This helps to distinguish and define the leadership relationship with them even though you may be peers and helps them to see the prize and so join the journey with you.
# Clear communication
Good, clear communication can prevent a whole load of potential issues or problems, especially around expectations – both ways! Unspoken expectations are a common source of conflict in any relationship and this can be heightened with peers. Clarity and communication around roles, resources (money, time, effort), and relationship are key.
# Openness and honesty
We won’t get it right all the time. And neither will our peers! Being open and honest in our communication of how things are going is really helpful. Talk about where there are successes & breakthroughs and where there are struggles and tensions. This is particularly important when leading peers as there is less distance, in terms of time, experience, and maturity than when we lead others, so there is a greater potential for tension or conflict.
# Internal process
Leading peers often brings up a variety of emotions in us; fears, insecurities, brokenness. We need to be honest with the Lord and our leaders and mentors about those issues so that none of this brokenness holds us or those we are leading back. There is an opportunity for God to bring us into greater wholeness, freedom and fruitfulness if we allow Him, and those we trust, into this process. Leading peers can be the crucible which produces greater depth and growth in us and therefore those around us.
# Lead peers but be open to their thoughts
Leading isn’t about forming a committee, or going with the “lowest common denominator”. Leaders need to lead, but we aim to lead as servant-leaders who are humble and respectful, remaining open to the wisdom held in the peers we lead.
# Recognise the cost
As we step into leadership with peers it does involve a cost in relationship. This step isn’t fatal for relationship but there will be a cost at points! There will be times when we have to lead and we’re misunderstood or disliked which may leave us feeling lonely or isolated. These times are magnified when we are leading peers, especially if they are friends too. It is important to persevere……
Leadership can feel lonely, and sometimes this can be exacerbated when we’re leading peers, as the dynamics in our relationships can change. There will be times where it feels like we’re in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – dark, cold, lonely – and a long way away from the ‘greener pasture’ we set off towards. This is the time for us to keep going in His strength, pray, and get others to pray for us and to remember the prize……
# Remember the prize
We’re doing this for a God-given reason. When things are tough we need to hold onto the vision and remember why we are doing it. There will be a kingdom benefit and advancement through you and those you lead.
Many of these principles are applicable for whoever we are leading. But when we’re leading peers we need to be particularly sensitive to potential issues and be intentional in applying these principles. This will help to create a culture where both those leading and following can thrive and Kingdom potential can increase.