Transformative leaders equip people to advance the church’s mission.

How do they do that? They help shape how people think (mindsets) and spend their time (activities), as well as help form the people’s character (traits). Transformative leaders do this work in response to God’s transformative presence in the world.

This page explores the idea of transformative leadership, first through essays and then through people and places who embody this way of leading. We recommend you explore the essays in order and then turn to the stories.

Exploring the idea

Habits are the key to transformative leadership »

Activities practiced over time become habits -- and activities shape and are shaped by mindsets in the organization and character traits of the people, writes David L. Odom, executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

Leadership as improvisation »

In an interview, Anglican minister and scholar Samuel Wells says improvisation is not about being original, clever, witty or spontaneous but about being so steeped in a tradition that you learn to take the right things for granted. Theatrical improvisation, then, offers important lessons for the church and for institutional leaders.

Leading our institutions to be more like cities and less like corporations »

Cities have a vibrant core, permeable boundaries and strong networks. That word can help us think about the mindsets to shape in our institutions: cultivation, imagination, trust, improvisation, excellence and sustainability, writes L. Gregory Jones, theologian and dean of Duke Divinity School.

The ironies of leadership: The one we all follow was crowned with thorns »

Remembering the ironies of Christian leadership offers us a tool to remember the activities in which we ought to engage -- those activities that, when practiced over time, shape the mindsets and character traits that equip people to advance the church’s mission, writes theologian and senior pastor Jason Byassee. Those activities are integrate, remember, observe, network, inquire, experiment and strategize.

Networking, exploring new ideas and places, and becoming a person of character »

In a commencement address, Jones reflects on three essential qualities of leadership needed in the 21st century. Among them is staying on pitch – perseverance, interpretive charity, truthfulness, courage and humility.

Leadership lessons from a fictional rabbit »

The protagonist of the novel “Watership Down” is an ordinary bunny. But he’s humble, courageous, innovative and able to synthesize opposing ideas. These qualities make him a good leader, says Gretchen E. Ziegenhals, a managing director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

Seeing the Idea in Practice

Kerry Robinson

A childhood love of the church leads to a ministry of improving church administration

Kerry Robinson and the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management offer lessons for all Christian leaders about the gifts that laity can bring to the church and the need for excellence in church operations. And as Robinson’s own story suggests, excellence is its own form of evangelism. Read more »


A lay leader’s experience transforming the U.S. Army is shared with the Catholic Church

A retired general who had a key role in making the Army more nimble and adaptable is offering innovative ideas for the way the church develops leaders. Read more »

Sandy Plains

Creating conditions for leaders to grow

Despite being a small, rural congregation in an impoverished part of North Carolina, Sandy Plains United Methodist Church has sent a large proportion of its members into mission, leaving some to wonder: How has this tiny church produced so many leaders? Read more »

Recommended resources to learn more

Leadership without Easy Answers

Ronald Heifetz explores the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenges.
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Resurrecting Excellence

L. Gregory Jones and Kevin Armstrong seek to answer the question: What does excellence look like in the church and ministry?
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Purchase this book »


Opposable Mind

Roger Martin presents a model of integrative thinking that has broad application to complex organizations.
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Purchase this book »


Playing the Enemy

John Carlin tells the unexpected story of how Nelson Mandela creatively used the national rugby team to bring together a post-apartheid nation still divided by race.
Learn more about this recommendation »
Purchase this book »


Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

Timothy Wilson describes the process and results of changing the interpretation of events -- the stories we tell ourselves.
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Purchase this book »


An Artist Teaches Leadership

Theologian and professionally trained pianist Jeremy Begbie demonstrates how music can help unlock the truths of the Christian gospel.
Learn more about this recommendation »


Map your community data

This tool from Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) will generate a custom report of housing, family structure, population changes, and other economic indicators and then summarize how to interpret the data for outreach efforts.

Learn More