Reflection: Leadership in the context of mission

Leadership is an often talked about subject. Much of how we lead is influenced by past observations, current leaders, theories and probably some courses over the years. As leaders in Church ministry, it is important that we set our leadership style in the context of our mission. This is likely to be different from that which we may have exercised in other roles we have held.

To me, the poem ‘For One Who Holds Power’ by John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, author, priest and philosopher, brings another perspective worth reflecting on.

May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,

Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.

As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,

May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,

May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.

When thirst burns in times of drought,

May you be blessed to find the wells.

May you have the wisdom to read time clearly

And know when the seed of change will flourish.


In your heart may there be a sanctuary

For the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity

And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.


May your soul find the graciousness

To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.

May your power never become a shell

Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.

May you welcome your own vulnerability

As the ground where healing and truth join.


May integrity of soul be your first ideal.

The source that will guide and bless your work.


This poem has been very insightful in relation to my Leadership roles generally and in particular those in Church agencies, such as Mercy Ministry Companions.

It encourages us to see our leadership as a vocation, drawing us to the idea of servant leadership in response to God’s call to each of us as individuals. The notion of us serving others is at the core of the work we do in ministry, where we are quickly called to see the bigger picture. In our case, that is often how we continue to serve the marginalised, as we respond to the challenge of a changing society.

Taking time to check in against our intended mission is a key role for us as leaders. Traditionally done in an annual strategic plan, now the changing world means we must remain adaptive and responsive. Checking in on mission must be a continual practice for leaders, not a once-a-year 30-minute session!

As leaders we need to have a presence amongst our ministries and communities, so we are able to hear the voices of those we serve. O’Donohue’s poem refers to this in the words “may our imagination evoke horizons, when thirst burns in times of drought.” Often, we find budget challenges or the chaos of the business of what we do as potential barriers to seeing and listening to those in need.


“In your heart may there be a sanctuary.

For the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity

And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.”


Another key takeaway from the poem, for me as a leader and a team member of an executive or board, is that we need to set aside time in meetings or dedicated sessions if we are to go beyond discussion to a deeper sense of discerning our direction. This is not easy with set meeting times, but so necessary.

The use of discernment around our mission direction, enabling diversity of thought to our discussions, contributes to better decision making and, in most cases, stronger outcomes. Busy meeting schedules can work against that, and it is important that leadership groups ensure their meeting agendas enable this to happen.

The final insight to me lies in the last two lines.

“May integrity of soul be your first ideal.

The source that will guide and bless your work.”

[John O’Donohue (2007) To Bless the Space between us USA: Doubleday]

We each are called and tested many times in leadership, and our faith is critical to us when this occurs. Knowing that our role in God’s mission is not about ourselves, but rather enabling others to see the love of God, is a solid basis for our integrity in decision making.

Doing that for the common good rather than individual power or authority brings great rewards.

Des Powell AM,  Trustee Director of Mercy Ministry Companions to 1 September 2023

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