The “rule of three” suggests that groups of things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying or more effective than things in other numbers. It has many applications. Who could ever forget the Three Stooges, the Three Blind Mice, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
Three points are generally optimum for a sermon or speech, since they can be used in a progression to create tension, build it up, then resolve it. An equilateral triangle is one of the strongest geometric shapes employed by architects and engineers. And one of the most famous biblical images to make use of the rule of three is found in Ecclesiastes 4:12—A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
The rule of three I have in mind today has to do with the factors which contribute to effective leadership. I’m not thinking so much of the character traits which are absolutely essential for a good leader. I will have much to say about them in the days ahead. Rather, for today, I’m thinking particularly of the context or the conditions which enable a good leader to be effective. And I believe that the most desirable context for effective leadership involves a proper balance between three components: authority, opportunity, and accountability.
By authority I mean all those things which are necessary to qualify a leader for his or her position and which enable the leader to accomplish the task of influencing people to make particular decisions or take specific actions. It includes natural giftedness, formal and informal preparation, and often a credential which may be symbolized by some sort of ceremony, ornament, or attire. Authority assures those who are being led that their leaders have met some objective requirements for their role and gives confidence that leaders are trustworthy and will use their gifts and exercise their influence in prudent and careful ways.
Opportunity is the setting in which leaders operate. It may be an organization, an institution, or simply a situation which requires a leader to use his gifts and exercise her influence for the good of the people involved. It will entail an obvious need along with the potential for resources required to address the need and resolve the situation.
Accountability is the mechanism by which it can be determined whether or not leaders have acted responsibly, prudently, and efficiently in the exercise of their gifts and the use of their authority for the good of those they lead.
I am no expert in effective leadership. I’ve read a few books, attended a few seminars, taken a few courses in subjects at least vaguely related to leadership. But my qualification for addressing this subject lies mainly in the fact that I have been both a leader and a follower, I am a keen observer, and I have learned a few things along the way. That’s where these three components for effective leadership came from. I didn’t read them in a book, at least not one that I can remember. They just seem to make sense.
I believe that failure, inadequacy, and incompetence within the church today, among those who make up the body of Christ—and there is a lot of it about—arises, first and foremost, from failures, inadequacies, and incompetence on the part of those who ostensibly provide leadership to the church. If there is a crisis of spirituality, a crisis of commitment, a crisis of effectiveness in the church, it is first of all a crisis of leadership.
Most of this crisis in leadership has to do with the inner character of the leader. As noted, I will have much more to say on that subject. Some of the ineffectiveness of contemporary leaders among the people of God, however, can be traced to an imbalance among the three components for effective leadership which I have noted above. When one of the three elements is decidedly weaker than the other two, or absent altogether, that imbalance impedes the efficient and productive exercise of leadership gifts and influence. When this happens within a church context or among the people of God, the consequences extend to the effectiveness of the church in embodying the character of the Kingdom of God and advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom.
After forty years of vocational ministry, I am prepared to suggest that leadership among Fundamentalists, where I began my career in vocational ministry, is too often marked by authority and opportunity without sufficient accountability. During more than twenty-five years of ministry among Mennonites, I found leadership to be sometimes limited by opportunity and accountability without sufficient authority to enable leaders to carry out their tasks.
I am today an Anglican priest. When Anglican polity is functioning effectively, there are ample mechanisms in place to confer appropriate authority and to provide for proper accountability. What is lacking is opportunity. Oh, there is plenty of need. There are simply too few resources to enable leaders, with adequate authority and accountability, to take advantage of opportunities, or to initiate the same, through the exercise of their gifts in fulfillment of their calling.
The problem is not really that there are too few resources. The problem is one of distribution. Too many resources are being directed toward too few opportunities. The work of the Kingdom is being hindered because of inequality and disproportionality in the distribution and consumption of Kingdom resources. I have spoken to this situation in earlier posts, and I shall do so again, anon.