April 27, 2016
Leadership, whether in the public square, the church, or in the marketplace, is hard. We all get that. The church world, in particular, has some unique challenges for those who are called to lead.
I have a particular heart for those who are pastors. The pressures to perform, be visionary, serve everyone, and be all-knowing in matters of cultural and theological nuances can be overwhelming. Still, for those who devote their lives to serving God, it can be one of life's most rewarding experiences.
I've listed below the characteristics I've found in those who have led the church with integrity. We all acknowledge study and prayer as part of the necessary mix, but in today's environment, these other skills will prove themselves invaluable. Before I present the list, I've written a couple of other articles you may find helpful.
You can read What is Your Leadership Orientation? here, or Six Skills You Need to Become a Leader Worth Following here.
Strong biblical leaders are a must in today's church, so here are some signs to look for.
1. Serves God first, the people second
I recently asked a class of bible college students during a lecture on leadership who it is that we serve? The universal answer was others! As appealing as that answer may be, its not the one that should top the list.
Serving others, without a clear understanding that we serve the Lord first, will eventually lead to burnout and discouragement. This one is a blog post on its own, but suffice it to say for now, a leaders calling comes from God.
2. Is sold out for the Gospel and the mission of the Church
One of the difficulties in ministry is keeping the main thing the main thing. There are so many diversions and so many expectations that are placed on you that your ministry can quickly descend into nothing more than putting out fires and pleasing all the critics.
3. Is able to discern healthy criticism as opposed to complaining
A person who gives healthy criticism can often express the root of their dissatisfaction, while at the same time articulate a healthy compromise. A complainer can do neither. You can jump over the moon to satisfy them but somehow they'll complain that the jump wasn't high enough. As a leader, sometimes the din of complaints can drown out the helpful feedback that's in the mix.
4. Is not afraid of people leaving for the right reasons
In my time as a pastor, there is one threat I've received more than any other - the threat of people leaving. Here's the thing, in my early years it was devastating news, in my latter years it is cause for celebration. I know to many of you it sounds callous and unchristian.
In my experience, those who hold it up as a threat are often those who need to go anyway. I can't think of one instance where the church was unable to function at all or completely hamstrung because of their exit. In some cases we hobbled for a short time, but over the long term, it was a catalyst for new growth.
5. Is okay with the fact that not everyone will like them
We all want to be liked, it's basic human nature. But likability does not necessarily translate when it comes to leadership, especially when tough decisions need to be made. You almost invariably upset one group while satisfying another. That's not to say that a leader is autocratic, rude, or indifferent to others, but if being liked is your primary concern, find another profession.
6. Is not afraid to make healthy, godly decisions, that are simply beyond the scope of human ability
We are talking about the capacity to cast vision. The ability to project a preferred future. Vision will invariably challenge the norm, the comfort, and the benefits of the present situation. That may be well and good, but to leave the status-quo will at some point lead to degredation.
A slow de-evolution to irrelevancy and in-effectiveness. A strong biblical leader will sense a movement to something better, not just a management of the present. It's the ability to take calculated risks because a strong leader will know that when you forfeit the risk, you forfeit the miracle.
7. Is an inspiration and encouragement to others
This is just another way of acknowledging that the best leaders are dedicated followers of Christ, first and foremost. The best leaders inspire others to follow their example. People see the value of mimicking their life or at the very least better themselves because of the encouragement they get from the leader. It's easy to hold a weight over others when you have power, its another to thing altogether to inspire followers when you hold nothing over them.
8. Demonstrates humility in the midst of their giftedness
Rather than define humility, let me just admit that we all know it when we see it. We may not be able to fully define it, but when a leader has it, we are all better for it. Blessings like gratitude, recognition, and teamwork frame the environment, not self-gratification or power-modeling. What I'm talking about here is a healthy self-awareness. This is all the rage right now in the business and self-improvement worlds, but is equally important in the church world - if not more.
9. Drama does not follow them like a parade
The older I get, the more distaste I have for people who create drama. You know the type. They manufacture crises where none exists and inflate every issue into a do or die event. Its bad enough when it comes from someone who has no hold on you, but it's especially horrific when it comes from a leader. Life has enough challenges, but when they are compounded by a leader, the difficulty grows exponentially.
10. Can get to the heart of a problem
Opinions come in all shapes, sizes, variations, and life experiences. So do conflicts. The leaders I've admired most are the ones who can get to the core of a problem and see it for what it really is. This is not an easy discipline, but so necessary in the deluge of our information saturated world. Coupled with this ability, also comes a way of listening and talking to people so that the real issues lurking in the darkness are able to be exposed to the light and dealt with effectively.
As I've said many times before, leadership is too important, especially in the church, so here's hoping that you've been challenged and inspired to up your leadership game. What better way to glorify God than to be the leader He needs you to be.
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