To be an effective leader one must possess and nurture godly character. I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give us a glimpse into the heart of a godly leader. If you venture out beyond those texts you see a fuller view of the character God desires for leaders in His church. This blog post will shine the light on one very important character trait and will give a word of caution to all in leadership.
Have you noticed how self-focused our culture has become? In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned him about this trend in the culture (3:1-5). We all see this. It’s obvious even to the casual observer. What may not be so obvious is how the self-focus of our culture is starting to creep into our churches. In our western culture we have always been enamored by larger than life personalities, whether in sports or movies or even in politics. But when we become enamored with larger than life personalities in the church we run the risk of leading the church away from Jesus.
When I was a young leader just starting out, I wanted to conquer the world, and yes I wanted to do it overnight. A bit of hyperbole here, but a lot of truth as well. I jumped right in and was eager to make things happen. I was a producer. This was not all bad. I worked hard, a biblical value by the way, and I laid out aggressive plans and goals for ministry. Like many of us, I learned as I went and I did the best I could to move the ball down the court. I saw God work in some amazing ways but I also experienced some blows to my ego in the school of hard knocks. In those early years I learned, as many of us do, some very valuable ministry lessons.
If I were to say, a church leader is a shepherd of God’s people, we would probably all agree. After all, it’s biblical.
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28, NIV
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must,
but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve,
not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” I Peter 5:2-3, NIV
In the early 1990’s I stepped out of pastoral ministry for four years to do clinical counseling in a large metropolitan clinic. In that setting I encountered the entire spectrum of emotional and mental health issues that people contend with. I had encountered many of these issues in my pastoral ministry as I interacted with people in the church, so I was not blindsided by the experience. One big surprise however, was the high incidence of anxiety among the cross-section of my client caseload. Rarely did a day go by where I was not dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, or phobias of one form or another. Even those who presented with other issues such as depression or marital conflict, often had significant levels of anxiety as complicating factors in their presentation.
Let me state the obvious: Leadership is about change, it is not about maintaining the status quo. Leaders seeing themselves as agents of change is critical to the overall effectiveness of the organization they lead. When it comes to the local church, this has eternal ramifications.
About 80% of churches in America are either plateaued or in decline. They are maintaining their buildings, programs and organizational systems. They are expending vast resources on themselves, but the world we are called to reach is not being reached. What will it take for the lifecycles of these churches to have a change in trajectory? What will it take for churches to impact their world for Christ? What will it take for declining churches to see conversion growth? It will take transformational leadership.
Those who know me well, know that I speak often of the importance of vision and strategy in church leadership. One should never underestimate the positive impact on our ministry when we have clear vision (we know where we are going) and clear strategic plans (we know how we are going to get there).
However, vision and strategy are not enough to produce the fruit of ministry we all desire. Perhaps you’re familiar with the fire triangle? For a fire to occur, there must be three ingredients: heat, fuel and oxygen. Remove one, and the fire goes out. In my experience, church ministry has its own triangle – let’s call it the leadership triangle. If vision and strategy are two of the necessary ingredients for effective and fruitful ministry, then what is the third? It’s what contemporary literature on church leadership refers to as passion. I sometimes call it holy enthusiasm.
The topics of vision and strategy have been front-and-center in leadership circles for many years now. More books and journal articles have been written on these topics than I can even count. Yet, many churches and leaders continue to struggle to cast clear vision and implement effective strategic plans. So, let’s talk about it.
Vision answers the big question, “Where are we going?” It’s about destination. Every church and church leader needs to have a clear mental picture of what that destination looks like. For Moses it was a picture of “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Imagine the exodus journey without a clear vision. It was challenging enough for Moses to lead a people who were bent on looking back from where they came, but imagine what it would have been like without a picture of the promised land etched in Moses’ heart and mind. Vision propels God’s people toward His assigned destination.
Something interesting happens every time a visitor enters your church: He or she immediately experiences the culture and the DNA of your church. You cannot prevent it from happening, even if you wanted to. This experience is immediate and it is lasting. You’ve heard it said, you don’t have a second chance to leave a first impression. If there’s some truth in that saying, and I believe there is, then it seems to me that we need to give attention to culture and DNA.
For the purpose of this blog I will define these terms in this way: Culture is the environment people experience when they enter the church. DNA speaks to the underlying values which drive the way ministry is carried out in the church.
A BIG QUESTION: How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to go to advance the kingdom of God?
The answer to this question is critical. It is so critical, that at the end of this article I would ask you to enter into a season of prayer related to your answer. I would ask you to pray that the Spirit bring conviction, clarity and courage as you wrestle with this question.
This is really a question about change, and our willingness and ability to embrace change. In my view, our answer to this big question will have direct correlation to our effectiveness in church leadership. I believe that leaders who possess flexibility and adaptability are more likely to experience positive outcomes in their ministry.
Many of our evangelical seminaries do an outstanding job in equipping our future pastors to become theologians, astute in the exegesis of the Scripture and versed in the biblical languages. This is what I would call the science of pastoral leadership. This aspect of leadership development is critical. In writing his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul challenged the young pastor to “guard the good deposit” (1:14a). The only way we can guard truth is to know truth, and so this science of leadership is foundational. We must lead our people in the truth of God’s Word.