After 30 years of leadership in one Church, I’ve learned a few important lessons. A number of key principles have guided me throughout my journey. Consider four essentials for effective leadership. Each one is framed as questions for personal evaluation.
1. Do I need others to encourage and affirm me?
I appreciate encouragement and my work would be harder without it. But if a leader depends too much on being appreciated and encouraged, his leadership will suffer. It’s easy to feel like you are taken for granted in pastoral work. This possibility only increases with time because of the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The many hours you pour into individuals are often unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible expression of appreciation. Sometimes this is because people feel you are supposed to be there for them. Or, worse, they think you’re being paid to help them. Others are so consumed with their own problems that they fail to show appropriate appreciation toward those who help them. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (Luke 17:11-17).
Churches need to be taught to respond to their leaders with deep appreciation (see: Galatians 6:6; I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and leaders must determine that the idol of human appreciation will not rule their hearts (see: Luke17:10; Hebrews 6:10).
This also applies to criticisms. Someone suggested that we often need ten ‘Atta boys’ to compensate for one criticism. But leaders who rely too much on approval ratings will be tempted to abrogate their roles when needed most. Stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. Grow in your identity and security in Christ before entering the arena of leadership.
As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. Effective leaders need a tough hide and a tender heart. If your hide is too tough or your heart too tender, you’ll get hurt and possibly compromise your calling (see: Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:23; I Corinthians 10:31).
2. Is my pace sustainable?
I am type A high D! For those unfamiliar with these categories, it means that I tend to go full throttle and must fight the temptation to take on more than I can handle. My battle is with myself. Maintaining reasonable margin takes forethought and effort.
Case in point: Along with my leadership role in a thriving Church, for the past fifteen years, I’ve done daily and weekend radio features; written monthly columns for two newspapers as well as numerous articles for other sources; volunteered as Chaplain for Millersville University football and basketball for many of those years and traveled to speak regularly for university groups and conferences.
Did I mention raising four energetic children? When I look back on the stuff I’ve packed into life, I get tired thinking about it. Leadership requires taking inventory and making adjustments. Several key phrases help me: Simplify and prioritize. Keep the main thing the main thing. Say “No” more often. Pray before responding. (See: Burn out? Not me!)
3. Do I practice team leadership?
Team leadership is non-negotiable! It’s also the best formula for protection from burnout. Leaders who are called to highly visible public roles must circle themselves with competent co-leaders. My friend good Crawford Loritts recommends that we fly in tight formation with a faithful few. These fellow-leaders should have strengths to compliment the front leader.
Selection of associates must be done with great care and prayer. An associate who resents or becomes jealous of the front leaders’ role is dangerous to the unity of the work. Studied consideration of giftedness, sense of calling and aspirations of associates is essential. Maturity, integrity and a healthy sense of personal identity and security are some of the most important qualities to look for in co-leaders. Immaturity, insecurity or lack of integrity in one leader, threatens unity of a team.
When leaders work together in unity, those under their leadership are blessed. One of my greatest joys is the working relationship I have had with my leadership team for many years. Preserving this requires encouragement of one another supported by regular public acknowledgement from the senior leader concerning the value of those who lead with him (see: Exodus 18:13-26; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-5).
4. Do I distinguish office from person?
Police officers are reminded as part of training that people don’t resent them as much as the uniforms they wear. Sometimes people express anger toward leaders because they need a target for their frustrations. I become that target because I am (in their eyes) the pastor. Assuming I have power and influence, they attack me because of the office I hold.
In our culture, people like to “go to the top” when they have a complaint. In the Church, they could go one office higher to Jesus himself, the head of the Church, but more often they head for the senior pastor’s office! If I was “Joe normal” in the Church, I wouldn’t be under nearly as much scrutiny. But, as senior pastor, such treatment goes with the territory. If you can’t take the heat—get out of the kitchen!
Don’t take everything personally or you’ll go crazy. Don’t take the bait and escalate! I’ve always regretted it when I’ve violated this principle. A wise mentor once instructed me, “Respond to God – don’t react to man.”
Surviving and thriving as a leader requires tenacious commitment to key principles. Review the four principles above with your leadership team.