Four questions leaders must ask

After 30 years of leadership in one Church, I’ve learned a few important lessons.

It’s been my privilege to help a Church grow from 10 to about 600 hundred people. We’ve grown from one small property with one little building to two properties with many buildings.

In our first year, we had a budget of 12 thousand dollars. We now manage an annual budget of 800 thousand dollars. More importantly, I’ve had the privilege to develop and work with many pastoral staff for over the years.

The blessings during these years have been amazing and the trials have been daunting.

I’ve always felt that the size of the calling was larger than the man responding to it. The weight of Paul’s question is always felt: “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16). God has been faithful. When needed most, He leads us beside still waters. 

The life of leadership is a continual reminder that God put His treasure in jars of clay so that the power would be from Him and not from us (II Corinthians 4:7). If man’s extremity furnishes the most suitable opportunity for God to display His power, leadership affords many of those opportunities!

Throughout my journey, a number of key principles have sustained me. Consider four essential points for effective leadership. 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 at our Church, for the past fifteen years, I’ve done a daily and weekend radio feature; 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 much 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, everyone under their leadership is blessed. One of my greatest joys is the working relationship I have had with my leadership team. Preserving this requires encouragement of one another supported by regular public acknowledgement from the key 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 in training that people don’t resent them as much as the uniforms they wear. People sometimes express anger toward leaders because they need a target for their frustrations. I become their 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 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. 

Steve Cornell 

This entry was posted in Burnout, Character, Church Leadership, Criticism, Elders, Leadership, Life of a pastor, Local Church, Pastors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Four questions leaders must ask

  1. Joe Sharp says:

    Great article Pastor Steve! Wisdom fully shared, and fully appreciated by me🙂

  2. DM says:

    thank you for that practical post. After reading it, I am more convinced than ever, while I do have a “pastor’s heart” there are still some fundamental issues not in order. (my hide is not thick enough just for starters) DM

  3. Joseph T says:

    “In our first year, we had a budget of twelve thousand dollars. We now manage an annual budget of nearly one million dollars.”

    At least a quarter of that annual amount equals Driscoll’s compensation package at Mars Hill in Seattle, where the MONTHLY budget probably tops your ANNUAL budget. That’s a lot of offerings. The show must go on!

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