3 Essential Leadership Commitments
David W. Hegg
Image courtesy of Jscreationsz at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Introduction: Church ministries and church leaders fail regularly although their failures are not usually noticed. Certainly major failures in the area of integrity and morality will make headlines, but short of getting caught in flagrant sin, church leaders can fail regularly and never be held accountable. Ineptitude, laziness, self-centered actions, and many more subtle failures too often go uncorrected until it is too late.
Simply put, leadership failure, regardless of its apparent size, is a blight on the church and the testimony of Christ. Failure, both personal and professional, keeps the church from being all it can be to the glory of God. Leadership ineptitude, lethargy, or lack of character not only harms the person, it greatly stunts the growth, vitality, and effectiveness of the Body of Christ.
Contributing to this is the fact that most pastors enter paid ministry with little training or experience in leadership. Seminaries seldom have more than a cursory introduction to organizational mechanics. And while much can be learned from reading books on the subject, there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty in the soil of leading people.
Thirdly, an added hurdle to leading the church is the issue that more than 90% of the people a pastor is called to lead are volunteers. While the book stores regularly offer up new publications on leadership styles, strategies, and structures for the business and governmental sectors, the best practices for leading in volunteer organizations continue to be shrouded in mystery.
Lastly, given that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church – the Boss! – pastoral leadership must labor under what managerial strategists refer to as “multiple reporting relationships.” That is, those in pastoral positions find themselves “reporting” to multiple entities, either truly or by virtue of the expectations congregants bring with them. Consider: a pastor may report to an Elder team, but he is also held accountable by the congregation, at least in their eyes. And to top it all off, his primary accountability is always to Christ, who remains the Big Boss of the church.
Given all this, leadership in the church is fraught with risk. The minefields have been described time and again in pastoral biographies down through history. But that doesn’t mean pastors should either sit on their hands and not lead, or wring their hands in panic, or wash their hands of the whole thing. Rather, they should – they must! – see progress in leadership as a necessary skill in shaping and casting a biblical vision to their people, and then rallying them under the Kingdom banner to complete the mission of Christ through the church to the world.
So, here’s a simple place to start …
The Three Basic Commitments of Great Leadership
1. A Commitment to Personal Leadership
Personal leadership simply means leading yourself well. We could call it “personal discipline” but that term has been used so much it no longer carries power. Personal leadership requires all the same skills and actions you will need to lead others. It requires great perception, intellectual rigor, consistency, perseverance, courage, compassion, humility, flexibility, tenacity and self-awareness.
We all make use of these things so often we usually don’t even think about them. But we should! Personal leadership (discipline) communicates how you see life. It puts before those you lead the standard for the personal leadership you expect from each of them.
Here are a few places where personal leadership is a must:
A. Be Organized: Have a system that works, and always, always, always work your system.
• A tip on To-Do Lists: Have one! But don’t drag your entire To-Do list into every day. Rather, set up lists for each day of 1) those things you must get done, and 2) those things that will enrich your life and ministry. Look several weeks ahead and make a master To-Do list. Then, on Sunday or early Monday, take 15 minutes to schedule you’re the open spaces on your calendar with the tasks you can complete during those hours. Make a list specific to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc. Then, each day open your calendar and the day’s task list, and get going. You’ll be more efficient, and you’ll go home having completed the list for that day, and even had time – perhaps – to read that book you’ve had sitting on your desk for a few weeks.
B. Be on Time: One late arrival is a mistake, and we all make them. Two makes it appear you don’t care about other people, their time, or the reason for the meeting in the first place. Three confirms that appearance in the minds of people, and once you gain a reputation of being late you’ll have a hard time living it down.
C. Be Aware: Be aware of how you’re coming across. Don’t interrupt. Don’t be that guy. Don’t try too hard. Learn when to speak and when to shut up. Learn to read people.
D. Be Consistent: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, or at least as much as possible. Remember, “sleeping in” is selfish. You can sleep when you can no longer walk or think. As Richard Baxter asked when referring to those who slept late “Doth the sun shine in vain?” But seriously, get in the habit of doing things at a time when you’re the only one it inconveniences. Early morning work may mean you can spend more evening hours with your wife and kids. Punish yourself so you don’t have to punish them by saying “I’d like to honey, but Daddy has to work.”
Be consistent in as many ways as you can. Do your Bible reading and prayer consistently. Return phone calls and emails at a certain time of the day (but not all day long!) and do it consistently.
E. Be Healthy: Get enough sleep. Get up early and take advantage of the day. Eat right. Eat breakfast. Exercise. All of this takes personal leadership. Recognizing the benefits of personal discipline
F. Be Intentional: Get more done in less time. Stick to the task until you get done. Say no to interruptions. Pick up your socks. Hang up your clothes. Do the dishes. You get the idea. Be intentional about leading yourself away from laziness, away from selfishness, away from distractions, away from entrapments of the flesh, away from sin. Rather, be intentional about leading yourself in following Christ closely, down the paths of righteousness for his sake, your sake, and the sake of the Church.
2. A Commitment to Pursuing Improvement
Managers protect the status quo. Leaders wake up thinking about improvement.
Managers maintain. Leaders innovate in order to enhance.
Managers like things to run smoothly. Leaders like things to run better and better.
Leadership is about being content with what God is doing, but never complacent about how we can partner with him.
Leadership focuses on ways we can be better for his glory.
Leadership is intrigued with the future without throwing out the blessings of the past.
Leadership is thankful but never satisfied.
Leadership is working hard to always be winning while realizing the game will never end until Jesus blows the whistle.
Leadership is that fine balance between appreciating what God is doing while working hard to provide what may be needed for him to do even more through us.
Leadership never rests on its laurels.
Leadership vacations but never stops thinking.
Leadership never uses the term “good enough” knowing that “good enough” is hardly ever good enough.
Leaders demand the most from themselves. They never lead from the middle of the pack.
Leaders are readers. They are driven to stay informed.
Leaders are thinkers. They are driven to develop better schemes and strategies.
Leaders are doers. They never succumb to analysis paralysis.
Leaders are honest. They admit their mistakes and demonstrate great character in the way they clean them up. They also eschew politics, gossip, desceit, and disloyalty.
Leaders are loyal. They fight for those they lead until necessity demands otherwise.
Leaders are direct. They have no time for nuance, drama, or games.
Leaders are humble. They much prefer to watch their team win the race.
Leaders are passionate. No one cares about the team and the enterprise as much as they do.
Leaders both courageous, carful, wise, and winsome. They know what needs to be done, and they have the wisdom, tact, and skill to do it well the first time.
For all these reasons, leaders are few and far between. And they are worth their weight in gold although they are much too concerned about the team to chew up resources unnecessarily.
Are you a leader? Do you believe God is calling you to lead? Then start now to become the leader God can use mightily, and realize your greatest reward will be to see his kingdom extended and his glory magnified.
3. A Commitment to Core Values
Leadership is never an excuse for compromise in the area of core values. While the pursuit of excellence and improvement must be a leader’s great passion, the anchor that keeps this passion from running headlong into tragedy is the leaders radical commitment to the core values of Christ and the church.
Every improvement must be driven by a desire to see God’s glory magnified, his people edified, and his mission accomplished to a greater and greater extent.
Biblical and doctrinal fidelity is leadership job #1. After all, Jesus Christ is the Boss. We all are accountable to him first and foremost. Our leadership must always be a reflection of his leadership, character, and revealed truth. Consequently, team leadership will demand a shared sense of the core values Christ has for the church and its leadership.
One last note, it is not too early to start developing your own set of “personal core values.” Here I’m not talking about doctrinal clarity, but personal style and commitment. What kind of person are you going to be? What kind of leader do you want to be? What is important to you? Why? What are you willing to forgo to be a great leader? What are you willing to learn in order to be a great leader? How willing are you to receive correction and instruction from those God has place around you?
As you carefully and truthfully answer these questions you’ll be on your way to running the marathon known as leadership. It will demand everything you have and more, but the reward of seeing the smiling face of Christ as you lead a redeemed throng across the finish line is like no other reward this side of heaven.