Leadership Principles & Practices for The Church Today
A few years ago I had a conversation with my good friend and pastor, Chris Harrison, about the state of volunteer leaders within the “church”. Having taken a couple of years away from youth ministry to focus on worship, Chris found himself quickly engulfed in youth culture when he felt the call of God leading him and his family back into the life and call of a youth pastor. During our conversation both Chris and I expressed our discontentment with and desire for a new kind of leader within the church.
Speaking from experience I was at a place where merely putting an ad in the church bulletin or announcing a casting call from the pulpit was not enough. While there was never much of a shortage of bodies to occupy space within the youth room or most any other ministry platform, our attrition rate was too rich for my blood and the turnover would often leave the sheep in the flock with much to be desired.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have had the privilege of working with some phenomenal volunteers and leaders during my time in the church and tenure of ministry; people who have had significant impact in my life and the lives of those they served, but the fact still remained that there were and are far too many volunteers who think of their place as not much more than a glorified babysitting job or a chance to get plugged in because they desire to serve and really don’t have a clue as to what or where they can contribute in a significant way, so they take whatever comes available.
This is tragic!
The worst part of it is that I not only bought into the “serve and survive” model, but it is, by and large, the model that has been taught to me and by me from my very first staff position within a church (1997) until recently.
Serve and Survive
What is the “serve and survive” model? It’s a mode of ministry that the church and its leadership have bought into and taught for years. It’s when someone comes into the church; we encourage him or her to get plugged in, to serve. Likely they may not know right off-hand how what they have to offer or even where their natural strengths, gift mix and experiences might fit into the church. So what have we done? We have encouraged them to serve in several different ministry departments and ministry roles within the body until they find what feels like a fit and they can survive.
Let’s put this in market place terms. Can you imagine what a Fortune Five-Hundred company might look like if they hired their employees, introduced them to the marketing department, the accounts payable and receivables department, the graphic design department and the other umpteen departments that make up the company, and after introducing each new hire to the perspective departments the Vice President said, “Now we want you to just get in there and work. It’s okay if you don’t find a fit right away. We just want you working toward finding what it is you think you’d be good at”. Loosely translated, not only would this company NOT be a Fortune Five-Hundred company; it wouldn’t be a company. Why? Simply put, because the business would not and could not survive within this management structure. The turnover rate would be atrocious. People would constantly be vying for the next best position, never maximizing their strengths, instead, merely looking to get in where they fit in and move up at every available opportunity that may come along. You would lose accounts. There would cease to exist any opportunity for new accounts. Employees would be hard-pressed to get anything done because they wouldn’t necessarily know, nor would they care how the job was to getting done and if it was to its greatest potential. In short, it would be a disaster.
Why? Why has the church settled for this model? Why are we as the bride of Christ okay with extreme attrition and turnover? What good are we doing anybody by allowing and even encouraging people within the body to serve and survive? It’s this mentality that leads to disgruntled wonderers whom feel distant and often disengaged.
Jim Collins, in his book, Good To Great, writes, “You can’t manufacture passion or “motivate” people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.” (1) – Good To Great; pg. 109
To put in as plainly as possible, it is highly unlikely that anything would get done and if tasks were to be accomplished, they would be done in such a way as to elude the presence of passion or purpose. That is not ministry. That is not even maintenance. That is what I call posing, pretending and purposeless.
I also believe part of the problem to be that people don’t recognize that they have a choice to either find and or focus on their strengths. In his book entitled, Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham writes, “Many people don’t concern themselves with the intricacies of their strengths; instead, they choose to devote their time and energy to investigating their weaknesses.” (2) – pg. 127; Now Discover Your Strengths
While I would agree that each person in the church has a place that they can and should be serving, I have come to believe that there is a far better way to help people fit and flourish as well as maximize the potential of both the individual(s) and the church alike. It is this conviction and belief that has led me to draft what I believe is 6 Filters for Leadership Development within the church.
Here it is…
6 Filters for Leadership Development
Filter # 1 – Discern
I believe we need to prayerfully discern (seek & recognize guidance) God’s will in the area of leaders and leadership development. Instead of a first come, first serve mentality; instead of the serve and survive model, we ought to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction as to whom He would have leading in any and all ministry capacities. Unfortunately this is counter-cultural within many churches today. Yet it is when we stop having open tryouts and start getting strategic and specific about what it is we believe God is calling us to, and in the case of leadership development, who it is that God is calling us to, that we will see the turnover and attrition rate cease to exist as we have known it for far too long.
One of the problems with discerning leaders within the church as well as within the marketplace is that they (leaders) often don’t feel that it is their responsibility and or that they don’t have the time that it takes to seek and find the right person(s) for the position. This is called the Law of Connection and John Maxwell addresses his particular position in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:
Some leaders have problems with the Law of Connection because they believe that connecting is the responsibility of followers. That is especially true of positional leaders. They often think, I’m the boss. I have the position. These are my employees. Let them come to me. But successful leaders who obey the Law of Connection are always initiators. They take the first step with others and then make the effort to continue building relationships. That’s not always easy, but it’s important to the success of the organization. A leader has to do it, no matter how many obstacles there might be. (3) – pg. 104 – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Jim Collins and his team of researchers speak to this in their radical approach to leadership stating that, “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” (4) – Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap—and Others Don’t
The “right” people – God’s people – this is what I believe will enable optimal sustainability, success and growth – growth both in the individual(s) as well as within the realm of said ministry.
It is my belief that leaders need to identify the process of recruitment within ministry, the serve and survive model as nothing more than a set-up for catastrophic casualties of the “would be” leaders along with those they were supposed to be leading and instead, leaders need to be proactive in implementing a strategy of finding the right person for the position, or as Collin’s recites David Maxwell, former CEO of Fannie Mae in stating that it is about, “getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat”. (5) – Good to Great, pg. 45
Filter # 2 – Disciple
Once we believe we have identified whom God has led us to within a specific role or responsibility, it is then our privilege to disciple them and by disciple I don’t mean give them the latest leadership book from Barnes & Nobles Top 10 list, ask them to read a chapter while we too read the chapter and get together once every other week to discuss what it is we’ve learned and maybe even look at how it might be applied in ministry. Now I’m not saying that reading, learning and studying together is in itself bad. I’m merely suggesting we call it what it is; learning, and not try to give it a label that is completely outside the realm of reality; discipleship. Instead, I believe discipleship is more than studying, it’s more than learning and it’s more than following. The way I see Jesus modeling discipleship is, first and foremost in the ways by which He lived His life together with his disciples. Sure there was deliberate teaching and instruction that went on. Absolutely the disciples were likely to have heard, read and discussed some of the scholars and great minds in their culture and day and age. But…what I see over and again is that the disciples, both while Jesus was with them this side of heaven as well as within the early church, did life together; eating, walking, teaching, traveling, working and a whole lot more. Should we not then become more intentional about discipleship as a way of life rather than a means to an end?
Lou Gerstner, Former CEO of IBM and leadership author offered this as one explanation as one outlook he peered through within the market place for success in his industry. “INVEST IN THE FUTURE. Regardless of current market environment, companies cannot afford to be complacent. Make sure that your organization is betting on the future by making the right investments now.” (6) – pg. 124 – What The Best CEO’s Know.
Simply put, Gerstner was able to look beyond where things were and see into a place of potential; what things could become, and he was willing to invest in both individuals and ideas. This is a key premise for what I believe discipleship to be.
In his book, Courageous Leadership, Bill Hybels gives a lot of credit in regards to successful leaders to their mentor(s), those whom have invested themselves in a leaders life. Hybels writes, “All the effective leaders I have ever talked to can point back to someone who sacrificed time and energy to grow them up as leaders. The gift those people gave us is something we should never take for granted.” (7) – pg. 125 – Courageous Leadership
It should go without saying that Discipleship is of the utmost importance and cannot be overlooked, forgone or done without intentionality. Discipleship is a key component and requires purpose-filled practice.
Filter # 3 – Discover
Within the pages of The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes & Posner have written on the subject of discovery and motivation; “Your passion for something is an indication of what you find worthy in and of itself. It’s a clue to what you find intrinsically rewarding.”(8) The problem is that instead of seeking to discover where God has naturally gifted someone and developing their skill set even further, we focus on the need within the church or specific area of ministry, ask people to fill the void and try to develop a skill set within them that is likely foreign and will never quite fit.
While working through the book, Living Your Strengths, I came across a paragraph that captures the very essence of what I believe encompasses the very essence of what it means for one to discover their God-given strengths and talents.
There is something about the concept of talents and strengths that just “feels right”. When we discover our talents, when we give them a name, something resonates deep within us. It is as if our spirits react to this discovery with a resounding “Yes! This is they way it is supposed to be – this is who I was created to be.” And we find it somehow freeing; naming our greatest talents sets us free to develop them and live through them. Naming our top talents gives us permission to accept our areas of lesser talent and either discard them or manage them. It gives us permission to stop trying to be who we are not and concentrate on who we are – who we were originally created to be. (9) – pg.8 (Living Your Strengths)
There are many great resources out there on the topic of finding and fulfilling one’s strengths and natural gifts that I believe can be used as tools in helping to discover how people can not only fit, but flourish as a leader both in life and in ministry.
Marcus Buckingham, an industry leader and psychologist in the way of leadership development, has designed tools and literally written, instructed and taught for hundreds, if not thousands of hours on the subject of leadership development and finding as well as focusing on one’s natural gifts and strengths. He is but one of the many resources available for us today that can help us better develop not only our leaders, but also ourselves.
Here are a few other tools and resources that may be helpful and beneficial in regards to discovering an individuals strengths, understanding their personalities and coming to a greater awareness of who an individual is, what makes them tick and where they may be most beneficial within any position of leadership:
- · Clifton StengthsFinders 2.0 (www.strengthsfinder.com)
- · Self-Assessment Library (Stephen P. Robbins)
- · Disc Personality Profile (www.discprofile.com)
- · Myers/Briggs Personality Profile (www.myersbriggs.org)
- Spiritual Gifts Assessment (Team Ministry – www.churchgrowth.org)
- · Uniquely You Personality Profile (www.uniquelyyou.com)
Filter # 4 – Develop
In my estimation one of the greatest filters we can utilize within leadership is the development of individuals. This comes in many shapes, forms and facets. The development process is more than just giving people tools they can use in leadership. As I mentioned earlier, I believe it begins with discipleship and walking alongside of people, living, learning, equipping and utilizing various tools available to us in order to help us recognize people’s natural gifting and strengths.
In a book by Wayne Hastings and Ron Potter entitled, Trust Me – Developing a Leadership Style People Will Follow they write, “Mentoring is a life-changing part of development. The goal is to coach and guide people through life transitions and structures, focusing on the “being” rather than the “doing”. (10) – pg. 68 That, in short, is a big part of what I believe it means to develop leadership within an individual as well as within an organization. People coaching, encouraging and living life together with others whom they feel God has given them the privilege and responsibility for.
Another example of this comes from psychologist and author, Dr. Henry Cloud, when he talks about putting Superman out of a job and what it means to do something super in his book entitled, 9 Things a Leader Must Do. In his book he shares that one of the things that we need to do is:
Dig up your dream, but then ask yourself, “What do I need to do now? How can I improve my lot? What do I need to do to get where I want to be? What skills do I need to develop? What fears do I need to get past? Whom do I need to meet? How can I invest my talents?” Those questions address steps toward proactive initiation, which God’s system demands of those who expect success. (11) – pg. 59
If we want to have successful leaders within our church, we need to be committed to the overall development process, not merely in part, but in whole; from the discerning of who God is calling to a specific role to the development of their God-given strengths, gifts, talents and abilities, as well as with all points in between which leads us to our next filter in the 6 Filters for Leadership Development.
Filter # 5 – Deploy
This is where the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. As a leader there is not much that is more exciting than watching a person exercising his or her God-given gifts and abilities, otherwise known as M.I.A. (Ministry In Action).
I’ve played sports since childhood and coached sports most of my adult life. To say that winning wasn’t important to me would be misleading, but to assume that winning is everything is a far cry from my reality. As a coach I love nothing more than watching a player who has busted their tail all season long in practice begin to implement their newly acquired and recently refined skills, strengths and strategies into the game. That’s when, as a coach, I feel awesome!
The same can be said for ministry. I really enjoy seeking God’s person for the position and the experience of doing life together. Where I feel that I thrive and what I enjoy most is in the development process of individuals that ultimately leads to the deployment in which they begin to apply in life and in ministry, the fundamentals that they have been developing over time and with coaching. That’s when, as a leader, I feel awesome!
To find success and build leadership through deployment, a leader needs to fascilitate opportunities for his or her people to put into practice that which they have identified as their strengths and passions. This will surely be pivotal in building a successful person and ministry.
In an interview, Niranjan Ajwani, CEO of Ajwani Group of Companies says of leadership development, “A great leader is an enabler and a facilitator. In actual practice we build teams with a shared vision and provide them with space, opportunity, and an environment for creativity and growth”. (12) – pg. 9 (Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEO’s) I could not have said it any better and could not agree more. Great leaders are those that allow and encourage their people to exercise and implement their God-given strengths and passions. And while this is key to success, this is often one of the hardest tasks a leader has – letting go.
Filter # 6 – Duplicate
The final filter in the 6 Filters for Leadership Development is to both encourage and enable your current leaders to duplicate the process they’ve experienced with someone they have prayerfully considered and believe that God would be calling them to disciple, develop and deploy.
Hunter Jr. & Waddell write in their book, Toy Box Leadership,
LEGO bricks don’t join with others simply by chance. Likewise, the best connections don’t happen by accident. Pouring out a box of LEGO bricks will not produce a castle; you will just have a pile of bricks. Similarly, relationships at their best are designed, intentional, connected, and built. (13) – pg. 9
There are countless examples of this throughout Scripture, but none ring more true than the relationship between the Apostle Paul and Timothy. Spend any amount of time reading Paul’s dialogue with Timothy in 1 & 2 Timothy and you’ll see immediately the ways in which Paul believed God had called them together, the means by which Paul sought to disciple Timothy, living life together, instructing and teaching, and encouraging Timothy. But it didn’t stop there. Paul spent intentional time developing the skills he saw within Timothy and gave him strategies to live and serve more effectively within the body as well as within the world. As an early church leader we see how Paul commissions Timothy to lead and do the work of the Lord within the body. He goes on to talk about leaders within the church and asks Timothy to duplicate the process.
11 But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness. (14) – 1 Timothy 6:11-21 (NLT)
What an example!
I cannot think of much more in the way of success for a leader than duplicating the leadership process. It is what I imagine being a grandparent must be like. For the first 18 years and in most cases, beyond, a parent’s role is to guide, lead, equip, instruct, encourage, and, later on in life, deploy their children to live the life God has blessed them with. It is when their children get married and begin having children of their own that they see the process being duplicated in the way of parenting.
While this example is speaks specifically of parenting, I do believe it gives some insight into what it must have been like for Paul to observe and be a part of Timothy’s duplication process. It is also what I believe to be true of how any leader who walks through the 6 Filters for Leadership Development must feel – pride, gratification, excitement, anticipation and more. The key is to continually stress this process and encourage the leaders God has entrusted to you to do the same for the leaders that God will entrust to them. It was Jesus who said, 48b: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required”. (Luke 12:48, NLT) I believe we are required to be diligent with the leaders God has entrusted us with. Having said that, one of the best ways, I believe to accomplish this tall order is to implement the leadership structure I have been describing throughout this paper.
(1) Collins, Jim (2001). Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, p. 109.
(2) Buckingham, Marcus (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage, p. 127
(3) Maxwell, John C. (1998). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, p. 104
(4) Collins, Jim (2001). Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, p. 45
(5) Collins, Jim (2001). Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t
(6) Krames, Jeffrey A. (2003). What The Best CEOs Know: 7 Exceptional Leaders and Their Lessons for Transforming Any Business, p. 124
(7) Hybels, Bill (2002). Courageous Leadership, p. 125
(8) Kouzes, Jim & Posner, Barry (2002). The Leadership Challenge
(9) Winseman, Albert L., Clifton, Donald O. & Liesveld, Curt (2003-2004). Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-given Talents and Inspire Your Community, p. 8
(10) Hastings, Wayne & Potter, Ron (2004). Trust Me: Developing a Leadership Style People Will Follow p. 68
(11) Cloud, Henry (2006). 9 Things a Leader Must Do: Breaking Through to the Next Level, p. 59
(12) Yaverbraum, Eric (2004). Leadership Secrets of The World’s Most Successful CEOs,
(13) Hunter Jr., Ron & Waddell, Michael E. (2008). Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved As A Child, p. 9
(14) New Living Translation (1996, 2004, 2007). 1 Timothy 6:11-21, p. 981-982