Recently in my teaching assignment as a professor in a Bible College I was asked by a young woman who is a student from China, “Professor what are the important things that one would need to know in order to be successful in ministry?” I presented a few thoughts to this young student but her question challenged me to intentionally spend more time in reflection about this question. Prior to me presenting some of the essentials for effective leadership I must present that I am convinced the foundation for everything that I will present is the absolute need for a leader to love the Church. There is a sacred delight that one lives and moves in when he or she loves the very thing that Jesus Christ who is the “Head” absolutely adores which is evidenced in His elevating this agency of the Kingdom of God to a position of being “His Bride!” If one cannot be totally sold-out to loving the church they will sputter when challenging times comes not being convinced that God does not have a “Plan B.” It is the church that is primary agency of the Kingdom of God to bring reconciliation to all things!”
Therefore, here are the essential qualities a leader must have to serve well:
- Be committed to being a better person, not simply developing better programs.
E.M. Bounds once declared that people are always looking for better programs but God is always looking for a better man and woman to partner with Him on His mission. Methods are temporary and depend on the context of a particular situation to whether they will succeed or not succeed. The late Dallas Willard when speaking about leaders stated that may leaders have attempted to substitute results for what they lacked: joy, relationship, character. I have come to discover that God is far less interested in your results than the person you are becoming. A leader will always teach what they know, but reproduce who they are.
- You do not find your calling, but you are formed for it – learn to hold things loosely.
I have stated how I think I am going to be some place forever and then I feel the prompting to move on to my next assignment. Please do not interpret what I am going to write that I am a strong proponent of a leader constantly moving. My first assignment out of college I stayed for 20 years. In the last ten years I have had the rich experience of serving three different churches. Each experience used the best of what God has done in me to help others as well as use the best in others to further shape me. I have come to understand that one does not find his or her calling and settle but instead the journey of our service is a work of the Spirit constantly forming us in our calling. One of our Pastors in San José, CA, Paul Giacalone, would always say, “People come and God allows us to help them become a “5” and they may go somewhere else to become an “8” but we are always aware that they belong to Jesus.” Many leaders become controlling and forget that we serve in the context of the greater Body of Christ and we always hold people and places loosely so that we may more quickly obey Christ.
- Do not find your identity in your job, find it in Christ.
Not getting this right will drive one nuts! One will be torn attempting to please people and at the same time please God. When a leader finds their identity in their job assignment they will constantly compromise conviction in order to accommodate the preferences of people. This is not only exhausting but what leaders will do is they have their endurance whittled away but a subtle-fever of “co-dependency” that robs them of their joy of serving but also exaggerates failure over all the good things that are happening. The safest place in this situation is to have a vibrant and strong resource in your internal sufficiency in Jesus Christ.
- Be spiritually grounded in things that are outside of your ministry.
I have discovered that in my own spiritual formation intellectual stimulation challenges me to grow. I am refreshed reading great books as well as practicing some spiritual disciplines. Language is a powerful tool that is used to communicate with others. Discover the language of God that speaks to your soul. In the sixth century a Damascus monk when pondering how there is no hierarchy in the “Godhead” used the term “perichoresis” which literally means “circle-dance.” He used this to describe the perfect unity of the “Triune God.” I have discovered that my times of solitude allow me to better “Dance my dance with God.” Meditating on the Word of God shapes my perception of reality that I do not need to be in control of all outcomes!” I have combined times of Lectio Devina with exercise and sleep is always good in bringing renewal.
- Be committed to writing.
Listen I not talking about writing to publish a journal article or a book. I am simply stating write. If you want to sharpen what you want to say get into the discipline of writing. Leaders must be able to say things with conviction and clarity. The greatest tool of every leader is the clarity and the power of your words. People are desperate to hear goods words that will challenge them to something far greater than themselves.
- Put an end to the pretend and just be okay with saying, “I don’t know.” Often leaders have this compulsion to have to pretend that they read a particular book that comes up in a conversation with colleagues or they simply pretend to know of a topic that they have no clue what the other person is attempting to communicate.
If you want to keep the “guile” out of your life just be able to say “I do not know.” It is freedom! I have a four step plan that I learned years ago listening to Dallas Willard that has helped me in maintaining humility:
- Never pretend
- Never presume
- Never push
- Never patronize
- Listen to your critics.
This sounds crazy! The writer of Proverbs states it this way, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you for it.” Take a deep breath and without being defensive and see what you can learn. John Maxwell years ago stated, “That every confrontation that a leader has in an opportunity for that leader to change.” This is especially important that a leader does this when leading a church or an organization through dynamic change. Do not defend yourself. There is a God is Heaven and He will take you care of you! I always communicate to my teams please do not defend me when people are asking questions but please have them come directly to me. This is healthy and it diffuses triangulation.
Here are a few thoughts that I have and I will present more in a future blog but these are ones that are quite meaningful for me to live out (and I wish I would have practiced them sooner), but one’s learning from the mistakes becomes the treasure of wisdom for another generation. I will discuss this in a future blog but it is important for a leader never to lose the sense of awe of what a privilege it is to serve Christ by serving others. It is this sense of awe that keeps me never taking for granted the great joy it is to be in partnership with God on His mission.