Leadership is not about having all the answers.
One sign of a great leader — in my opinion — is to be bold enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers”.
Perhaps even harder, “I’m not the one to carry this task forward.”
That takes humility.
I observed the pressure some pastors and leaders place on themselves to have all the answers and to be good at everything they do. And, churches and organizations sometimes hold leaders to this level of excellence and expectation.
The fact is, however, that most of us only do a few things really well. Understanding that and being willing to admit it is an indication one is becoming a mature leader — and will actually help them be better leaders.
I love the story of King David in 1 Chronicles 28. The preceding chapters outline how David had diligently organized the kingdom, but then David humbly handed over reins to his son.
Of course, he did this at the command of God, but his speech to the people is not filled with bitterness and anger, but with encouragement and challenge to keep the vision moving forward. There are several Biblical examples of this type leadership.
I love some of the succession talk that is taking place in the church world today. I’m watching as some more mature pastors help the church figure out what’s next for the church — after their leadership. My friends William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have actually written a book on the subject.
But, I think this is a daily issue. Few of us are good at admitting we need help or releasing areas from our control. Again, that takes humility. I see that especially true in church leadership. (And, for those who will say the church expects it — I get that — but that’s where leadership is needed even more.)
Great leaders are willing to admit when they don’t know the answer, when they don’t have a plan for the current situation, when they need help figuring out a solution, when they are in over their head, or even — when they are no longer the right one for the job.
Even greater leaders are willing to allow and even promote and encourage others who are skilled in areas they are not and more capable of leading at the time.
Pastor or leader, in what area of your life do you need to humbly step aside and let another lead? It might be in the best interest of everyone if you did.
And, do you have any personal examples of where you’ve seen or are seeing a senior leader extend power to others? Share a story with us.
After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.
Every young leader shares some common fears.
Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.
And, they aren’t talked about much — or even admitted — the pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear — but they are real fears.
Three fears of every young leader:
Am I good enough?
Have I got what it takes?
What happens if I fail?
Common, legitimate fears.
Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions — in the affirmative.
Help them believe in themselves. Help them discover that inner strength — that God-given grace — that God-given talent — that helps them weather any storm and overcome any obstacle that may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.
Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. Find the young leaders who need to hear our words of affirmation. Something tells me we can help build a future. And — in the process — we will leave a legacy.
I’m not a huge rule-maker. I like to operate in freedom and so I try to leader others that way. I’m strict about very few things.
(Can I be completely honest? — I’d rather break a rule than keep one. Certainly I love to write better rules.)
I’m a little different on Christmas Eve.
I’m strict. I write rules. An ole’ controlling leader.
Our ministerial staff works on Christmas Eve.
Period. No excuses.
That’s harsh, isn’t it?
Christmas Eve is a big deal in this church. Always has been. Long before I became pastor.
We now have 3 services to accommodate crowds, but the church has always had one packed service that is live on television. Near 100,000 people in our region watch the show and the past couple years we’ve rebroadcast the show several times on Christmas Day. It’s somewhat of a community event.
But, there’s another reason.
Culturally speaking, Christmas has in many ways become the new Easter. Not theologically of course. You can’t trump the resurrection, but as an opportunity to reach lost people.
They’ll come at Christmas. It’s a culturally acceptable thing to do. A familiar affair. Get dressed up (or not) and gather together to sing familiar Christmas songs. It’s a great family tradition.
And, who can’t love a baby in a manger story? You can attract people at Christmas like no other time of the year.
We would never think of staff missing Easter. It’s an “all hands on deck” kind of day.
So, I make Christmas Eve a priority and require our staff to be here.
(Now, in complete transparency, if there were extenuating circumstances with a staff member we would certainly consider them.)
And, sure, it’s difficult on families to understand. I get that. My family has to sacrifice also. We live 4 hours from our family and we now miss Christmas Eve together.
But, if we had a job as a policeman or at a hospital emergency room, no one would question why we had to work. It comes with the job.
And, in church work, Christmas Eve, if it’s done well, can be a great part of the job. Lives are at stake. It’s a vital work. An “all hands on deck” kind of day.
I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.
It could be because of relationships gone bad.
A personal life — that was private — but is not anymore.
Bad decisions intentionally done or bad circumstances — out of their control.
All of that and more — failure.
One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is that I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and that was plenty of time to learn valuable life experiences by failure. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)
Here’s what you need to understand though.
I’ve had failures — but I’m not a failure.
Because I got back up every time I failed.
Along the way — through failure — I’ve gained some insight into failure.
There are some misunderstandings about failing that you don’t necessarily knowing during the failing process.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:
Not everyone is talking about you. This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels that way. As a result, sometimes you avoid people — even though you may need people in your life now more than ever. Sometimes you refuse to get back in the game — even to attend church — because you assume you’re the news on people’s mind. Yes, some people may be talking about you — for a while — but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others — I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)
Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away. That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. And, I’m not sure it should be our goal to completely lose that failure reminder. It’s a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed — and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure — how you proceed after the failure.
God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail. In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace — something God loves to extend to those who will receive it.
Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing. It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy loves to use that principle against us too. Why not? It works, right? But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely — that’s a choice too.
The best days of your life may be after the failure — not before. Wow! If only I could have understood that during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, for that I’m thankful.
Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.
What have you learned from failure?
I’m a church planter. Having planted two successful churches, my heart is to see more church plants launch and do well. I think once church planting gets “in your blood”, it’s always there.
A couple years ago, however, God called me into an established church in need of some revitalization. (Actually my first church was a revitalization church.) It’s been an incredible couple of years. God has blessed us in so many ways. It’s harder than church planting — just being honest — but its very rewarding in so many ways.
I’ve encouraged numerous young leaders to not ignore the opportunities in church revitalization. As much as we need new plants — we need to revive some existing church — a lot of existing churches.
The work of revitalization is similar to church planting. We are starting some things new. We are building momentum around a vision. We are constantly looking for new leaders. But, its also incredibly different. There are unique challenges in church revitalization. As I’m learning things, I’m trying to pass them along.
Here are 7 words of encouragement in church revitalization:
Don’t high-jack the church – You can change a church where it can experience growth again without taking away the DNA of the church. That means you may not be able to make every change you want to make. It may mean you move slower than you want to at times. But, the general culture of the church — at least the one that has lasted for generations — should not be on the table. Now here’s the if — and this is the big if — if the culture or DNA — or part of that culture — is one that is destructive to the future vitality of the church then it needs to be changed. If the church is opposed to any change, it chews up and spits out pastors, it’s structure is so archaic that it just doesn’t work anymore — change it. But, if it’s just a flavor of who the people are — it is probably best to leave it alone. For example, if it’s a church that has a history of loving big events, don’t kill all of them — find a way to make them work for Kingdom growth.
It will take longer than you think it does. To them it’s likes rocket pace and to you it feels like snail pace. In church planting, you can change in a week. That’s usually not the case in revitalization. Take time to bring people along that have invested years in building the church. Over time, when trust is developed, it will get easier, and you’ll be able to move quicker.
Celebrate the history while shaping the future. Don’t pretend that everything old is bad. It’s not. It’s what has helped the church survive as long as it has. It may not be working as well right now, and there will likely need to be changes, but some of the old things were and are good things in principle. Recognize that, acknowledge it, and people will be more likely to at least appease good changes.
Recognize the sense of loss in change. It’s the number one reason change is resisted. (I wrote a whole post on this subject.) Don’t ignore or underestimate how big of a deal change is to some people. Be humble. Considerate. Compassionate. That doesn’t mean don’t change. It does mean don’t change assuming it’s “no big deal”. It is.
Love the people even when you don’t love everything about the church. You may not like some of the structure of the church or the process you have to go through to make change. But you must love the people. And, loving the people will help you lead the transitions you need to make. Years ago, God convicted me that if I focus most on loving Him that loving people in any church, any city, or any setting will be easy for me.
Don’t let a few critics determine your self worth. You’ll have critics. Make no mistake about it. And, some aren’t very nice in how they offer it. You will have to make hard decisions. Very hard decisions. (Don’t make them without input, but make them.) But, you will be making changes that impact people (as all changes do) — people who have been at the church for years. You may know the changes are needed. They even me know the changes are needed. But there will be resistance. And there will be angry people. And when people are angry they say and do things they may not do otherwise. But, here’s what you need to know. If God called you to it you can be assured there are usually more supporters than detractors. The detractors just often have stronger vocal chords.
Rediscover more than you reinvent. You may need a lot of changes to be vibrant again. Most likely, however, in spite of where they are today, the church has some positive moments in their history. If not, maybe it’s time to close some doors and redistribute the Kingdom dollars elsewhere. (How’s that for honesty?) But, I’ve found most churches have had better days. Help the church rediscover the heartbeat of the times people loved — when things were healthy, lives were changing and Kingdom growth was occurring. Build momentum as you celebrate the emotions and the passions from the good days of their heritage. Lead people to rediscover that joy they once had for the mission.
Those are just a few things for now. I’ll share more as I learn more.