5 Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned Since I’ve Been Working In A Church
For the longest time, I have been passionate about Leadership. I can remember wanting to go traveling around to different places speaking to people about leadership (pretty ambitious for an elementary age student huh?) As I entered middle school, my passion for leadership grew. I began watching leaders (principles, teachers, pastors, politicians, literally anyone I could visually see). In high school I began volunteering at my church, school, and any place I could get into. I learned very quickly that leadership is a part of every aspect of life. I knew God was calling me into student ministry, but I wasn’t exactly sure how that would help with my leadership desire. As I finished high school, and went into college, I decided to focus on leadership training. As a result, I am more passionate about helping leaders than ever before. I have learned several lessons about leadership that I didn’t fully recognize until I became a part of a leadership team at several churches.
1. Character is What Creates Skill
In all of my leadership studies, books I’ve read, blogs and podcasts I’ve listened to regarding leadership, most of them direct their attention to “Leadership Skills.” In fact, most leadership degrees spend 90% of their time building skills, so that they can eventually achieve the goals set forth by the company (or any company the may find themselves working for).
I can remember an internship I had at a church one summer. This was not a mega church, but it was a big enough church that required multiple staff and faculty members. I was focused on building my skills. One of the pastors of the church saw that I was focused on skill, and taught me a lesson I will never forget. The BEST Leadership Skills Only Come From Someone that Has Fully Developed Leadership Character! They followed that up by asking me if I had Leadership Character. What does this mean on a practical level? It really doesn’t matter what process you use for change, what technique you use to motivate others, what type of work environment you create (all things focused on to create ‘Skill’) if you are NOT focused on the people you lead it really doesn’t matter!!! When the focus is on the work we are doing, rather than the people, we are focusing on Skill over Character.
2. Leadership is a Gift
If I were to get all of my opinions from books and “leadership resources” I would view leadership as an achievement. I mean I can remember wanting to be an usher at church. Why? Because by doing so, I would be showing the world I was growing up, aka…….ACHIEVEMENT! This type of thinking causes us to try and prove ourself to others, and therefore create leadership opportunities for ourselves.
Since stepping into ministry, I have spent lots of time looking into the Scriptures to see what God says about leadership. I have come to realize that a leadership opportunity is NOT something we achieve! Rather, it is something that we are given by God. (Read that last sentence again!) Let me say this in a different way: It’s more about HIS (GOD’S) call on our lives, than it is about my desire to be a leader. One passage of Scripture that has changed my thinking on this is Romans 12:3-8. This passage clearly says that leadership is a gift. For me, this changes the way I view Leadership!
I came to realize that a great gift has a higher value than something I could earn on my own. To steward something I wouldn’t otherwise have brings with it a higher level of responsibility and pushes me to serve in humility instead of pride.
3. We Are What We Do!!
We have all been around people who define themselves by what they do. This is common talk among most leaders in our world today. I have changed my view on this since being in ministry.
In ministry, we are what we do. If ministry is a calling (which I am confident that it is), and therefore is NOT a career move, If leadership is truly a gift given to us by God Himself, and my life is defined by my walk with Jesus Christ, then the reality that we are unable to escape, is that I am What I Do!
The reason this perspective is so important for me, is because with this knowledge, it is impossible for me (or anyone for that matter) to compartmentalize my life. If I truly believe these truths, I must see everyday as an opportunity to know Jesus better, and to know the people I am given to lead in a way that not only moves me, but moves them, and US all to a closer walk with Christ. Doing this, in turn, allows us to be more effective in the way that we do ministry.
4. To Increase In Authority, I Must Lose Control
If you read, study, listen, or have first had experience of corporate leadership, you realize that the most “successful” leaders are the ones who control their circumstances to eliminate much, if not all failure. This is the very reason why so many bosses are afraid to ask for help or to delegate work to others. I mean why would I give you a task (that I can do) and then turn around and give the credit to you? I could do it, and I would get the credit for the work.
In ministry, it is crucial that every leader finds passages of Scripture that teach and show them how to be effective in ministry. The passage that does this for me is Exodus 18. Let me break this down for you. In this passage, Moses was trying to lead all by himself. His father-in-law came to him and told him that he was doing it all wrong (WOW! What nerve). He told Moses that if he really wanted to serve those that he led, he would have to lose control of all the decisions that impacted the people. Bottom Line: If he wanted to have more authority, more things would have to get done. He wouldn’t be able to get everything that needed to be done, done all on his own. He needed to get help in order to see it happen.
This principle is extremely apparent when leading in ministry. My goal in ministry is to impact the lives of others. I have realized that as a leader, I have to get more people involved in what I’m responsible for so that more people are impacted for the church and the Kingdom. (I have been told in the past that I am trying to ‘steal’ all of the volunteers away from other ministries before – my response is simple. I don’t care if they are in children’s, students, college, adults, worship, or any ministry area for that matter! I want to get as many people involved in ministry as possible, so that this world will be transformed by Jesus Christ in the lives of the people!) This principle found in Exodus 18 (and many other places in Scripture for that matter) has proven to be the key component to successful leadership for me.
5. Leadership is 360 degrees
Traditional leadership models are from the top down. It is unheard of for an organization to have the ‘team’ model, where everyone regardless of position, has leadership responsibility to everyone else on the team. While any organization would benefit from this ‘team’ model, I know that this model is VITAL to successful ministry.
One of the greatest things about being on a team, is accountability and support that you get from the other team members. I’m totally ok with my team giving me pressure, if it serves to help me. I must give a definition of ‘leadership pressure: ‘ having a conversation with someone because you see something now or something that is coming that no one else can see, even the person you are talking to. This could be in the area of integrity, strategy or work process.’
Working in a church, gives us one benefit that is incomparable, we work with believers! The Bible gives every believer the responsibility (WOW, THAT HAS BIG IMPLICATIONS) to help the people we do life with to be more like Jesus. And they have the same responsibility (There’s that word again) to me. So in church leadership, regardless of position, we all carry the responsibility (Again??) to help others on the team, regardless of position, to improve. As leaders, we have to be ok with a subordinate (I hate that term, but it gets the idea across) putting leadership pressure on me so that I get better at leading. We have to be open to one of our peers (yes, even though they don’t have a clue what you do) doing the same thing. We can’t simply rely on our boss (Senior Pastor) to help me become a better leader.
I have absolutely loved the fact that God has called me into ministry leadership. And to be honest, I have found it to be very challenging at times. But I have learned so much, and I hope that these five lessons will be as helpful for you as they have been for me.