Church Leadership—What does a good leader look like?

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Church Leadership:

What does a good leader look like?

Casey was the CEO of the largest service company in the world. He had painstakingly built it from the ground up suffering huge problems and modest successes along the way. No matter where they moved or how big a building they built, he always had his office on the bottom floor behind all the other offices. He was frugal and wise, humble and yet resolved. Finally, after 30 years, he had completed all he needed to do and was ready to retire. Having no children, he had built around himself a group of leaders specifically training them to take over for him after he left—the company must continue—its service to people around the world was extremely important. He set a date for his final day and held a party for his leadership team as a specific date to pass on the baton and celebrate his accomplishments.

As he wandered around the room during the party, he overheard conversations from his leaders…

“Now that he’s retiring, I should probably take over—I’ve worked here the longest.”

“I can’t be expected to work with the production staff, I’ve learned too much to just be down there. I should be at least the senior VP.”

“Who’s going to get his office? I think I worked the hardest. Besides, I think he would want me to have it. He does have a big office on the 24th floor doesn’t he? I’ve never been asked there. I’ve only meet with him in that little meeting room on the first floor.”

Though saddened by the attitude of his leaders, he needed to finish his last task… so he quietly slipped into the next room.

As the MC for the evening called everyone to sit for dinner, Casey came out of the kitchen with a large plater and started to give each of his leaders a sumptuous plate of food. He slowly went from person to person making sure they had all they needed to eat and drink. Once he was finished, he went to the microphone and addressed them…

“I have been with you for many years. I am different than all the other CEOs and presidents out there. Remember working for those other companies? Your leaders forced you to work long hours in little offices, and they gave you little training and not much future hope—and yet you called them ‘leader’ and ‘friend.’ They got the perks while you carried much of the weight. But you—you need to be different. If you want to be a leader in this company, you need to be the waiter first—the server. You need to understand the plight and needs of the least of your staff. You need to think more highly of others than you do yourself. I know. The one who sits in the big office is the important one right? But that’s not what I did. I built this company by helping others—I am with you as one who serves—and that is what you must do to be a leader.”


Luke 22:25-27, which this story is based on, draws a poignant picture of what Christ was trying to get across to his leaders—His disciples. During the last supper, the apostles were arguing about which one of them is the greatest. Christ tells and shows them yet again, they are not there to be served, but to serve. Therefore, if He is speaking to the “leaders” of the day, He is speaking to us today.

Think Jesus washing the disciples feet. Think the prodigal son’s father running out to meet him when he is still far off and hasn’t confessed to his father yet. Think the apostles giving their lives that we may have the gospel today.

Our Lord, our Master, our King, our Friend, our God—He came to serve, not to be served. He came to lead by being the least—even while being the greatest. Don’t hear what I’m not saying—Jesus is not a poor, puny savior looking for anyone’s acceptance—He is a sovereign Lord and King who is worthy of everyone’s praise. And at the same time, He came to give His life as a ransom to buy our freedom. He gave until He could give no more because He gave His life—which was enough—it was sufficient. It’s a both and—not an either or.

Although He was great, He came to serve—and what a great servant He was and is. And His point was that if you want to lead, you must serve.

So what is the first responsibility of a leader—especially a church leader?

You got it—to serve. If you don’t start there, you won’t be a good leader—whether you’re a pastor, elder, staff, boss, parent, spouse—if you’re not there first to serve—serve God and serve the flock—you won’t be a good leader. Period. As that great philosopher  Anony Mous said, “If serving is beneath you, leading is beyond you.”

You may make a lot of money, get a lot of honor and prestige, you may get a lot of power—but if you are not there first and foremost to serve, to help your people, you will not be a good leader.

Where does it start?

We usually start our leadership journey when someone gets appointed as a leader—we’re given the position. So we are called Positional Leaders! We’re a leader from the beginning. When we’re a kid, our parents say, “take care of your brother!” So our parents gave us the position. When we get married, we are put into a leadership position—again, it’s given to us. When we become parents, we are given children. Even if we start a business, we give ourselves the title of President or CEO. We haven’t really earned it, it’s just given to us as the owner. We may not be very good at it, but everyone is always a leader—even if it’s only leading yourself. As we grow our business, we may or may not become a good leader. Even a pastor is elected or given a new position at a church. So we all start from being positional leaders. If you start over at a new company, even though you have gained much influence elsewhere, you start over as a positional leader in the new position (job). But from there we have to earn all the other levels of leadership. There are 5 Levels of leadership. Most people don’t make it past Level 1, Positional—partly because they have to work really, really hard to get to the next levels—to earn them—and partly because they don’t know what that next level is (lack of knowledge). And then, once they find out what the next level is, a lot of the time they don’t get it—don’t understand it. And if they do get it, they don’t know how to achieve it—or don’t want to make the effort. It’s the same for secular or sacred organizations. Level 1 leaders are mostly what we call… managers. You may move up as a higher level manager in an organization, but that doesn’t mean you are a higher level leader. Leadership takes study, hard work, and much mentorship to your team.

Level 2 Leaders are Permission leaders. You have to get other people’s permission to lead them. What? Yep. Just because you are the “leader” doesn’t mean people will follow. There are specific ways to get to Level 2. More on growing your leadership ability in the next article.

The difference between a manager and a leader

A manager is someone who manages things or systems, and a leader is someone who leads and grows people. Managers deal with systems and ensure everything is done correctly, on time, on budget. A leader ensures that the people that ultimately do those things are equipped, encouraged, and engaged in doing them. They lead the way in accomplishing the task. Being a good leader is understanding the personal and professional needs of your people so that you can ensure they are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically able to accomplish their tasks well, both individually and as a team. You’ve got to know your people deeply to be a good leader. And, you have to like them. Yep. You have to like them.

I find it most interesting that those who were closest to Jesus, those who had spent the most time with Him, those who cared for Him the most here on earth, spent the last hours of His life bickering over who was greater amongst themselves! Isn’t that just like us? We bicker over unimportant things and miss doing the important things God calls us to do! Swallowing the gnats and straining the camels (Matthew 23:24). We bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). It’s not supposed to be that way. How can we lead others when we don’t even lead ourselves well?

In his commentary on the scriptures, Scottish minister Alexander MacLaren says this of Luke 22:25-27—

“Jesus lays down the law for His followers as being the exact opposite of the world’s notion. Dignity and pre-eminence carry obligations to serve. In His kingdom, power is to be used to help others, not to glorify oneself. In other sayings of Christ’s, service is declared to be the way to become great in the kingdom, but here the matter is taken up at another point, and greatness, already attained on whatever grounds, is commanded to be turned to its proper use. The way to become great is to become small, and to serve. The right use of greatness is to become a servant…”

“It is a commonplace axiom, but like many other axioms, universal acceptance and almost universal neglect are its fate. Ingrained selfishness fights against it. We admire it as a beautiful saying, yet how many of us take it as our life’s guide? [YIKES!!] We condemn the rulers of old who wrung wealth out of their people and neglected every duty; but what of our own use of the fraction of power we possess, or our own demeanor to those in lower positions in the world or in church? Have all the occupants of royal thrones or presidential chairs, all peers, members of Parliament, senators, and congressmen, used their position for the public benefit? Do we regard ours as a trust to be administered for others? Do we feel the weight of our crown, or are we taken up with its jewels, and proud of ourselves for it? Christ’s pathetic [sic] words, giving Himself as the example of greatness that serves, are best understood as referring to His wonderful act of washing the disciples’ feet. Luke does not record it, and probably did not know it, but how strong are the words if we bring them into connection with it!”
[edited to update archaic terminology; bold and italic are my emphasis and comments in brackets [comment] are mine.]

Noblesse oblige if you will (the nobles obligation to the less fortunate). We have specific responsibilities as sons and daughters of the most high King. Not that we have earned the right as children of the King, but that God has commanded it of us. As believers, we suddenly find ourselves adopted by the King, having been the poor orphan, destitute in every way until we were rescued. We are now in the house of the King as children and our responsibilities are now different. We were once less fortunate and now we need to lead and serve like our Father, the King of Glory!

So what does a good leader look like in a church?

Here are five of the most important aspects of being a good church leader (or in any organization sacred or secular)—

  1. To be humble. Have humility. Be gentle. Kind. Confess that Christ is Lord over one’s life. That we cannot do anything without Him and yet do all things in Him. To die to self and live for others. To consider others more important than ourselves. To serve as Christ served. To humble ourselves before God. To be teachable. To be hospitable. Caring for the flock (staff, team, everyone) willingly, happily. Be a good example. Encourage others.
  2. To have Character. Honesty, Integrity. Be honorable. Faithful. Giving. Personally disciplined. The qualifications for elder in the church (or leader), require us to be full of character—one of the main ingredients of any true leader. People in and out of the church must speak well of the leader. Displaying and practicing the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Faithful to his wife. Loving, disciplining, and caring for his children—and his friends and workers.
  3. To be Resolute. Resolved to do good. No matter what. To seek to do good over all things that pull against God’s truth. To get on and stay on target without wavering. To accomplish the goals. To hold fast to the truths of God and practice them and exhort and encourage others to do the same. Protect the flock. Be a strong believer.
  4. To be Pure. Holy. As the Father is pure and holy (John 3:3, Matthew 5:48). Not loving the things of the world, nor the world, but loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and loving others as ourselves. Live a blameless and upright life. Love what is good. Do what is good.
  5. To be Wise. To understand the mystery of the faith (Gospel) and to be able to teach it. To be constantly learning and growing in God’s word and good leadership practices. To be old enough to have gained enough wisdom to make good and right decisions. Be just and righteous. To be strong. A manager of God’s household. Able to show others who oppose sound teaching where they are wrong… gently. Able to stand against false teaching.

True Level 5 Leaders (the pinnacle in leadership) are humble and resolved. They are kind and yet deal with the hard things in a timely and loving fashion. They love at all times. They are born for adversity. They are there to help. They measure success by how well they help others succeed. If you can help each individual succeed based on the vision and mission at hand, you build the team into a cohesive group.

Let me take a moment and talk about being “resolved.” Don’t get the impression that I am saying a Pastor/leader is to be a weak individual, or one who is easily swayed, or any such thing. Shepherds are to be strong—think David fighting a bear and a lion. There is no weakness there. To be resolved is to stay on target. To do the right thing. To be found approved for the task. To make it happen. The key is adding the humble part to this—we are called to be humble, kind, gentle, loving, peacemakers, etc. This does not mean in any way, shape, or form to be weak! It’s a both and—not an either or. The point is to be both 100% resolved (strong) and 100% humble (gentle). Those are the best leaders—and the correct leadership principles. When you feed your sheep, do so with love and kindness. When you take on the wolves, do so to drive them away.

No one is born a good leader. It takes time, study, practice, and persistence to become a good leader. There are some personality blends that have a propensity for the five things above, but they still need to be honed and fine-tuned. The next article will delve into how to become a good leader. Having all those traits will qualify you to be a leader—but that doesn’t mean you will lead well if you don’t know how to use those tools and skills to get yourself and your team to flourish and accomplish. Being a great violinist accomplishes nothing if you don’t play.

Here are five things you cannot be as a church leader (secular leaders would do well to reject these things as well for they will destroy you and/or your team sooner if not later)—

  1. Arrogant. Quarrelsome. Quick-tempered. Harsh. Unkind. Selfish. Domineering—and you don’t have to excel greatly at these negative traits—you could just have them a little. In my book, Who’s Killing Your Church, I concentrate on the Dominant personality blends because they are over—represented in upper church leadership. Dominants are good leaders when they are under control and under authority, and can be a great asset to the church. However, Dominants can have many of the weaknesses in this list and it can play havoc with them and the congregation. They don’t have a lock on these attitudes, but they do have a proclivity for them when they are not under control (1 Timothy, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5, etc.). And other personality styles can struggle with these things too—in different ways.
  2. Lack of self-control. Without self-control we can go the wrong way very quickly. It is a fruit of the Spirit and what helps all the other fruits to be accomplished. When we don’t have the ability to do the right thing at the right time, we can hurt others (and ourselves) and do damage to the image of Christ.
  3. Lack of Integrity. Dishonest with money. Given to passions. Addictions (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.). Even if just under the line. We’re constantly battling something. As we grow in Christ, we learn to have self-control and learn to not indulge our thoughts and actions. We struggle with the sins of the heart from the sermon on the mount.
  4. New convert. Inexperienced. Immature. Otherwise he may become conceited and puffed up and fall into the condemnation of Satan. When someone is not emotionally, experientially, or intellectually ready for a higher position, it can cause that person to become arrogant, looking to their own wisdom instead of God’s wisdom. The more someone thinks they are ready, the less they usually are. The more someone thinks they know less and less about God as they grow, the wiser they are becoming. Don’t be quick to appoint an unprepared elder/leader.
  5. Not careful with the truth. Out for personal gain. Selfish. Their purpose is to meet their own needs without meeting the needs of others first. You cannot be a good leader unless you serve others. Help others get to where they want/need to be and you build the organization as a team.

These are typically negative attitudes of those that have made it on their own and need no one; or those who have achieved at the expense of others. All of these things God specifically calls us away from—to flee from. If we have any of these attitudes or practices, we are disqualified as a leader in the church. If we develop them over time from not being accountable or not growing in grace, we are called to repent from them and seek good leadership practices as noted earlier above.

It’s not all love and fuzzy feelings…

It’s important to note that from time to time a church leader is called to do some very hard things—like disciplining a wayward member of the church or even removing that member from church membership. But these are never to be done harshly but with humility. To be resolved to act for sure, but humbly with gentleness. God set these things up for a purpose—to protect the flock. We should never disagree with these things just because we don’t like them, think they are antiquated, or think they are unjust—then we are calling good evil. If you want to set up a religious club, then it’s okay to set your own rules. But if you want to build a church according to God’s heart, the leaders must adopt these guidelines from His teaching.

Leaders can fall off either side of the leadership path—one side being too strict and harsh with people, meaning they make rules that God doesn’t make and force people to follow them (“tying up heavy loads on the backs of the people of God and not lifting a finger to help them remove the load” Matthew 23:4). I might add harshness is also when you speak truth to people, tell them the hard things, but don’t offer an understanding of God’s forgiveness and teaching on repentance. That’s wrong. Or they can be too lenient, meaning they allow those things God has not permitted or commanded us specifically not to do. The key is knowing God well and knowing His word well so we can help others know what God has truly said and not what we have said in His name that He didn’t say.

As a member of a church, you want your shepherd leaders to lead with a staff and a rod. You want them to guide you gently in righteousness with the staff and discipline you when you intentionally run from the truth with the rod (metaphorically speaking). I know I do. I don’t want to be allowed to do whatever I want if I’m wrong—go on sinning either intentionally or unintentionally. That’s potentially deadly to me and those around me. And I do dumb stuff from time to time—we all do. We’re all only one step away from stupid sometimes. God is constantly training me and disciplining me—and His shepherds are His tool of choice sometimes. I need the body (of believers) and I need His leaders—and so do you. That’s why you want a shepherd who is both strong and kind. Wise and not harsh. Willing to discipline—in love. I know I do (Hebrews 12:11).

“You’re too soft!”

There are a number of people that will look at these qualifications for being a good leader and say that these people/qualifications are too meek, too soft, not tough enough. First, I would say you’re not disagreeing with me, you’re disagreeing with God. Almost all these qualifications, requirements, and commands, are taken directly from Timothy, Titus, and other scriptures, and a few from good leadership practices that typically can be corroborated in the scriptures. Second, I would say you need to go back and read what I wrote. Those (tough) things are all in there. I think because you are probably a Dominant or Task oriented person, you honestly think everyone needs to lead the way you think—the way you lead. Strong, accomplishment minded, driven. Those are good traits! Yes—everyone should lead that way! And those are also all Task oriented skills. You must also (also—did I say also?) lead with People oriented skills or you will lose your team. In fact, you must begin with people oriented skills—and then move to task skills. Two thirds of the population—and therefore probably two thirds of your team/congregation, are People oriented (unless you are leading engineers, doctors, pilots, etc., who are typically task oriented, which is why you need to understand personality as well). If you don’t know how to lead people properly, you will not grow your team (congregation) and at some point, you will lose momentum, demotivate, or lose your team. And that will not get you to your goal.

This is where good leadership starts—not ends.

In the next article we will look at how to become a good leader—the steps to raising your Leadership Lid — or ability—as a leader. The link below will be active/highlighted once the article has been posted. So you don’t miss any training,  sign up here to get our weekly leadership and personality emails to grow your leadership ability. Leadership doesn’t happen in a day (or one article), but it does happen daily.

Much love in Christ…

Royce & The Caris Team

Next Article: Church Leadership: How to become an exceptional, Level 5 leader! (not active yet—available August 16, 2019)

Church Leadership Training from The Caris Group

 

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