Someone would have to be slightly out of their mind to ever want to lead a church. Within a few years of living in Ireland I began to see how people changed in their attitude and behaviour towards a friend as soon as they took on a role that might have leadership connotations. Suddenly that person became suspicious. How would they have ever made it into that role or accepted it unless they were hungry for power? They must think themselves better than they actually are. Then there is the whole issue with authority in general. Who actually has the right to tell me what to do? There is an assumption that they are in leadership to control and abuse for their own selfish purposes. In reality, what is actually going on in us is more likely to be jealousy, insecurity or pride. We might just be projecting our own weaknesses onto them.
I want control of this situation. I would have made a much better leader. If people would just listen to me and do things the way I think they should we wouldn’t have any of the issues these leaders are causing.
And yet, if offered leadership most of us would turn it down because we really don’t want to be the person that so many people throw rotten eggs at. We should know, we’ve thrown them ourselves for years.
As people who put our faith in Jesus (a.k.a. Christians) we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In other words – we have a lot of thoughts that are just untrue and unhelpful about God, ourselves and others. Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) What does this mean when thinking about leadership?
Sometimes our original assumptions are true about leaders. They might be power hungry. It is quite possible that they are just wanting control. When we assume a leader wants these things without any proof, then we are in the wrong. I have found that most church leaders start with the best of intentions. They have a clear nudge from God and enough conviction that makes them risk the gauntlet and train for a position that will get them nowhere if they quit that “profession”. My brother recently told me that he doesn’t think that pastor’s kids will ever be able to have a pastor. I think he is right. We know that they are human and we often see more of the inner struggles and challenges than others might have a chance to see. By the way, I was a strong-willed child so didn’t make life easy either! So, with the personal insight of living in a pastor’s home and participating in churches for most of my life, let me present a few things that can often distract and play on the weaknesses of church leadership.
Over spiritualising differences of opinion – I don’t agree with you so one of us must not be walking close enough with God or really get his truth. Since I know I am on track, it must be you. Therefore, God is unhappy with you … and your leadership … and your family … and everything you touch. Actually, who do you think you are that you are leading God’s people?
Nit-picking – There is a problem with the colour of paint on the walls, the noise level coming from the other room, the number of people in church, what was preached about, the lack of number of people in church … and there is an email or phone call every single day until something is done about the first item on the list, then it will move to item number two until all one million items are ticked off.
People wanting everything done for them – The leader is in charge so what do we need to do about it? If he (or she) wanted something done he (or she) would invite me over for dinner, hear my life story, pray for me, ask me what I would like to see changed in the church, ask me to get involved and then leave it up to me as to whether or not I have the time to participate in church life.
Unrealistic miraculous expectations – I want people to know Jesus but don’t make me talk about him or even mention Christian ethos anywhere. That could ruin my reputation. I want to become more and more like him but don’t ask me to do anything about it. If God wants these things to happen, he is big and strong enough that if I pray he will make it happen.
Stuck in roles that don’t play to their strengths – The pastor should be able to do his own administrative work, visit everyone in the church once a week, preach a life changing sermon, have compassion on the poor, make me feel warm and loved, challenge the lifestyle of the person next to me, facilitate and train volunteers really well, organise ministries to meet the needs of every individual in the church …
These are just a few and when they consume 50% or more of a church leader’s energy every week there is little left to give to the good stuff and their families. There is one glaring difference between church leaders and organisational leaders. Church leaders are leading people they don’t get to interview first. They don’t check with church goers to see if they match the values of the church or if they are a best fit. They have to lead whoever walks through the door. They do not lead performance reviews for every church goer and are not meant to be volunteer coordinators, thanking everyone for being there and doing such a good job. They are there under the authority of God to lead people to him and his kingdom both now and forever. Trust me, God is judging anyone who takes up the role harsher than we are. But his judgement has more to do with church leadership being in line with him than in line with me.
If we care about God’s church, in whatever shape or form that takes, we will work towards the good of it. Here are things might be helpful:
Spot the people God is leading into full-time Christian leadership – Take a good look around and take notice of the teenagers and adults who wrestle with God and strive to live out heaven on earth. Listen to hints they might be giving that God is asking them to take on leadership. Encourage them and help them find good mentors who will walk with them through their journey.
Be on the new leader’s side – Get to know their story of how they got where they are. Let their actions and words prove their character, not gossip or our own hangups. We will not always be buddy buddy with them but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be our leader.
Check our own motives – How do we feel about leadership? Are we just projecting our own insecurities onto them? Are we just trying to get them on board with our cause?
Give balanced feedback – If we are going to challenge things we think should change or things we are concerned about, we should also be affirming and encouraging the things that are going well. This is probably not helpful to do every week!! That is a lot of time wasted on having to deal with feedback and little time to actually do something about it.
Take responsibility – If we see a need, offer to fill it or find someone else who has the time, talent and passion for it. Someone once said to me that he only starts new ministries when there is a leader for it. Our faith and our choices are also ultimately ours. We can’t blame anyone else for them.
Pray for them – Leading a bunch of Christians has spiritual dynamics that can destroy a person if given a chance. Like it or not, we need them and we need them spiritually healthy. Jesus’ prayer is for unity and love for his people. When the leaders are gone people flounder in faith and society like wisps of dandelion fluff.
Let them get it wrong on occasion – Yes, this is the human bit. I know I learn from my mistakes and the least helpful thing is someone having a one strike, you’re out clause.
Treat them like you would like to be treated – Respectfully, generously, warmly … after all, they are just human.
Don’t be the devil on their shoulder – Don’t tempt them to lead unethically. Don’t put them in uncompromising positions. Encourage them towards transparency and authenticity. Encourage them towards ethical business practice. Encourage and care for their family members.
There are some church leaders who really shouldn’t have been there in the first place or who have lost their effectiveness. There are leaders who are abusive (spiritually, emotionally, physically, sexually) and should be dealt with accordingly. However, most are just regular people who couldn’t escape it when God told them to give up everything in pursuit of him and his beautiful church. Do you want that role? I know I don’t.