Do you want to grow your ability to lead? If so, you’re not alone. Year after year, new leadership books are published and new leadership blogs are launched. The demand to develop such skills seems unquenchable.
The problem with new books, however, is that they have to say things that are new. But in your efforts to grow as a leader you can’t overlook the basics. Leadership really is simpler than you think. Let’s not overlook these basics of effective church leadership.
1. Implement decisions
When I say “implement decisions” I’m assuming that a decision was made in the first place. Leadership is essentially decision-making and decision-implementing. What direction are you taking your church? What are you going to preach on? What issues do you need to address, and in what order? These are all decisions that leaders make.
What about collaboration? Don’t good leaders interact with others to get advice, feedback, and buy-in? Yes, of course they do. But which conversations you open up with your teams and how you frame them flow out of previous decisions you made as the leader.
Once you’ve made a decision, of course, your work has only begun. The implementation phase is where the real work starts, when you translate abstract concepts into concrete actions and outcomes.
2. Think long-term
It is easy to get caught up in short-term crises and lose sight of the big picture. All you have is motion – not forward motion – when you take our eyes off the overall direction of the church. You can make a move to solve a problem now, but if you don’t think long-term, your decision may give you more problems in the future.
But if you want to be effective – that is, if you want to lead your church toward loving God more, following Jesus more faithfully, and making a bigger impact for his kingdom – then you need think long-term. Church decisions need to be weighed in terms of years, not months. We need to regularly be asking ourselves, “How will this decision play out five years from now?” If the future doesn’t look as good as you think, have the guts to make an adjustment or call the whole thing off.
3. Don’t let things get personal
While it is impossible to separate our emotions entirely from our decision-making, a common problem in churches is to make decisions purely by emotions. Loyalty trumps logic. Relationships skew reality. Sentiment prevails over obvious practical needs.
The result is you find yourself being pressured to compromise the best interests of your church in order to keep people happy. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked in emotionally. Keep what is best for your church or ministry in front of you, so that you can make objective and wise decisions.
4. Be honest
Great leaders are honest in how they deal with others. For the pastor, that means not sugarcoating a tough passage. It means telling each spouse of a near-broken marriage how they need to repent and how they need to forgive. It means being clear about why you made certain decisions, rather than simply giving reasons you think will be palatable to people who disagree.
You also need to be honest in your estimation of reality. You can’t let your hopes, idolatries, or personal ideals affect how you interpret situations. A pastor friend of mine recently said, “Reality is your friend.” It is no use living in denial when ministry doesn’t go your way. Good leaders assess with sober minds and then act accordingly.
5. Be diligent
While leaders accomplish their goals through the participation of others, that doesn’t mean there is no work for them to do themselves. Pastors have sermons to prepare, ministries to launch or grow, emails to write, meetings to facilitate, people to disciple, and more. If we are not diligent every day to make these things happen, we won’t move our churches an inch.
Pastors can get away with laziness for a little while if they manage to preach well on Sunday. Most people won’t notice right away. But God knows. And we know. Which should be motivation enough for us to bring our “A game” every day, not just Sunday.
Each of these basics requires sacrifice
None of these characteristics of leadership are easy. They each cost us something. Making a decision costs you other opportunities you could have pursued. Thinking long term can cost you easy wins right now. Honesty and keeping personal feelings out of your decision-making might cost you a relationship, if that person confuses your loyalty to him or her and your commitment to your church and its mission. Diligence requires you to sacrifice comfort.
We will only make these sacrifices if we keep Jesus’ sacrifice for us at the forefront of our minds. He made these same small sacrifices for us in his life and ministry, and he paid the ultimate sacrifice for us when he died for our sins. Our leadership must not only follow his example of sacrificial leadership, but it must also flow out of his sacrifice for us. That will ensure that wherever we lead our church, we will be leading it towards him.