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How Leadership Development Can Help the Church

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Everyone is a leader, even if they don’t think they are. Leadership isn’t always a “position,” either. My mentor John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more and nothing less.” Influence isn’t about “talking someone into your way of thinking” or telling someone what to do and how to behave. Leadership is about how you behave and who might be watching, listening to, or hearing you. That means that every person in the pew, at the pulpit, and in the office is a leader. Everyone has a sphere of influence.

George Barna, 20th-century statistician and church expert, says, “After fifteen years of digging into the world around me, I have reached several conclusions regarding the future of the Christian church in America. The central conclusion is that the American church is dying due to lack of strong leadership. In this time of unprecedented opportunity and plentiful resources, the church is actually losing influence. The primary reason is the lack of leadership.” The Bible provides us with one example after another of God’s leaders—their mistakes and their successes.

There are three aspects of leadership in the church that are often found lacking…

  1. People don’t believe they are leaders.

  2. People aren’t accountable as leaders.

  3. People aren’t intentional about legacy.

People Don’t Believe They Are Leaders

I was leading a Ruling Elder Session training recently for a group of people where 95 percent had served on the Session previously. They already knew what their responsibilities were according to the Book of Order. I didn’t want to bore them with the same old information, so instead, we discussed leadership from the aspect of accountability to their duties and the responsibility they had taken on as church leaders. Throughout the training, I watched the body language of everyone, but especially three of the people sitting at the table. One was a woman and two were men.

As we discussed accountability and responsibility, I watched astonishment and fear, intermittently, flit across the woman’s face (let’s call her Mary). At the end of the training, Mary paused to talk to me. I will never forget her words: “I had no idea I was considered a leader of anything, let alone in my church! I’m going to have to work extra hard at being the leader the church thinks I am!”

Leadership empowers and builds confidence.

One of the gentlemen—we’ll call him Peter for ease in the story—became more and more closed off during the discussion. Arms crossed over his chest. He slumped back in his chair. Then, Peter disengaged from the conversation. After a while, I asked for thoughts or questions. Peter slammed his hand on the table and blurted out, “I run a very successful business in this community! I’m running the Personnel Committee! Every person on the staff answers to me! My accountability is to God only! The people of this church gave me the responsibility to take care of business, and that’s what I’m doing!” Peter’s intentions for the church were good. His heart was in the right place. The problem was, there was managing going on—no leading or mentoring; no growing the staff (or Peter) in personal development or leadership. Peter didn’t realize that the staff was already moving into a time of high turnover due to his management style. Peter wasn’t leading, nor was he allowing others to lead.

Leadership is not positional. Jesus teaches leadership as serving each other as salt and light. (Mt 20:25-28)

The third of my trio on watch—let’s call him John—was the opposite of Peter. The further the conversation went, the taller John sat in his chair. He began leaning forward with his elbows on the table—completely engaged. John wanted to be a leader in the church. He wanted to mentor others, helping them to develop their leadership and faith to better serve the church and themselves. John wanted to be led as well. He asked questions of everyone in the room and listened to their answers. The better he understood and accepted the accountability of being a session ruling elder as a leader, the more he took on the responsibility of a leader. It wasn’t business as usual any longer.

Leadership creates a legacy. The legacy of the Church should be faith, discipleship, and building up rather than tearing down.

It takes courage to step up and lead because it’s the right thing to do for the congregation rather than staying in the comfort of normal. Being comfortable eventually creates an average congregation. Once a church hits average in its culture—some call it tired—it begins to lose the spark for living life fully for Christ.

Leadership is transformation—accountability to character, Christ-likeness, and standing firm in faith (which can’t happen without the action of study and worship and knowing what you believe).

The Rest of the Story

Some of you may be wondering where the pastor was during this training. He was at the table as well, taking notes on leadership and what the group was saying—hopes, desires, training ideas to help them lead better. He realized he needed to grow his leadership personally in order to help the session members and congregation to grow. He hired a leadership coach.

Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. Leadership must be a constant point of growth if we hope to further our personal potential and the potential of those we lead.

If you have any questions about leadership or how to grow it in your congregation, please reach out to me: (402) 580-0947 or Let’s transform together!

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