Last week I wrote on the reality that pastors have to be better leaders than leaders in other segments of society. Today I want to point out that effective leaders, no matter where they are called to lead, must first learn to lead themselves or they will never lead others at a high level.
One major area where pastors and other Christian leaders “should” have a significant advantage in is self-leadership. On a daily basis, God’s Spirit seeks to speak truth to our spirit. Unfortunately, pastors are no different than any other professing believer, because there are times when our actions or our failures to act will grieve or quench the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30 and I Thessalonians 5:19). However; when we are being filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we become broken vessels that God can and does use in powerful ways. I will not labor the point by preaching to the preachers on this topic; however, I will say that unless we are in a truly accountable relationship with other pastors, we will become easily self-deceived. Let me use one of my Wyoming cowboy analogies at this point. Satan’s number one tool for making a pastor an ineffective leader is to cut him out of the herd. Once he has you trying to do your job on your own, the clock is ticking. It’s only a matter of time before a self-isolated pastor’s ministry will falter. Our culture is full of fallen and disgraced pastors who thought they could do it on their own.
Another reality of self-leadership is that it takes time and prioritization. While I am busy trying to lead others, I can easily lose sight of the need to lead myself. We have to be able to hear our inner voice, and that of God’s Spirit, whispering to us over the cacophony and the cries of the world around us. Those of us who have a special portion of compassion (shepherds) are drawn to care for the hurting hoards that surround us. Those of us who are driven by the gift of evangelism are focused on the lost and dying in our midst. Those of us who are gifted in leadership will always be striving to make those around us better leaders. Those of us who are uniquely gifted in administration (overseers) will always be tweaking our organizational processes and the people who staff them so they can function more effectively. It is absolutely Biblical that we serve as God has uniquely gifted each of us (I Timothy 4:14). But, we must always be serving out of the overflow, mindful of the admonition in Psalm 46:10 to “be still, and know that I am God.” Lead yourself to frequent times of refreshment with Him.
Speaking of time, we all know that trusted leaders are more effective leaders and unfortunately it takes time to build trust. The fact is that there are churches whose history requires a LOT OF TIME before a pastor can develop trust. I had a conversation yesterday with a church leader whose church is currently looking for a new pastor following the painful resignation of its last pastor. Our visit basically revolved around a lack of trust that exists between members and their current lay-leadership team. Knowing the church’s history, my only counsel was to be patient and prayerful because it will take time for trust to be reestablished.
But it takes both time AND effective leadership. You cannot expect people to follow if you are not leading yourself well. Do you follow-through on what you say you will do? Scheduling a meeting and then not showing up communicates disrespect for others. Are you punctual with your appointments? Showing up late tells others that their time doesn’t matter. Do you do your homework before meetings and do you have a printed agenda for them? Stumbling and stammering your way through a meeting is a quick way to destroy leadership credibility. Trust can be destroyed in a minute.
Bottom line! To effectively lead others we have to be a better leader of oneself. To lead ourselves better we must yield every minute to God’s leadership through His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.