My Greatest Asset as a Leader

by Rick Lowry

Just what is it that makes us effective Christian leaders?  A Bible college education?  Years of experience in church leadership?  The ability to program creatively?  As helpful as all of those things are, I’ve come to the conviction that my most important asset as a leader is knowing Christ deeply.
In Philippians 3:10, Paul glues together five little words that have a big impact:  “I want to know Christ.”  This was the purpose, the goal, of Paul’s life.  To experience depth in his relationship with his Lord.   But sometimes I fear that knowing Christ is not my identity.
If people ask me, “What do you do?”  I say, “I am a pastor.”  But I don’t recall any occasion when have I answered, “I am getting to know Christ.”  And yet nothing is more important, because I cannot lead people where I haven’t been myself (or am unwilling to go).
Paul said, “I want to know Christ” in a very interesting context.  In Philippians 3, he lists his spiritual accomplishments as a Jew.  They include the boast that he was a Pharisee, who kept the Old Testament Law impeccably.  Paul was everybody’s picture of the successful spiritual leader of his day.  He had the spiritual status of Billy Graham or Bill Hybels.  If Paul had lived in America today, he would have been on the speaking circuit at stadium events, and written top-selling books.  Paul had leaders all over the Mediterranean thinking, “I hope some day I can be like Paul!”
What was Paul’s response to all his religious success?  In his own words, he considered his status to be rubbish.  He didn’t set out to be famous; He set out to know Jesus.  And that determined his life and ministry priorities.
I keep having to face the reality there is not room in a normal human life for all the activities (even spiritual activities) we modern Americans try to squeeze into a day – and truly knowing Christ. If Paul could shoot forward a couple of thousand years and observe me for a week, I wonder what he would conclude about my life’s purpose.  Some days it seems like the work of the church is actually one of the greatest deterrents to me knowing Christ.  Is my work at the church really important enough to invest 70 or 80 or 90 hours every week, neglecting family – or worse, my own soul?  Who am I trying to prove something to?  God?  He’s not impressed with my activity.  What He really wants is intimacy.
In his book, “The Life God Blesses,” Gordon MacDonald has a chapter, “What Kind of an Old Man Do You want to Be?”  What will I wake up tomorrow and do differently?  What will I let go of?  If God lets me live to 70 or 80, I want those years to be my most spiritually-productive years.  In the meantime, that means a daily, weekly, yearly choice, for the rest of my life, to do whatever it takes to go deep with God. 

The Impact of a Leader’s Words

by Ken Idleman 

As I write, I’m reflecting on one of the big leadership lessons of our presidential campaign last fall.  One of the take-aways for me has been a fresh conviction about the importance of a leader’s spoken words.  Now, I know there are times when a leader’s words are intentionally taken out of context to unjustly indict him/her – and that is just not right, besides unfair.  But at other times, in our off-script, backstage or private conversations, unguarded speech can become self-indicting.  Our words can come back around to haunt us.  How many times have you and I heard actual recordings of thoughtless words, spoken by a leader that would, in the future, undermine credibility?
As a local church pastor, I remember an incident in which I learned, the hard way, the importance of “be[ing] quick to hear, slow to speak,” (James 1:19).  In a conversation with a middle-aged man, whose wife was exhibiting some extreme behavioral instability and threatening him with divorce, I sympathized, describing her as “occasionally being high maintenance.”  Well, he leveraged that intended privately-supportive comment, using my name, in an attempt to shame and humble her.  Needless to say, it did not produce the desired outcome.  Instead, we were both on the receiving end of her resentment.  As I have reflected, what was far worse from my standpoint, as her pastor, was the loss of my opportunity to lead her spiritually.  She closed-up and adopted a defensive posture.  And although the couple did not divorce, when the husband died recently, he and his wife were still separated.  
There is a sobering truth laced into the words of Jesus in Luke 12:3, “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!”  
Of course, the one thing we can do to protect our speech, ensuring that it builds up and does not tear down, is to work “upstream” of our speech, disciplining our inner life.  How or what we think/feel about any subject will be exactly what’s reflected in our speech.  Again, Jesus said in Matthew 15:18, “… the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you.” 
But our Creator has posted two sentries on either side of your mouth and mine.  They are called ears.  And, given the speed of sound, the first person to hear what you say will almost always be you.  So let’s listen to ourselves, especially when “off-platform.”  Let’s take careful spiritual inventory as we speak.  If we do, we’ll have nothing for which to apologize and nothing of which to be ashamed in the days ahead.

What Makes a Servant-Leader?

by Shawn McMullen 

The newscaster introduced his opinion segment with a story about an annoying passenger who sat near him on a recent flight.  The passenger snapped his fingers at a flight attendant to order a drink.  He snapped his fingers at another to get a pillow.  He snapped at an assistant to bring his laptop.

The newscaster spoke with indignation.  “No matter how you look at it,” he observed, “snapping at people smacks of pride and superiority.”  He guessed the annoying passenger would never treat the president of his company or the chairman of his board in such a manner and concluded, “People never snap up.  They always snap down.”

The program segued into a commercial break, but my thoughts remained on the snapper.  The more I thought about him, the more he became a picture to me of the human condition.  We may not care to admit it, but the temptation is real.  The more important we think we are, and the more influence we think we have, the less important others appear to us.

The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ final words to the nation of Israel—a refresher course in the law and a few final instructions.  God knew that one day the Israelites would want a king to rule over them.  And God knew that any man who became king of this great nation would need help keeping his ego in check.  So Moses left these instructions for all of Israel’s future kings:

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.  Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

Each new king was to keep his personal copy of the law on hand at all times, reading it all the days of his life.  This constant exposure to God’s Word would instill in the leader a sense of reverence, obedience, and humility.  It would shield him from the misguided notion that he was better than the people he led.  It would make him more than a leader; it would make him a servant leader.

Servant leaders are a different breed.  Lesser leaders pick and choose those to whom they show respect.  Servant leaders show respect to all people.  Lesser leaders pay attention to those who can help them.  Servant leaders acknowledge all who are around them.  Lesser leaders are enamored with their own projects and accomplishments.  Servant leaders are interested in the projects and accomplishments of others.  Lesser leaders secretly think they’re superior.  Servant leaders know they are not.

Whether or not we lead, God wants every believer to adopt the servant leader mindset.  So let’s keep God’s Word near us.  Let’s read it all the days of our lives.  Let’s cultivate a spirit of reverence and obedience.  Let’s never forget that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The men who make the best elders are those who stay behind after fellowship dinners to put away the tables and chairs.  A servant’s heart isn’t the sole criteria for leadership in Christ’s church, but it’s a powerful component.

I hope I remember that the next time I’m tempted to get “snap-happy.”

When the Spirit Chooses Leaders

by Jeff Faull

“Everything rises or falls with leadership.”  It’s as true in The Church as anywhere.  Healthy, growing churches are generally led by healthy, growing leaders.  Unhealthy, stagnating churches are often (not always) led by unhealthy, unqualified leaders.

Often, the reason for incompetent church leadership can be directly linked to the local body’s method of selecting leaders.  The process might become politicized, or perhaps bylaws or a constitution may constrain the process, whether in selection or in preventing a poor leader’s removal.  In any case, The Church suffers.
How Should We Select Leaders?
So how do we select Church leaders?  Some well-intentioned soul always chimes in, “The Holy Spirit chooses leaders.”  While that sounds good, haven’t we all observed far too many situations from which The Spirit was undeniably absent from leader selection?  But the core idea remains true: Paul did tell the Ephesians elders, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28, NIV).

We take solace in the fact that, submitted to God’s will, His Spirit will identify the right leaders.  He will guide us to these people when we use a consistent process, and we can confidently know God called someone into designated leadership. 

Dramatic examples of leader designations dot the Bible’s story.  Think Saul on his way to Damascus, the lots cast for Matthias, Gideon with a fleece, Moses at the bush, and more.  Today, in The Church’s era, The Spirit calls leaders through an un-dramatic method, but it is certain.  God’s instructions on leader selection came directly from The Spirit when He inspired the Biblical text.  Four criteria should be our filter to confirm the will of God in the leader-selection process.
The candidate should aspire to lead.
Paul told Timothy that a man should desire to be an elder.  We should never push someone unwilling into leadership.  But aspiring to leadership isn’t the sole criteria.  When God wants someone in such responsibility, He can prompt willingness in their heart.  Reluctant leaders with consistent reservations seldom excel in leading The Lord’s Church.
Leaders should have the approval of God. 
We know someone has God’s approval by their character, especially through qualities found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Carefully consider these when someone seeks a leadership position.  One of my preaching professors, Bob Stacy, reminded us the most important degree is an A.U.G. – “Approved Unto God.”  Ability, charisma, and general, generic leadership skills cannot make up for deficiencies that may come to light while studying these passages.  We must avoid two equally damaging extremes: these qualities cannot be narrowly, legalistically applied, nor casually reinterpreted or dismissed. The Church cannot afford to make “the image vs. substance mistake” and Paul’s directions here are critical. 
The candidate should be appraised by others.
Though the church is not a democracy, the congregation should get to voice their confidence over those being chosen as overseers.  Qualifying for the eldership also means we consider one’s reputation inside and outside the church.  The “choose from among you” mentality of Acts 6 is a wise approach, even with eldership.  Each congregation should have, in its process, an element enabling members to participate in leadership approval.  Part of leading is a willingness to be judged publicly by other Christians and church members.
Potential leaders should be appointed by existing leaders.
We seldom hear “evangelist” as a title today, yet many contend that it is a term used in Scripture for the local preacher.  His duties include “set[ing] the church in order” (Titus 1:5) and ordaining elders (1 Timothy 5:22).  Ephesians 4:11-13 establishes a shared and mutual responsibility for church leadership.  Therefore, we should assign the interviewing and screening of potential elders to an already-existing leadership team, (provided they’re healthy and biblically-functioning themselves).

Often, a potential leader has leadership qualities and character per 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but his leadership philosophy differs from the existing leadership.  The participation of and appointment by established staff and elders is vital to preserving harmony and effectiveness within the leadership team.
Fellow church leaders, let’s use this biblical, four-stage filter for The Holy Spirit to select great leaders for His Church:

  • Aspire to lead
  • Approve (from God’s word)
  • Appraise (by fellow Christians)
  • Appoint (by current [healthy] leaders)