How do you recognise good leadership?
When you’ve been well led. Really well led.
Introducing two super supers - Greg and Patricia.
Greg was the news director at BBC Radio Solent when I worked there during the 1990s. Patricia was my supervisor at the American Red Cross Blood Services during the late 1990s-early 2000s.
They were both super supers. I learnt a lot from both of them.
They were both outstanding at their jobs. Greg was a wonderful journalist. He asked the right questions, was extremely well-informed, wrote well, and he had confidence in his own judgement. In a fast-paced newsroom, decisions over which stories to pursue demands an unerring intuition about what constitutes real news and what is just fluff. He was miles ahead of me, so every day I learnt something new from him. Things are moving so quickly in a newsroom that a leader must make decisions and project confidence that those decisions are the right ones. He was rock solid.
Patricia was – and still is – a trained nurse with a vast knowledge base. She knew the procedures for every department, and she understood how the whole – rather cumbersome – system worked. I trusted her to answer my questions and do so clearly.
What does it mean for a church leader to be competent?
Perhaps you’re expecting me now to write about servant leadership. Or maybe you think I should mention integrity. I certainly wouldn’t want to downplay the importance of either of those. Not at all. They’re both essential. However, I take it for granted that leaders should be people of integrity who follow in Jesus’ footsteps, who live out his words in Mark’s gospel.
Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10. 44b – 45a.)
Integrity and humble service are the absolute minimum requirements of leadership. Without these, a leader cannot lead the people of God.
So perhaps my focus should be on a leader’s ability to preach the Word of God. There isn’t a shadow of doubt that teaching and preaching are essential skills for a leader in the church. They are tools which every leader must have, and gifts that all leaders should develop. No question.
But is that enough?
Integrity and humble servanthood are essential character traits. Preaching is an essential skill. But when you put these together, are they enough? If I have these, does that make me a leader?
I wish I could answer “yes.” But I can’t.
Nor is “being a lovely person” enough. There are lots of lovely people around. They’re not all leaders. Preaching well is wonderful, but preaching is just one means by which people grow in their knowledge of the Lord. It is important, but not sufficient.
Leadership is a skill. Just like preaching, motorcycle maintenance, and software programming. It doesn’t just appear and settle on a person once they are appointed a Rev/Pastor.* Sadly, church leaders often take on their jobs with a list of tasks that need to be completed. Those tasks then become the masters, demanding that the leader complete them to the best of their ability. Running a Sunday service. Preaching. Leading a prayer meeting. Chairing meetings. These tasks may be important but they are not your masters. As a leader, these tasks are supposed to help you achieve your goals; they do not constitute the limits of your leadership.
So what is effective Christian leadership? Dallas Willard, writing on spiritual formation, uses the acronym VIM. Vision, Intention, Means. The vision to know where you’re going, the intention to reach the destination, and the means to get there.
For leaders, the acronym needs slight modification. It’s VIPM. Whoops, not much of an acronym.
Vision – (see our earlier blog post here)
Inspiration – the ability to inspire followers
Plan – a plan to achieve the goal
Means – a means to implement the plan
The vision is simply a clear idea over the primary goal of the church. For leaders, this is very straightforward. (See our 'Forming Followers' post.)
Make disciples (Matt. 28).
Equip and release people for works of service (Eph. 4.11-13).
How did my super supers do this?
They “made disciples” by giving me a vision of what they wanted and encouraging me to improve. They lifted my eyes to help me believe that I could become a better journalist/teacher. They accomplished this in a couple of ways, which made me their follower. First, their competence was a model which I followed. Second, they showed interest in me as a person.
Patricia achieved this in various ways. She didn’t just see me as a member of the department, she knew all about me as a person. Or at least as much as I would reveal to her. She wasn’t being nosey. She was showing that she cared about me. She encouraged me, supported me, trained me, and yes, inspired me to aim high. I am forever grateful for her inspirational leadership.
Greg noticed everything I did. He noticed everything that everyone did. He was brutally honest about our mistakes – we knew when we’d messed up – but he didn’t run us down. He lifted us up. I once went to interview a government minister (Kenneth Clarke) when I shouldn’t have done. (Long story.) I knew I had disappointed him; I’d followed my own ego instead of focusing on the right priorities. But I admired him so much that my error fed a desire to improve, to ensure that I would never make the same mistake again. During the local elections, I had the chance to redeem myself. I was sent to report from a polling station, where I sent in a creative piece (uncommon in local radio) on the various candidates. Some of the other reporters were superb; I didn’t expect much feedback from him, but of course, he was Greg. He had listened, and he had noticed. His praise for my report, when it came, swelled my heart. I will be forever grateful to him for showing interest in my development as a journalist.
My super supers trained me, encouraged and supported me; they inspired me. That’s why I followed them. That’s why I listened to them. They modelled professional excellence in their behaviour and with their guidance, I improved as a journalist and as a teacher.
How well do you know your people? I mean, really know them. Asking about the football or the children has its place, but for a leader, it’s not enough. You’re making disciples, and you can’t do that unless you show you care about how your people are growing. Isn’t it astounding that we will ask how the children are doing or if a person likes their new job, but when it comes to the most important question of all, we back off? We can do better. If you care about the growth of your people, it is necessary to ask, now and then, these kinds of questions:
What has God been teaching you recently?
How is your prayer life nowadays?
How is God challenging you?
These questions go deeper, and they show you care about the most important thing in life: following Jesus. Somehow, then, we must push past our fears, and show interest in the spiritual growth of those in our community. That’s what Patricia and Greg did. They showed interest in my professional growth. I couldn’t just show up and tread water, and hope they wouldn’t notice. They noticed. They always noticed.
Because they cared.
That’s why those questions are necessary. Not all the time, of course, but when the time is right. When God nudges you forward. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? A leader interested in how I’m doing in my faith – how can that not be an encouragement to me as I stand in front of you holding my coffee cup and . . .
In despair over possibly losing my job
Struggling in my marriage
Excited about what I read in the Bible this week
Confused about the future
At last, a leader who doesn’t just make jokes about the local football team. Here is someone who will help me grow, who will pray with me as I face challenges in my life, or rejoice with me over what I’ve been learning in God’s Word.
Plan and Means
Greg and Patricia knew exactly what my job was, and how to equip me with the skills to do it well. Better journalism, better training, they showed me the way. For a church leader, it’s not so simple. A better way of living? More obedience? More sacrifice? No wonder leaders feel out of their depth when faced with the many struggles that people face.
Plan and Means for leaders has to do with one thing alone: implementing a plan to make disciples. I wrote about that a couple of weeks ago. More obedience? More faith? Leaders joyfully throw up their hands and say, “I give up! I can’t do! But I know someone who can help.”
How wonderful that when facing the impossible task of forming followers, we have a supervisor who stands out as exceptional, who carries us when we’re weary, who equips us, knows us and cares for us.
He is our all-sufficient Saviour.
He truly is a super super.
*Other titles are available.