“What do you mean provide leadership? I’m a pastor; of course that’s what I do.”
I agree… to say we as pastors must provide leadership doesn’t sound like an “aha” moment. But it can be. Truly forming a full understanding of what it means to provide leadership and implementing a servant leadership culture in your church is a huge touchdown. Success can lead to renewal of enthusiasm, energy, and enjoyment. And we all want to enjoy ministry!
The Three Components of Providing Leadership:
Dr. Jim Laub is the author of the Organizational Leadership Assessment (www.olagroup.com), a heavily researched model of servant leadership. He identifies six disciplines that when practiced make for effective leadership and a successful organization - yes the church is an organization as well as an organism. As you can guess, one of the six core servant leadership principles is providing leadership. “Providing leadership” may sound as simple as “Go get ‘em tiger,” but in actuality it can be as difficult as facing an undefeated team in a championship.
There are three critical components to providing leadership: envisioning the future, initiating action, and clarifying direction.
1. How to Envision the Future
You, the pastor, are responsible for establishing vision and direction. Professor and church consultant, Aubrey Malphurs, states that, “Vision is a clear, challenging picture of the future of the ministry, as you believe that it can and must be.”
Conveying your vision involves the following critical steps:
• Paint a clear picture of the preferred future. What is the desired end state?
• Take into account the dreams and aspirations of those you lead; they need to see themselves in the picture.
• Test your vision with your leaders and be open to their input.
• Articulate the vision clearly, deliver it passionately, and implement it relentlessly.
Crafting and casting vision requires boldness, a sense of daring. Just like football coaches, leaders have to be willing to step out and take risks, to step into unknown territory. The known has you where you are. It’s time for the unknown, uncharted waters of uncertainty based on the clear vision God has given you, the passionate picture of a preferred future.
I have found, particularly in smaller churches, that being caught up in management costs you effective leadership. Do all you can to free yourself from operational management so you can champion the vision and develop strategies to fulfill it.
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. - Helen Keller
2. How to Initiate Action
Leaders are active not passive, they act rather than react. A bold vision without corresponding execution is only a dream. Taking the initiative to act involves being dissatisfied with the status quo, seeing the changes that need to be made, and seizing new opportunities. Perhaps church problems, malcontents, or conflicts have gone unattended for years before you arrived as pastor. Rather than bemoan the situation, it’s time for you to lovingly, patiently, and firmly address the issues. Do not see the hurdles as barriers, but as challenges to overcome, as doorways to new and improved ministry effectiveness.
It may be that everyone and everything is “fine” within your ministry but the church’s mission of making disciples lies dormant. Through prayerful preparation you must develop a plan, communicate a sense of urgency, and establish high expectations for your people.
Pastors need to take the initiative in moving the ball down the field. Progress isn’t all about the fifty yard touchdown bomb; rather it is the consistency of three yards and a cloud of dust. Leaders and teams can always celebrate one hard fought first down after another, because that’s what leads to progress and advancement in ministry.
Proverbs 6:6 uses the illustration of ants to teach some valuable lessons about initiating action.
Lessons from the Ant:
1. The ant takes initiative on her own without needing external prompting.
The ant has no chief, officer, or ruler. No one is prodding, pleading, or motivating her to do something. We can emulate the ant in taking initiative by pursuing opportunities, figuring out how to get the work done, and disciplining ourselves to stay focused on the task.
2. The ant takes action.
She knows what to do and when to do it. She doesn’t postpone activity, or make excuses for not doing the work, but says “Let’s get it done.” When the ants’ mound is destroyed, rebuilding begins immediately. Nothing stands in their way. It’s easy to succumb to talking about what needs to be done instead of doing what needs to be done. Ideas are easy, executing is hard.
There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.
– Mark Twain
3. How to Clarify Direction
A key aspect of leadership is getting everyone on the same page; imagine a team huddle if you will. It is building ministry alignment. The leader (pastor) and followers (people) know where they are going, why they are going there, and who does what to help get the team there. Ask yourself, “Do people have the direction they need to carry out their ministry responsibilities?” This requires clear communication.
Two Vital Aspects of Clear Communication:
Some people don’t like much of anything to do with structure. It seems stifling and inhibiting. But for clarity of communication, time must be taken to determine what to say and how to say it. As a pastor, you do this every week with your sermons. It also needs to be done with your leadership communication. Meandering doesn’t work well when preaching and teaching and it doesn’t work well in setting direction either. Well-structured messaging gives confidence to the listeners that you know where you are heading and where you are taking them.
Here are some quick tips for delivering important, clear communication:
• Spend time anticipating questions and objections, and forming appropriate responses.
• Establish your mental and emotional framework.
• Determine which attitudes you want to express.
• Say the words out loud - try out different combinations to hear how they sound.
• What tone of voice will you use? What facial expressions and body language will match the words and attitudes you have chosen?
This may all sound like too much work for a seemingly simple leadership communication. But misunderstanding happens easily and takes precious time to attempt to overcome.
For some this is a strong suit, while others of us have to consciously work at being inspirational. Inspiration helps leaders gain buy-in and reaches people at the level of their emotions. It provides positive energy for the group and the achievement of their goals. Effective leadership communication delivers the message with passion. Being expressive says “this is important.” At the same time it is positive and encouraging. We can do this together.
Encouragement gives confidence and hope to those you lead. It helps them feel good about the work they are doing in advancing the mission of the church. The Bible exhorts us to, “Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We do this personally but also with the congregation as a whole.
The Ball’s in Your Hands:
Envision the future. Initiate action. Clarify direction. Which of these three areas do you need or want to develop? You may find it helpful to select one and prioritize one or two action steps that you can implement beginning this week. As the shepherd of God’s flock, you are the leader taking the sheep to the green pastures of responsibility as well as rest. There may be unexpected obstacles when you’re coaching in the most important championship of all, but the good news is that you’ve got the ultimate head coach! He’ll see you through.
Glenn C. Stewart, is the pastor of Faith Community Church in DeBary, FL. and the founder of LifeEquip, Inc. (a coaching and consulting ministry for pastors and churches). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.