Forty years ago at this time of year, a seventh-grade classmate was sharing the gospel daily with me. I was months away from accepting God’s gracious salvation, but I was daily contemplating gospel truths – even as a thirteen year old.
Thirty-three years ago, I was about six weeks into my first pastorate. I knew very little, except to preach the gospel and tell everybody about Jesus. God blessed those efforts despite my inexperience in leading a congregation well.
Today, I still do not claim to be a great leader. The best I can say is I’m a leader who has learned, and who continues to learn, through my experiences and the experiences of others. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
- Realize you will not always be the leader. You are the leader now, but you will not lead forever. Callings change. Health issues erupt. Organizations restructure. And – though this thought is difficult for some of us to imagine – those organizations often go on well without us. We sometimes become only one of the pictures of past leaders hanging on the wall, all photographic reminders that an organization is much bigger than we are.
- Continually have an “intern” learning with you. Leadership is not only about what we do today; it is also about what happens when we’re no longer in the leadership role. I know few leaders who would say otherwise, but I also know few leaders who act as if they believe these words. Too many leaders seemingly are striving to build their own kingdom with little regard for what happens in a future beyond their leadership.
- Get some rest. Frankly, I’d prefer not to include this reflection, as I’m not very good at this one. I try to get needed rest at night, but I’m not faithful in taking time for vacation and renewal. I, like many other leaders, need to heed the words of the great theologian John Stott, “God knew what he was doing when he gave us one day’s rest in seven, and we should not claim greater wisdom than he.”
- Prioritize evangelism. Church leadership – whether full-time, part-time, or volunteer – is so multi-faceted and time consuming that it’s easy to fail to do evangelism. Evangelism is not likely to occur unless we prioritize it in our conversations, our relationships, and our daily calendar.
- Enlist prayer partners. Do not assume that others are praying regularly for you simply because you are a church leader. The reality is that many church members pray for you only when they learn of a problem. Your leadership will be stronger if you have enlisted and challenged a specific group of people to pray for you intentionally and regularly.
- Take care of your body. God created all of our being, including our bodies. Our physical being faces enough struggle simply because of our fallenness; why exacerbate the problem by failing to take care of ourselves? The work of God’s church is so great that we ought to strive to be fully able to carry out the task.
- Take at least one mission trip annually. Life situations may hinder following this suggestion, but the strongest leaders I know sacrifice time and funds to reach the nations. We have great access to the world, including places opposed to Christianity. The world has come to North America as well, so this “trip” might be across our continent. Again, though, leaders must prioritize this Great Commission commitment.
- Annually read at least one leadership biography. The Bible is all-sufficient for our task, but that truth does not preclude a need to learn from other sources. We can learn much – both positive and negative – by studying how historical leaders dealt with their specific contexts and issues. Moreover, biographies are often filled with illustrations for preaching and teaching.
- Be aware of the dangers of email. Because of my work with missionaries, I’m grateful for email. At the same time, though, email is dangerous. The buffer of cyberspace somehow permits us to be rude and ungodly at times in our interaction with others. Several friends I know fell morally into relationships that began with seemingly “safe” email intimacy. Needless to say, we leaders need godly wisdom here.
- Never stop learning and growing. When you think you no longer need to learn and grow, you’ve just forfeited your right to lead.
What other reflections would you add to this list?