10 Reflections on Leadership

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

23 Comments

  • Mark says:

    I want to concur with your points on succession planning. I have seen few organizations who taught the next generation of leadership/management. Also, please don’t only mentor people who have the same ideas that you do or are the same gender. Also, for those in leadership, please talk to your friends about not having utter contempt for the younger generations. Those older people will likely not listen to anyone but you. Please help them to realize that their children and grandchildren are in this group.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Mark. I would differ with you on the mentoring issue, though. Unless we’re using the term “mentoring” differently, I would strongly recommend against mentoring someone of the opposite gender.

      • Mark says:

        My intent was “consider mentoring both genders”. Don’t limit those you mentor to only males or only females.

  • Christopher Poirier says:

    A few hit home for me today:

    3) Get some rest – I suffer from this as well, when work is to be done I always seem to want to crash through it all. Usually at my own expense and those in my family. Been praying about getting better about this myself. Solid advice.

    6) Take care of your body – Though I know everything you say to be true and even the culture around us is smacking us in the face with health these days, I still find it hard to force the time I should into my schedule to work out. I find myself scheduling workouts just like anything else on my calendar. God is in control of my life…but sometimes I think Google and Microsoft may be more so at times..

    and finally my favorite 10) Never stop learning – When I was younger and just starting out in the fire service (have been a volunteer since I was 17 years old) I had a chief officer that once told me the same thing. He was right. Besides finding my calling and passions grow over the years, one can never stop learning something new and benefiting from that. God truly wires us to want to absorb information and grow, reminding ourselves that its okay (culture at times lately seems to see education and ongoing education as a waste).

    Though I am just starting out my career in the church, I can see the shadows of those before me and this advice is truly helpful.

    -CGP

  • Nghiem says:

    I am really interested in this 10 reflection on Leadership. I agree with all. However, I also find that it is not easy to be a leader. On the one hand, I need to a rest, taking care of the body. On the other hand, I need to learn more and more, to do this, to do that….

  • Larry Purcell says:

    Chuck, great points. As are so many in ministry leadership, I am very driven. I have had to learn to not sacrifice things most important to me to be an effective Christian leader – my relationship to my Lord, my wife, my family, my health. Taking time weekly to plan the weeks investments in reading, devotions/prayer/, exercise, and family can make a more godly and effective leader.

  • Larry Purcell says:

    Nghiem, I agree sir. It is most critical for ministry leaders to establish boundaries in his or her life and not lose yourself in the midst of busyness.

  • Richard says:

    Good.
    I would add a couple of thoughts.

    1. I find Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:12 to be very very helpful guidance for leaders in any setting: “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” To me, this is about priorities. There’s a whole sermon series here, but what really jumps out at me is the implicit message about tone and style. “Speech” isn’t just about what is said but HOW it is said. Always watch how you communicate so that others don’t unintentionally draw negative inferences where you didn’t intend.

    2. You are never in control as much as you think you are. Leadership is more about guiding, encouraging, seeing a way and sharing it with others. Much less about forcing or even pushing. It takes many other people working together to accomplish the goals of the church or any organization. Give them room to offer what they believe is their gift. Control will be one less of an issue.

  • Sound and biblical advice. Harder even more so in Single Staff situations. Recommend connecting with a brother pastor in your local Association for encouragement, support and accountability.

  • Christopher Poirier says:

    After some more contemplation I do have an additional thought for the list:

    Never ask people to do something you wouldn’t do.

    Sounds simple, but I think the integrity that is born out of that statement is one that challenges many of us in leadership roles at the church. We say go on mission trips, pray every day, read your bible every day, and so on. However, if we are not leading by that example, as Christ led us, our congregations will soon question our position. It is through this modeling people truly pick up and learn the biblical habits we are trying to impart. For me, if I can’t be comfortable in doing what I recommend, I need to examine myself and my position seriously before God.

    That said, I think it also applies directly to ministry work: Don’t hand out assignments you wouldn’t be willing to do. Leadership 101, lead from the front, not from the rear.

    -CGP

  • Steve says:

    11. Remove Boundaries – Attract, but don’t neglect assimilation. We live in a diverse culture which requires intentionality. Exterior walls will prevent expansion but, interior walls often do the same. Small groups without division will become complacent.

    12. Leadership is interactive. Perhaps this is what you mean by #1. What greater reward than to pass the torch. I read somewhere that “Leadership isn’t a place.” And, it doesn’t belong to only a few.

    13. Leadership is serving others. – Servant leadership is the most effective method of bringing about change. When a leader serves, others take notice.

    14. When given a trust be faithful.

    Just to add a few.

  • Jay Griffin says:

    Great article and comments!

    Point #1 depends on how you define leadership. Too often we define leadership by position. I believe God defines leadership more by influence. It seems no matter where we are in life, God allows us to influence others.

    A big one for me is remembering that as leaders we are to be the pattern for others. (Titus 2:7) Leaders have to show others!

    Also as a leader you can’t give what you don’t have — don’t sacrifice or short-cut your personal time with the Lord. Jethro instructed Moses to be God-ward first.

  • So thrilled you mentioned the importance of intentional prayer support. After 30 years of pastoring we’ve moved into consulting and coaching pastors full time.

    One shock has been the discovery that very few pastors have intentional and focused prayer support.

    Fully 1/3 of Paul’s mentions of prayer are him actually asking for prayer yet few pastors make this a priority or talk about it.

    Unless you are intentional prayer support will always be ambivalent.

    So thank you!!

  • I can relate to point number one. I have been a worship pastor in various congregations for 30 years but now that I am in my fifties I am facing a new season. My wife and I have recently joined with a modern high-tech church that is experiencing an explosion of God’s power and for the first time in my ministry – I am NOT leading worship. However, as I ponder this transition, I feel the Lord is trying to pull my fingers away from what I am comfortable with and leading me into other places where I can serve. I have two doctorate degrees and it appears that God has been preparing me to do more than I ever dreamed. Just because we can do something does not mean we are to do it every time or in every place. Allow Him to stretch you because having a single vision may be holding us from doing even greater things for His Kingdom.

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