Leadership in any venue is imperative if that entity is to succeed. Attitudes within corporations, in small businesses, in government, or in ministry reflect that organization’s leadership, so the effectiveness of individuals in leadership positions are directly responsible for the growth and health of any company or organization they lead. With leadership being the key to an effective organization, Christian leaders in ministry must, like their secular counterparts, be effective and trained if their ministry is to be as effective as possible. John Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid” applies in all leadership applications, as the organization will never be more effective than its leader.
While effective leadership is required to have an effective organization, in a church setting leadership takes on a very different dimension. Companies and organizations are interested in growth and saturation in the desired marketplace, but the church’s target is to take the message of salvation through Christ to humanity as a whole. If a corporation fails, people will lose jobs, products will cease to be available, and stockholders will lose their investments, but if the church fails, people will lose opportunities to join God in His work, people can get an incorrect understanding of salvation and Christ’s love, and they may never hear the saving message of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason why leadership in ministry must not be looked at flippantly, and must be embraced by those whom God called and to whom He entrusted His church.
For ministerial leaders to be effective, first, they must be Christian and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In his book Spiritual Leadership, Sanders points out that “Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never be generated by the self”. With that one item clarified, I think there are four main qualities that the leader must embody. These are Character, Confidence, Commitment, and Compassion. These four character traits provide the backbone to a leader’s ability to be effective. Without any one of these four, I believe the leader will have a significant vacuum in their abilities.
Character is the first vital characteristic and is important for obvious reasons. If leaders do not have good character, people will not follow them because they are untrustworthy or dishonest. The characteristic of “Character” covers many different aspects, such as honesty, credibility, integrity, and accountability. A person with no honor or integrity cannot be an effective leader because they are unethical. The Bible states in James 1:8 that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” and Proverbs 10:9 reads that “he who walks in integrity, walks securely”. In the required reading for this course, in his book Spiritual Leadership, Sanders states that “being a shepherd requires us to have a shepherd’s heart and that as a leader, I must be clothed with humility.” Leaders with good character will have followers who know they can trust them in their words and deeds, and character in a leader begets loyalty in followers.
The second vital characteristic is “Confidence”. If leaders are not confident in themselves and their vision, people will see them as wishy-washy and not follow their leadership. For leaders to get “buy-in” from people, they must first be totally sold on their ideas and vision. Their actions must be calculated, decisive, and on par with the stated goals they have laid out to anyone serving under them. Nothing can make people second-guess leaders more than if they do not appear to know where they are going or if the path they are on will get them there. The Bible points out in Proverbs 29:18 that “where there is no vision, the people perish”. Confident leaders, in battle, in business, or in the church, will garner the respect of their followers.
The third vital characteristic is “Commitment”. This is similar to confidence but has more wide-ranging aspects. The leader must be committed to their stated vision, but they also must be committed to the organization and the people that it involves. A leader who is not committed to the people will never garner their support. As mentioned in the A,B,C’s of leadership, the first thing a leader must be is an advocate of those serving under that leader. The leader must also be committed to the organization. Few things will turn an organization against its leader than to see that the leader is not loyal to it, and is looking for other opportunities outside of the group.
Finally, the last vital characteristic for a leader is to have “Compassion”. Not only should leaders have compassion for the organization, but they should also have compassion for the people. An apathetic person in a position of leadership will never receive the respect required from their followers. It is important for people serving under a leader to have some way to access that leader, and it is equally important for the leader to have constant access to the engine of the organization, its people. Sometimes those touches happen within the chain of command or middle managers, but there always needs to be a way for the individual to get the attention of the leader and a leader to hear from even the most junior member of the team. As my senior pastor told me, a shepherd should smell like sheep.
I am fortunate that during my life I have been exposed to many different leaders in many different ministries. Having spent the lion share of my youth and adulthood in a Baptist church lends me to have somewhat of a unique perspective, because all of the leaders I have known in a ministry setting have been Southern Baptist. The three leaders that I have chosen to discuss in this essay are Carlton B, Steve W, and John H. Carlton B was the Minister of Education at a church where I was one of the Sunday School teachers who served under him in the Education ministry. When I was a single adult attending First Baptist Church Spartanburg, Steve W. was the Minister to Single Adults, and when I was in the youth group at Park Street Baptist Church, John H. was my youth pastor. All three of these men made a marked impact on my life and had leadership styles that both were effective in certain areas and lacking in others.
I will begin my profile of Carlton B. with the statement that I love him. Knowing his personal story like I do, the fact that God continues to use him is a testament to his faith and the way he lives his life. His wife and daughter are the joys of his life, and as a family, they are just wonderful people. He has a heart for Christian education and a zeal for God’s Kingdom like few men I have ever known. He was the Minister of Education for 8 years and I served in his ministry for that entire time. What impressed me about Carlton B. was his love and desire for single adults. He lost his first wife when his daughter was born, so single adults were very near and dear to his heart, and he poured his life into that ministry. Another impressive part of him was that it seemed he knew everyone in the network and the convention. His main leadership frame is without a doubt “Political”, with possibly a second frame of “Structure” registering low, but the other two frames I would assume were a zero. He was a master at being “in the know” and was always working on enlarging his sphere of acquaintances. That was a good quality, but I think it came at a cost of personal relationships, and those are an important factor in an effective leader. He was also not at all shy about recruiting people to help with the different ministries he was over. He understood that giving people an opportunity to serve the church gave them ownership in the ministry. Whether it was to help with “In Reach / Out Reach” on a Tuesday night or help with an event on a Saturday, he would ask until he got a few people to help. This was even more interesting given that during his 8-year tenure, he hardly ever got my wife’s name, nor other people’s names who were active in the church and even his ministry, right. We never knew as we walked in the church what name he would call Catherine; it might be Kathy, it might be Laura, or it might be Natalie, but it was very rarely correct. He also seemed aloof when I would make him aware of issues regarding the Sunday School class I taught. Issues that I saw as important like curriculum or backup teachers, he would never respond to, leaving me to seek a resolution on my own. Also, with his interaction with me and others in the ministry, he could also come across as very brash and blunt, many times speaking without considering the effect of his words. Studying his tenure at the church has helped me identify areas where certain aspects of my leadership are important. The relationship with my teachers and their families is paramount. Taking them to lunch, sending cards, speaking to them by correct name on Sunday, and knowing what is going on in their lives matters, as well as acknowledging all their work in preparing their Sunday lessons. In my 4 vital characterizes of an effective leader covered earlier in this essay, commitment and compassion are two that I have learned, from Carlton, not to disregard. As I continue to learn and strive to be more effective in my ministry, being people-centered seems to be a returning theme. While “ministry is messy” and the joke is that “ministry would be perfect if it were not for the people”, a shepherd is supposed to love the sheep, up to the point of leaving the ninety-nine for the one, and guarding them all with his life. I must never forget that it is the people that I am called to lead, and to be an effective leader of people, the relationships that are built form the backbone for the effectiveness of my ministry.
Steve W. was probably the most effective leader that I have been exposed to in ministry. Steve W. was the Minister to Single Adults, and it was under this ministry that, while I did not serve in it, he ministered to me in a way few people ever have. During a very important time in my life, he made himself and his wife available for me to talk endlessly about dating, God’s plan for my life, and when it was time, my future wife. His wife and he spent hours over dinner, being listening ears and close confidants. As the time for me to propose to my future wife came, I even talked with them about the details of the proposal. He was my biggest fan and my toughest mentor. Even though he was the minister to many different singles at the church, he was always available to me. What impressed me most about him, and what made him such an effective leader, was his ability to get to the heart of an issue, and how he seemed genuinely interested in me and the details of my life. He was never too busy to talk and knew me well enough to know what questions to ask and what advice that was needed to deliver. I would consider his leadership frame to be “Human Resources”, as he prioritized the relationships of everyone in his ministry. He also clearly was an advocate, a builder, and a coach. He built relationships that are still strong today, eighteen years later. He also coached not only his leadership team but also the individuals that were within the ministry. In studying his leadership characteristics, I can also say that he was an accessible leader when he needed to be, but he was not always there, trusting the people in his ministry to do their job. Even though I had access to him whenever I needed him, he was not at every gathering or event, which made him an even more effective leader. His example of letting the lay people serve has also shown me how an effective leader operates. When his presence was required, he was there, but he also trusted in the training and selection of his ministry team. The only weakness of his leadership style that I can pinpoint could possibly be being too accessible. While it was invaluable to me at a time when I needed that personal involvement the most, I can only imagine if there had been more than one of the singles going through the decision to marry, he and his wife wouldn’t have had two minutes to themselves. I cannot say that what he did was not effective, I can only speculate that putting as much time and energy into people might strain the free time that a husband and wife need. I cannot say that I would do anything differently, though. I think he was careful about protecting the time with his wife Elouise, but in learning lessons from studying his leadership style, I would say that I always need to remember to prioritize my time alone with God and my time with my family over the time spent in my ministry. Without that balance, things can go sideways in a hurry. What I glean from Steve W. and his leadership example is that in shaping my own leadership model, I must be available to those in my ministry, and always be ready to help in any way I can. Whether it be a hospitalization, a family emergency, or just to give counsel, I need to be ready to do so and be “prayed up” to give wise encouragement and Biblical instruction. I also learned that teaming up with my wife is important to ministering to people, no matter their age and stage. It was invaluable to have both Steve and Elouise to talk to during what I call my pre-engagement counseling. Using Catherine as my most important team member in my ministry is a given that I think many ministers and pastors overlook. As we complement each other in our marriage, so too can we complement each other in ministry.
The final ministry leader that I have profiled was my youth pastor at Park Street Baptist Church, John H. He was a student at Columbia Bible College at the time and was the coolest guy I had ever met. In the early eighties, he looked and acted like Guy Fiere from the Food Network. He wore cool shades, cool clothes, talked with a cool vernacular, and he was a dynamite Christian leader. He moved away from Columbia in 1984, and that was the last time I saw him. I found out he was working for a church in Georgia, so I called him in July of 2015 to catch up with him, and not only did he remember who I was, he remembered who my parents were too. He was my youth pastor, my basketball coach, and the person who first introduced me to international missions. He had a heart for young people and a flair for wild outfits, crazy hair, and loud Petra music. What I remember most about his leadership style was his loose demeanor and his comedic wit, but also his attention to detail and organization. While those two things don’t seem to go together, they somehow fit him perfectly. He could joke around and created cool nicknames for all the guys in the ministry, like “snake-bird” and “chickenhawk”, but also kept things running on a firm timeline and required respect from all the students. His leadership frame would probably be “Structure”, with possibly “Human Resources” as a secondary frame. It is his structure leadership frame that was most indelibly etched in my mind. I have to say the event that most resounds in my mind with him is a weekend overnight trip to Atlanta to see the band Petra in concert. The buses were set to leave the church on a Saturday morning at 8:00AM for the trip. The day’s calendar was full of shopping at a mall, ice skating, checking into a motel, and a late night concert, followed by a day at six flags and a late return time to Columbia. I don’t remember if I told my parents the wrong time or if we were just running late, but I arrived at the church at 8:30AM to an empty parking lot. Thinking we must be 30 minutes early, we waited to no avail. The busses had left at the appointed time, and I was left behind. Granted these were the days before cell phones, so nobody could have called us and asked where we were, but the fact remains that the buses were due to leave at 8:00am and that is what they did. And while they stuck to the schedule, he did feel bad enough to bring me home a cassette tape from the concert. It was this act that made me understand the importance of details and of punctuality. It was a hard lesson to learn, especially the following Wednesday night when everybody there was talking about the trip and I had missed it all, but that was a mistake that was not repeated by me again. He knew that one person should not negatively affect 50 others, so to quote Star Trek, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. While this one aspect of his leadership was what impressed me most about his leadership, it is also the one thing that I would consider lacking in leadership in a modern day environment. As a leader, being an advocate and being compassionate to those in your ministry is required. I spent 6 years as a ScoutMaster of Boy Scout Troop 360, and the lessons and leadership methods I employed there, while effective, might not be the best methods within ministry. For example, if a scout forgot a poncho and it rained the entire trip, I would not let him use mine. Learning from your own mistakes is a great way to not repeat them. However, as a servant leader within ministry, the lesson Christ gave us would be to give up your comfort for that of a brother. Modeling servant leadership within ministry is following Christ’s example. Also, in the modern day of cell phones, Facebook and text messaging, leaving on a trip without exhausting every avenue of communication could possibly turn an entire family off from the church or maybe the faith altogether. Better to be late and model a Christ-like example, than to “teach a lesson”, the world will do that on its own. As I take the study of John H’s leadership style and apply that to my ministry, I must balance my “Structure” leadership frame with the “Human Resources” frame. While the structure of my ministry is important, I must never forget that I am not called to minister to a flow chart, but to people. People are different, they can be frustrating, and they many times do not do what they should, but it is those people that are the target and goal of my ministry. To help them grow in their faith through continued Discipleship is my call to ministry, and to do that I must base the framework around the fellowship and not around the flowchart.
In looking at these three men, I see great leadership examples that I can only hope to emulate, and others that I can learn from. It is vital that a leader is able to point the scope of discernment not only at other leaders, but also themselves, and see where changes need to occur within their own ministry, to be more effective for God’s kingdom. It is also far easier and wiser to adjust one’s leadership model by the lessons learned from others and not through our own adversity.
Character within a leader is imperative. Ministry leaders are not perfect, but they cannot tell their followers to “do what they say and not what they do”. Biblical leaders are bound to the same requirements as any other Christian, but are held to higher standards per James 3:1 which states “not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” God’s word also states in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Leaders in ministry should strive to have integrity, and ask forgiveness where any shortcomings fall. But, while character is important, a good Christian leader must temper his honesty and convictions with love and understanding. Nothing can damage a ministerial relationship like blunt and harsh words, and sometimes the quick and easy words are the words a leader should not speak; thoughtful counsel and discernment is always the wise choice.
Christian leaders should also have confidence. They should be sure of their vision and of their call. Only when people see leaders who believe the vision they are casting, will they follow them. However, leaders cannot be so confident and headstrong that they forget to include others in the life of the ministry. Confidence in the extreme tends to not care about those serving below, and can damage a ministry. It is better to lead being sure of the direction but encouraging all the while.
Commitment is another requirement for an effective leader. A leader within the church must be committed to both the church and its mission, and the people involved. Committed leaders will have the support of those who see them “give their all” to the goals of the ministry. Leaders can be so committed to their ministry, however, that they forget the proper balance of home, personal Bible study, and ministry. Commitment, in its extreme, can lead to target fixation, and those serving in the ministry cannot see the goal because their tasks are so compartmentalized. Communication within a ministry helps share the goal and divide the work and keeps the leader from focusing on the vision so much that they forget the volunteers.
A leader is finally compassionate, and it is here where I learned the most from the three ministry leaders I have profiled. My biggest warning that I see from my study is that relationships will enhance or detract from the effectiveness of my ministry. I am also keenly aware that from my own leadership frame chart, I rank high in “Structure”, but am very weak in “Human Resources”. This tells me that I must continue to study and train how to be effective with the relational aspects of my ministry. Coming to ministry from the secular employment world, I am and have been hesitant to ask for help in my ministry from lay people, not wanting to burden them with something else to add to their busy schedule. This is the phase shift that I need to make. I need to apply the lesson that serving in the church is an opportunity for members to become involved in ministry, not a burden and something else to add to their calendar. Also, while I do strive to have a winsome personality, my spiritual gift of mercy is almost non-existent so I have to focus on not letting my “tough love” overshadow the requirements this essay has shown. I must always show Christ-like love and compassion to those within the scope of my ministry, but also remember that there is a job to be done and good leaders are not incapacitated by fear or worry. The example Jesus himself gave of a servant-leader shows just how important this is. He cared and loved but kept moving toward the cross and His glorification.
A leader must have character, confidence, commitment, and compassion to be effective, but through this study, I have learned that these qualities do have qualifications. I must have character, but also have the wisdom to know what to say and when to say it, as well as when to not say anything at all. I must have confidence, but never at the expense of seeming cocky or arrogant. I must have commitment, but not so much that I become one dimensional and become insulated from those serving in my ministry, or that it takes time away from my family or time alone with God. And finally, I must have compassion, but must use it to encourage the health of my ministry and not hinder it.