Leadership in today’s culture is widely in want. When children first go to school, leadership is a desired attribute. Parents glow when the teacher says, “Little Johnny is such a leader in the classroom. His classmates really listen and follow what he does.” The parents might be thinking of all the grand things Johnny will do later on. For now, he’s only five years old!
Why is there such a hunger for leadership, and how do we measure it, especially when it comes to the church leadership?
How Should We Measure Church Leadership?
Forbes orders a top ten list of qualities this way: (1) Honesty; (2) Delegation; (3) Communication; (4) Confidence; (5) Commitment; (6) Positive Attitude; (7) Creativity; (8) Intuition; (9) Inspire; (10) Approach. Not a bad list. There’s a sense of integrity and self-giving that prompts people to follow and trust the person. The web magazine, Inc., has a similar top 20 list and also includes apologizing without hesitation, analyzing before acting, hiring for potential and nurturing allies on purpose. All these points are good, healthy advice and they will take you far into the land of church leadership no matter where you work.
So, what’s missing when we try to measure church leadership? When we look at the Bible, are there people and instructions that help answer the question?
First, the Bible seems to clearly tell the story that is not too far off from Little Johnny. Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Josiah, Samson, and John the Baptist all point to God’s providence apart from anything we can do. That doesn’t help us measure anything, but it’s an important starting point. God is in control and shapes people for his good pleasure and to fulfill his good purposes. Sometimes we see glimpses of that happening to people at very young ages, whether it’s a wrestling match in Jacob’s case, a whisper with Samuel, or a kingship to revive the law even before adolescence with Josiah.
Repentance is necessary. I’m not talking about apologizing without hesitation. Repentance means being humble enough to know you are inadequate. That’s the key. It’s not knowing your inadequacies. That’s what our society teaches: “Know your inadequacies and compensate with good people to fill in.” That’s certainly true, but I mean that you need to know you are inadequate. Period. You are nothing in the scheme of things. Oswald Chambers, in his encounter with God, says that God told him, “I want you, but I don’t need you.” Unless we are humble, repent of our pride and arrogance and worldly plans and hopes and all the things we try to fill our days with to act like we’re needed, we won’t lead anyone, except lead them astray. If you create a cult of personality, it’s not about the truth anymore. It’s about you. We see this all through the Bible. Here are two. Jacob was a liar and only broke in to commune with God when he became contrite. David, through all the villainy, is a man after God’s own heart because he knew how crooked he had become and ripped his heart open for God to change him.
Prayer reflects the posture of a leader. Are the knees in your pants worn out because you lost track of time, time and time again, in the presence of God? Paul teaches us to pray without ceasing and we have examples in Scripture. For example, have you prayed like Abraham, to withhold judgment on our own Sodoms and Gomorrahs in confidence that our prayers might become conversations with God? How about Hannah? Have you prayed earnestly and with tears for a miracle with the unselfishness to give it away when it happens? Jesus is always leaving the crowds and all the attention to be alone for hours and hours with God. You? This is not a question of introvert and extrovert traits. This is about the discipline of a leader to be lost in the eternity of God and not in the timeliness of our own making.
Gossip can have no place in the life of a leader. I have a friend who always talks about other people. Her rationale, “We’re sharing prayer requests.” Scripture is clear about the tongue. It is a weapon that can be wielded against others in an effort that is always self-serving. It can be as light-hearted as a passing remark for humor’s sake to something more planned and sinister. It’s all wrong. Chuck Swindoll, a pastor in Texas and host of Insight for Living, says that gossip is probably the sin people commit most often. He says, “The tongue is capable of prying open more caskets, exposing more skeletons in the closet, and stirring up more choking, scandalous dust than any other tool on earth” (link).
A willingness to be accountable and be discipled is a sure sign of church leadership. In business, it’s always about hiding your cards to win the deal and become profitable and secure. Not so in the church. The struggles and victories need shepherding. It’s not always simple for a church leader to find accountability, but you need it. It’s a measurement of church leadership when a person is willing to be discipled – to get knocked down a few notches and know that if God can talk through Balaam’s donkey, don’t think yourself too high if he chooses to talk through you, as the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins said on more than one occasion.
Don’t watch your time. The church leader who has no time for anyone outside of whatever function they serve in the ministry is no leader at all. Seek relationships because you want relationships. If you’re always watching the time, you are missing out on loving your neighbor as yourself. When we keep watch over our clocks, we all fall into a similar trap marked like the money changers in the Temple who Jesus threw out as robbers. We are self-seeking and self-absorbed, not seeing the people nor the holy house of God. Perhaps we’ve even become a clashing symbol or clanging gong, as I Corinthians 13 warns against. If you can’t respond to email, you’re too busy. And what about that space you ignore in prayerfully reaching out to your congregants just because of God’s leading? Remember that church is about people. That’s right. Interlock your hands, make the steeple. Then open your hands and see all the people.
Don’t neglect study. Make sure you study God’s word and build a library of resources that will help you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) If you only study for the purpose of crafting a sermon or preparing for a Bible study discussion, then your use of study can become self-serving. While you certainly need to study for these things, you also ought to set aside measurable time blocks where you get immersed in God’s word. That kind of measurement will go a long way to measuring you out as a leader.
How do we measure a leader in the church? It’s a far cry from the world’s measurements. We are called to die with Jesus, so our heart and mind, hands and feet, eyes and lips are all used for his good pleasure. Paul says that he (Paul) dies so that Christ might live through him. Remember, this is our reasonable service and something that truly is foolishness to the world. Forget the church leadership advice that tries to imitate the world’s standards. The starting point of that advice is shifting sand. Oh, it’s comforting because it places you as a LEADER, but that’s not the call of the Gospel. Let’s go back and repent, pray, guard our speech, be accountable, be open, love sincerely, and work out our faith with fear and trembling.
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.