If you have been part of an organization, work group, movement or sports team, you know that leadership matters — often more than any other component. A poorly-led organization rarely gets its work done, much less lives into its potential. A well-led organization succeeds as a group effort and makes each individual stronger.
You also know that leadership can be a mystery. People aspire to leadership who have no business running anything. Some, on the other hand, rise to the occasion despite unlikely credentials or experience. I think we recognize good leadership when we see it. What we don’t comprehend is how some organizations have a knack for selecting the wrong people as leaders. “What were they thinking?” is a common question.
Churches are just as susceptible to poor leadership as any other organization. In fact, I would argue that the relentless decline in American Christianity over the past 50 years is primarily a consequence of poor leadership. The world changed and church leaders, starting in the 1950s, chose not to deal with those changes.
Here is a basic primer on leadership of a general nature, leadership of a Christian nature and leadership in churches.
The markers of a good leader are:
- Sees the best in people
- Understands the need for a complete effort: marketing + product development + execution + customer service
- Learns from failure
A Christian leader must demonstrate these eight markers, plus:
- Concern for the other, especially the victim and vulnerable
- A servant’s heart
- A pilgrim’s rootlessness
- A martyr’s courage
- An embrace of challenge and change
- A good church leader demonstrates these 13 markers, plus:
- Makes the difficult decisions
- Analyzes the present and emerging trends
- Sees the whole
- Doesn’t cater to wealth or longevity
Some of those markers are self-explanatory. A leader without integrity, character and compassion can become a monster. A leader without wisdom can become a fool. A leader who doesn’t appreciate the complexity of the organization’s requirements will yield shallow results.
Similarly, a self-styled “Christian leader” who doesn’t match up with the characteristics of Jesus can undermine the efforts of others and make self-serving the operative norm. The effective Christian leader doesn’t value stability, but keeps moving. The effective Christian leader places no value on things being easy or predictable, but seeks challenge and change.
Churches often think they can make leaders out of anyone. In fact, the most they can do is recognize leadership skills that others might not see. Leaders aren’t formed by being recruited to run a church program.
In the pivotal years before the great downturn began, church leaders avoided the difficult decisions. They were looking inward and trying to preserve what they had, rather than looking outward and letting go. They weren’t analyzing the present, but merely assumed that if they kept doing what they knew how to do, eventually it would work again. Their best goal for the future was survival, not success. Today, churches have a calling to raise up faithful leaders to carry the church forward. Leadership matters.
Tom Ehrich is a pastor and church consultant who has done extensive consulting with Presbyterian congregations on turnaround strategies. He also writes daily meditations. His web site is: morningwalkmedia.com.