5 Practical Ways Church Leaders Can Make a Difference

Church leaders sometimes wonder if they are really making a difference. Elders, ministers, and influencers in a variety of roles may wonder, “Am I really making a kingdom difference in my congregation?”  Others may even feel discouraged wondering if their service, as a part of a congregation, really matters.

Remember that we serve by faith, understanding that we might not necessarily see, or be aware of the difference we are making.  By faith, however, we believe that God uses our lives beyond our awareness and even beyond our time on the earth.

So how can you invest your time and life to make a difference?

Listen well.  Listen to fellow leaders and to the members of the congregation.  Listen for content and for the emotion behind the spoken words.  Let people say what they need to say.  Follow up with questions that reflect your genuine interest.  “How did you reach this conclusion?  Was there a defining moment for you when this became apparent?”  Or you might just respond with “Tell me more.”  Good listeners genuinely want to understand.

Pay attention.  If you are in a conversation with someone in your congregation, pay attention to them.  Use that person’s name.  Don’t know their name?  Ask–again.  Write it down.  Pay attention to the details.  Frances Hesselbein (former president and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute) in her book, My Life in Leadership, writes concerning her grandmother “Mama Wicks” (p.12):

When I would walk into the room, I was the only person there.  When she talked to me, I still remember, she would look into my eyes intently.  For that moment she made me feel like the most important person in the world.

Follow through.  Did you agree to take care of a situation?  Perhaps you agreed to set up a meeting with a particular person.  Maybe there was a detail you promised to take care of.  Follow through on what you have promised to do.  Much time and energy are wasted as leaders find themselves dealing with fellow leaders who do not follow through on what they promised to do.  If you promised to take care of a situation, do it in a timely way.  We make a difference when others know that we will follow through with our commitments.

Multiply your influence.  Church leaders have some influence.  Some may have more influence than others. Nevertheless, we still have influence which can be invested in such a way so that your capacity for good is multiplied. One of the best ways to do this is through encouragement.  When you encourage another, you help to bring fresh energy to that person.  In far too many congregations, church leaders receive very little encouragement.  Some of these people serve for many years and only rarely hear a “thank you” or a kind word regarding their service.  You can multiply your influence by encouraging these people.

Likewise, look for opportunities to encourage a mom or dad in your congregation.  Encouraging a struggling parent could make a huge difference in what their children experience in that home.  Single parents, in particular, need such encouragement.

Wrestle in prayer for others.   Are there people whom you specifically pray for regularly?  Paul noted that Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer for you” (Colossians 4:12).  As a church leader, you can make a significant difference by wrestling in prayer for those in your church.  Start with a list of five to ten people.  Be sure to include some of your fellow leaders.

 

Six Helpful Suggestions for Any Christian Leader

number6The following are six suggestions for leadership that I recently shared with a group of church leaders.  These six have helped me greatly.  If you are in any leadership role, these can be helpful.  (I am indebted to Edwin Friedman, Peter Scazzero, and Ruth Haley Barton for some of the seed thoughts in these statements.)

  1. The best thing you bring to a congregation’s leadership and life is your own transforming self. (Ruth Haley Barton)

 

  1. Mature leadership begins with the leader’s capacity and willingness to take seriously one’s own emotional behavior. How the leader deals with his emotional behavior is a reflection of his own spirituality.

 

  1. Differentiation in a leader means that this leader functions as a less anxious presence in the face of anxious people. He/she is able to take a stand in an intense emotional system.

 

  1. Generally speaking, followers will not rise above the emotional maturity level of their leaders. A leader may be highly intelligent and highly skilled. The congregation (as well as one’s own family) is impacted by the emotional behavior of that leader. This is a rich opportunity to live out one’s own spiritual transformation.

 

  1. Ministry which creates a constant state of frenzied activity for the congregation through the maintenance of our ministry systems and our programs can be a real detriment to our life with God, our marriages, and the health of the congregation.

 

  1. As an elder/minister I am not simply in a ministry to “do things for God.” Rather, as a human, I am worthy of rest, care, and good relationships.

5 Attributes of Wise Leaders

diceWise leaders understand that life and ministry is a long game.  Far too many church leaders act as if real ministry began once they came on the scene.  It almost sounds like what the congregation may have been doing for many years long before the present leaders showed up is not as legitimate as what is being done today. Wise ministers know that God has been working long before they arrived and will continue to work in that congregation long after they are gone.

Wise leaders never stop growing in character.  For example, a minister preaches/leads/teaches out of a transformed life.  As Ruth Haley Barton has said:

What would it look like for me to lead more consistently from my soul — the place of my own encounter with God — rather than leading primarily from my head, my unbridled activism, or my performance-oriented drivenness? (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, p. 25)

3 Questions that Can Change Your Life – Really

3questionsAre you grappling with important questions?

Some people are preoccupied with their image.  (How do I look?)

Some are preoccupied with their success.  (How can I win?)

Others, however, have discovered that one’s life can really change for the good when you deal with some very important questions.

  1. The question of character.  What is the most important thing in life to you?
  2. The question of legacy.  What do you want to be known for at the end of your life?
  3. The question of the present.  At this stage in your journey, what do you need to learn next?

(Thanks to Walter Wright for these three questions found in Mentoring, pp. 2-3.)

Some of us consider such questions but seem to think our thoughts are enough.  Consequently, while we may say what we believe to the the most important thing in life, our actions do not reflect such values.  Or, we may tell others what we want to be known for at the end our our life but them allow our compulsive desires to determine what we do.

Dealing with these questions are game-changers!

What Validates a Minister’s Value?

value-propositionHow do you know when a minister has great value?  Or, if you serve as a minister of a congregation you may wonder how much value you really have.  Perhaps there are times when you when you feel as if you have great value.  What factors have led you to come to that conclusion?  Perhaps there are other times when you feel alone, inadequate, and have little value as a minister.

Some believe that ministers have great value if one or more of the following factors are true:

1.  People are asking this person to speak at their congregations or at particular lectureships, seminars, etc.

2.  Congregations that are visible within our fellowship are asking this person to consider joining their ministry staff.

3.  A particular minister has a much larger salary compared to other ministers who serve in the same role.

4.  Many in social media quote this person and seem to rally around whatever this minister might say or do.

5.  A minister may be well known throughout a region or even the nation and perhaps have a “following.”  This may be evident either through conversations at particular gatherings or conversation through social media.

6.  A minister who has served a smaller congregation begins preaching for a congregation that is highly visible.  Suddenly that minister may be perceived to be “important.”

Held Hostage By the Least Mature (Leadership)

o-adult-pacifier-facebookPerhaps you’ve known one or more of these people.  He or she is the least mature person in the group.

  • He is the most difficult elder in the group.  Time after time, the other elders have attempted to appease their fellow elder.  Yet, no matter what they do, he remains unhappy and demands other concessions.
  • She is the drama queen in the family.   She has two other sisters and a brother but at family gatherings she clearly dominates the conversations.  She drains energy from others as she talks on and on about herself and her situation.
  • He is immature and married.  A few years ago, his wife told a friend that she felt like she had four children – her husband, their two daughters, and their son.  She loves her husband but often feels as if she is the only adult in the family.
  • She is known as a possessive friend.  She regularly loses friendships because she demands so much from them. Yet, in her mind, all of these former friends lacked commitment to the relationship.
  • This preacher has recently clashed with the elders of his congregation.  He says they need to love the community and allow him to try out his ideas.  The elders believe this isn’t really the issue.  Rather they are troubled by his behind the scenes manipulation.  They have lost some of their trust in him.

When People are Impulsive

making-your-own-decisionsIt is true.

Some people are slow to decide and slow to act.

Some groups are so afraid of making a mistake, they miss opportunity after opportunity to make a difference.

Some churches are so bogged down in committees they rarely take action.

There are some people, however, who seem to act impulsively with little thought.

Some people are impulsive with their words.  They say what they think and appear to have no filter.  Feelings are hurt and damage is done.

Some people are impulsive with money.  They spend first and think about their purchases later.

Some people are impulsive in their ministries.  In a sermon, a preacher suddenly makes a few unplanned, ill-timed remarks.  Is the Spirit prompting this?  Perhaps.  Yet, sometimes these remarks may be the product of impulsiveness.

Some churches are impulsive.  They have no real process for anything.  Consequently, the leaders frustrate the members of their congregations.

1.  A team of ministers and a group of elders discussed making a change that would impact the church.  They decided to sell their present building and move to another location.  They discussed this among themselves  for months.  Then one Sunday, they made an announcement regarding their decision to make this change.  There was tremendous push back which actually baffled the leadership group.  They could not figure out why people in the congregation seem agitated.  Yet, there was absolutely no process.

2.  One Sunday, a minister preaches a particularly difficult sermon.  He has been thinking about a particular passage and subject for the last two years.  He has reached a few conclusions about the interpretation of one particular Scripture that is quite different from what many in his congregation have heard before.  He preaches this sermon and later seems surprised at the questions being raised by a number of people who are deeply involved in the life of the church.  The reaction was not what he expected.  His response?  “I thought people here would be more open to God’s Word.”  Yet, he has been thinking about this subject for two years.  Those who heard the sermon had 25 minutes to process his thoughts.

3.  A group of church leaders decide to make some major changes to the congregation’s Sunday school.  This decision was made after the leadership team talked about the matter in a few elders’ meetings.  Yet, there was no real process involved.  The decision will impact teachers, Sunday school supervisors, children, visitors, and others.  Yet no one bothered to talk with other these people before it was announced.

Some people and some churches are anything but impulsive.  They can be paralyzed with indecision, frustrating their families and their congregations.  Yet, some individuals and some leadership groups are much too quick to send someone to a microphone to make an announcement before doing the necessary hard work to process a possible decision.

Impulsive individuals and impulsive churches can move quickly.  Yet, long after the action is taken, they must now spend an enormous amount of time and energy cleaning up.

Neither indecision or impulsivity get an individual, group, or church very far down the road.  There are no shortcuts.  Determining the best process for a decision and then following through may actually get one down the road more quickly.

Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership

mentoringwright(The following are reflections based on Walter C. Wright’s book, Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership.)

Want to start or enhance a mentoring relationship? Are you interested in having a relationship with someone who might serve as a mentor?

Are you already a mentor to one or more persons but you are not sure how to make the most of such a relationship?

Would you find it helpful to hear what questions have been particularly useful to a mentor?

Then, read Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership by Walter C. Wright. Wright is a Senior Fellow of the De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the former president of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Wright not only has much experience in mentoring others but also has experienced good mentors as well in longtime pastor Donald Bubna and Max De Pree.

Even in the foreword of the book, written by Max De Pree, there is much help for any mentor or mentoree.

Why read this book?

Ministry Inside.103

I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December. George Bailey had many dreams but they were put on hold for the sake of others. He lives in Bedford Falls with his family, trying to keep the Building and Loan afloat.

At one point, he realizes that he is in serious trouble.  He wishes he had never been born. He is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never existed.

He is able to see how much his life has impacted some many people in his family, his town, and beyond.  He really has lived a wonderful life.

Many, many Christian leaders vastly underestimate how God is using them.  So often we think about what we are lacking.  We focus on the deficiencies in our churches and in our own lives.

Teachers, Heroes, and Sandy Hook

teach-for-americaEven days later, it is still hard to believe the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary really did happen.

Absolutely unbelievable.

For days to come, the nation will mourn, new information will be brought to light, and we will all grapple with the implications of this.

I continue to think about the heroic efforts of the school personnel.  What about the heroic efforts of the school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as she confronted the gunman. Or, the efforts of the custodian who risked his own life as he ran down a hall warning teachers of the gunman.

In particular, I think about two teachers.

Victoria Soto, age 27, hid her students in a closet while she stood between them and the door and died trying to shield them from the bullets.

Another teacher, Kaitilin Roig, barricaded herself and her 15 students in a tiny bathroom.  She moved a bookcase across the door and locked it.  She told ABC News that she said to the class, “There are bad guys out there now.  We need to wait for the good guys.”

The stories of these people are inspiring but not surprising.