In the course of the last year, as church buildings began to close, as crowds that came back to worship were diminished, and as mental unhealth of pastors was skyrocketing at never before documented levels, I began to wonder if there aren’t deeper characteristics of pastoral leadership that no one is talking about.
Pastors are often celebrated for their talent, charisma, influence, the size of their following, and the vision that they are able to cast. Rightfully stewarded, each of these things should be celebrated. Each of these are seen on the outside. But are their qualities and traits that no one will ever celebrate or notice that actually help pastors become more effective leaders?
We are only days away from the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown in America. With no invitation from pastors and no warning signals from the outside, overnight we were forced to completely rethink the way in which we led our churches. This past year has collectively seen pastors create more plans than ever before, pivot like never before, and innovate in ways they never would have imagined. The past year has certainly been the greatest test on pastoral leadership that I’ve ever witnessed.
As we continue to lead our churches in changing times, as important as pivoting, innovating, and results are, here are four highly important characteristics of pastoral leadership that no one will ever thank you for:
How do you know if you are a leader? The easy answer is to see if anyone is following you. Leaders produce followers.
But, in order to lead anyone spiritually, the first and most important step is to realize that you are a follower first. As you lead a church, may you remember that Jesus is the Head of your church. As important as you are to your local church, take comfort and solace in the fact that this is His church. Believe in His promise that He issued before Peter and the disciples, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
The apostle Paul would lay this out simply in 1 Corinthians 11:1: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Ask yourself this question: if everyone in my church imitated me, imitated my personal devotional habits, treated others the way I treat others, served in the same fashion as I serve, and gave the same percentage that I give, what would be the end result? Are you truly worthy of following?
It’s really hard to lead others to follow Jesus if you are not following Him first. Follow first. Lead later.
When it comes to a relationship with God, the natural and greatest flow is that any of our “doing” for God would flow out of our “being” with God. It is natural then, when it comes to leading, the best leaders are great followers.
The other thing about placing yourself as a follower is you will better understand those that follow your leadership. One of the great characteristics of leaders is to understand and empathizing with your followers. To understand and empathize with a follower you must be a follower yourself.
Pastors are busy. We have a lot to do and not much time to do it all. The answer for the majority of us is to try to get better at multitasking. This is a noble pursuit but a dead end. The only thing you are doing by multitasking is diverting your attention from truly accomplishing any one of your tasks well.
Jesus is the example here. My favorite story to show his availability is found in Mark 5. Literally, as He is on His way to raise a 12-year-old dead girl back to life, the hem of His garment gets touched by a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. This woman had spent everything she had and was at the end of her rope when she reached for the edge of Jesus’s rope. This woman was in the midst of a violently pressing (non-social-distancing) crowd. Rather than plowing forward and rejecting the rules and traditions of the day, Jesus stopped every single thing that He was doing to single out this woman. Not only did He physically heal her, but His words to this woman also healed and restored her value on the inside. One touch of the garment of Jesus was enough to heal all of the uncleanliness of this woman!
It’s easy for us to just want to plow forward and check off the many tasks before us. It’s wonderful to serve God and have a big mission. But in God’s economy success comes when you combine your availability with God’s ability.
God doesn’t need able men and women. He needs available men and women.
You need to worry less about having the ability. The truth is that you have a God inside of you, through His Holy Spirit, who is truly able. Worry less about your ability and focus more on your availability. You can have all the ability in the world, but if you are never available, if you never answer the call, it won’t matter. The times in my life where I have felt the closest to God are the times where I have pushed myself to take steps of faith not knowing where they would lead, but simply making myself available to God, and those are the moments where He’s shown up in incredible ways.
God works more through the available than the able.
Is your schedule so chalked full of tasks and meetings that people become another task, another interruption for you? Keep your eyes open to what God is putting before you right here, right now, today. Be available.
We live in a highlight society. In golf, “drive for show, putt for dough,” is the often-heard phrase. In the couple of months when professional golf was shut down last year, Bryson Dechambeau became the hop topic. Apparently, through working out multiple times a day and drinking 6 protein shakes a day he bulked up 25 pounds in two months to hit the golf ball 25 yards further. While we may celebrate this human accomplishment (and as a guy that tries to be good at golf, Bryson, you impress me), everyone in golf knows that it is the putter that makes the biggest difference in winning and losing.
In baseball, we celebrate the home run. More important than hitting a home run 1 in 10 times would be to hit 10 singles in a row. In fact, 10 singles in a row would score 7 runs and leave the bases loaded. One home run gets you one run and on SportsCenter, but 10 singles in a row will win the game.
One more analogy from the restaurant world. A couple of years ago, the 11th rated fast food burger in America was the “Big Mac.” And yet, despite this, McDonald’s was the highest grossing fast-food restaurant. In fact, to prove their dominance, their combined revenue was greater than 2, 3, and 4 combined (Starbucks, Subway, and Burger King).
Why the success? It’s certainly not the quality of the meat. The burger itself is nowhere near the top. It’s not their customer service. Typically, they are rated the worst in the business. Most people believe it is due to their consistency. You are going to get the same consistency from a Big Mac in Orlando, FL than you would in Omaha, NE.
How does this translate to the church world?
One thing I have noticed is that typically the inconsistent person will be praised for doing something rather ordinary while the consistent person goes unnoticed. We praise someone for losing a lot of weight in the beginning of the New Year, but say nothing to the person who maintains a healthy weight year-after-year.
As we lead churches, whether it be staff or volunteers, it’s easy to recognize someone who took a first step or who was gone for a while and returned to take a step in the right direction. But what about the people that keep showing up, time and time again?
For instance, I remember that in our church there was someone who was always known for being late. Everyone noticed. It was tangible. One day when this person showed up on time, they were congratulated, celebrated, and praised for it. The odd thing is everyone else in the room showed up on time that day. And they were far better at showing up on time every other meeting, but nobody celebrated their consistency. Who are the consistent servants at your church that could use a nice encouragement right now?
When I think of consistency, I think of Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While circumstances may change all around us, God doesn’t change. And we don’t have to either. Our methods, styles, and plans may need to be adjusted. But who we are and what we do doesn’t have to change. You are still the same person and pastor that God has created you to be.
The greatest pastors know the benefit of consistency. They are faithful with what they have in front of them. They put in the time that they need to accomplish what God lays before them, and they go out there and play their part. And they do it day after day, week after week. They continue to put in the reps day after day and eventually see God do incredible things. When we combine our finite power with His infinite power, God can turn our singles into home runs all day long!
I once heard pastor Craig Groeschel talking about what he would want people to say at his funeral about himself. Kind of morbid, huh? But it’s a really cool exercise. One of the things that stuck out to me is when he said, “I doubt anyone would say it out loud, but I hope everyone there would feel that I had been a good steward.”
Usually the only time “stewardship” ever gets mentioned in church world is when we talk about the annual “stewardship” series. Stewardship is bigger than just an annual sermon series. From the beginning of time, God has called us to steward His creation. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
At the root of it, our first command was to steward what God had given to us.
Peter would say it really succinctly as well in 1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
How are you stewarding what God has given to you? Not just the financial part, but the gifts, talents, people, and resources that He is putting in front of you?
The truth is that we all have unique skills and talents. Similarly, we all have different gifts and people that come into our world. Just like the parable of the bags of gold found in Matthew 25, Jesus is most interested that we put to use what He’s put in us. If He gives you anything, you are called to take what He gives you and to steward it well.
Our eyes may be drawn to big numbers, large followings, glitz and glamour, but God simply asks us to steward what He gives to us. It’s our job to take whatever He gives us, whether in the eyes of the world it is big or small, and to maximize it for His kingdom. While looking at results, reports, and numbers are important, it’s vitally important as well to do a regular assessment of what God has given to you and strategize how best to steward it all for His glory. Here’s a few questions that you can ask personally, and also, collectively for your church.
When you match the talents, gifts, and people that God has put before you with the needs of the community around you, I doubt anyone will say that you were a good steward, but everyone will feel it.
Those are my four. Do you have others that you would add to the list? Which one comes easiest to you? Which one could you use help with?
Pastor, I want to celebrate you today for things no one else will tell you.
And if you are not a pastor and you have read this far, why don’t you write a handwritten note to your pastor, or send him/her a quick email thanking them for one of these traits that likely no one else before has ever verbalized.