Three Prerequisites to Leading Others Well

Ninety and Nine
I have no idea who this is, but the dog looks nice.

Being loud doesn’t make you a leader. Neither does being popular. Leadership is influence, and influence means taking people in a direction they wouldn’t otherwise be going – hopefully forward. Ambition isn’t enough to qualify you to lead. There is more to the equation.

You need to be led before you can really lead. This one is tough for eager leaders, but in order to lead well, you must first be okay with being led. One of the greatest leaders I know who was in charge of 350+ staff in a well-known megachurch said, “I’m a man under authority.” If you don’t know what it’s like to follow or if you’re unwilling to learn from those ahead of you, you’re not quite ready to lead.

You need to love people before you can really lead. You can lead and love self, but the end result is pretty pitiful. Great leaders love those they are leading. Good shepherds have a tendency to lay down their lives for their sheep, and great leaders are always thinking about how to move their followers to the next level.

You need to become a servant before you become a leader. We know that servanthood is the prerequisite to kingdom influence based on Jesus’ example and His words, but we don’t like to let go of our identity as a leader to fully embrace it. We even like to call ourselves “servant-leaders” so we’re not leaving out the leadership part of the equation. But think differently for a moment. What if you saw yourself as a servant first and as a leader second? How would it change the way you lead people?

Can you lead and influence without being led, being a lover of people, and being a servant? Sure, but why would you want to? Your reward for such leadership is shallow and short-lived. Instead, choose the Jesus path – be a servant and a shepherd. Be led well, and then lead with confidence!


And here’s a follow-up thought…

Building Rhythm Into the Life of Your Church

Portsmouth CriteriumMinistry is a marathon. This is true for church leaders, for volunteers, and for the church body itself. When we drive and push people to sprint all the time, burnout is inevitable. You can grow a large church by constantly creating mountain peak experiences and pushing for the top. But you will create a healthy church only as you discover the appropriate cycle of moving forward at an aggressive pace, and taking moments to breathe.

There is plenty of discussion about whether churches should be all things to all people, or keep it simple and do a few things well. I definitely lean toward simplicity. We try to balance the five purposes of worship, evangelism (mission), fellowship, discipleship, and ministry and we try to do little else. Our structure doesn’t have much of a hierarchy to it and leaders are free to lead without being micromanaged.

We like to focus on the mission. But this doesn’t mean we never push hard for growth. Too many souls hang in the eternal balance for us to get lazy and coast along in mediocrity. And while balance is an elusive target, rhythm is possible. How do you find your rhythm?

Focus on five to size peak moments in the year.

Start with the holidays like Easter and Christmas. Then think through any special emphases your church celebrates such as a spiritual growth campaign, a missions emphasis, or something like a Friend Day.  Don’t forget about the non-Sunday events like Vacation Bible School or evangelistic crusades.

Build unity and excitement as you climb toward peak moments.

Spread the word with a gathering momentum. Give people specific challenges and calls to action along the way such as, “Write down the names of three people you’re going to invite…” or “Fast with us through lunch on Wednesdays and pray for the big day.”

Celebrate the big wins as a church family.

We recently set a new attendance record, but I tend to shy away from talking about numbers for fear of an overemphasis there. But when I talked publicly about the big achievement, people were excited. It creates a story worth repeating in the future.

Take breaks from busyness.

Our church has a minimalistic calendar to begin with. Little happens beyond the weekend service, small groups, and the various outreach efforts happening as we live missionally. But in terms of promotion and pushing for a big turnout, we back off after a big day. We tell staff to take an extra day off. We tone down our promotional lingo a bit, partly because when we do need to do a big push, we want it to be noticed.

Strengthen the ongoing ministries between the special moments.

When we’re not asking “how can we do this thing big?,” we’re asking, “how can we improve small groups, create more discipleship moments, and pour into our leaders through meaningful interaction?”

Cut away the good distractions.

There is tremendous power in concentrating on the mission and eliminating distractions. If a program trips us up on our way to fulfilling our mission, we need to eliminate it. There are plenty of good things churches can be involved in, but for every church there are some best things we can be devoting our energy to, and it varies from one church to the next.

Spread the leadership load around.

When I lived in southern California, I would often see large groups of cyclists riding together. The one in front was fighting wind resistance and making the ride easier for the rest of the pack, but when the leader gets tired, he drops to the back and lets someone else lead. It’s called “drafting” and it’s important in the life of the church. Counting on the same few people to take the load on every major event leads to burnout.

Some moments in the life of the church ought to stand out from the rest as especially significant, but between these, we need to breathe, rest, and recuperate. We’ve been working on the mission for a couple thousand years now, so there’s a bigger picture at stake than just next Sunday. If you’re a church leader, it’s up to you to discover the rhythm of your church and align with it. People will thank you in the end.

How have you discovered rhythm or fought against the tyranny of the perpetual sprint?

It’s Easier NOT to Lead

Leading Out Front
Photo by reds on tour.

Leadership is a hot topic with plenty of aspiring and hopeful people clamoring for success in its arena. But the reality is that it’s easier NOT to lead.

When we aspire to leadership, we envision the good stuff – the people who will look to us for direction, the success of our organization, and the accolades of those who follow us. What we can’t really anticipate is the tough stuff – the people who will question us, leave us, and criticize us unfairly.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a leader with influence, or you hope to be. Stop. Take inventory. Is this what you really want? If you lead, you’re going to have to disappoint people, redirect people, confront people, motivate people to do things they aren’t quite ready to do, and while you may be respected, you will also be disliked and often, you’ll be alone.

Leadership and popularity sometimes occupy the same space, but are never the same thing. Decide which you want.

If you want to be popular, lead halfheartedly, if at all. If you want to influence people, then proceed full speed ahead. The invitation is open for more leaders, and there is certainly a vacuum in our culture waiting to be filled by leaders with character. But count the cost.

It’s easier not to lead. It’s easier to watch from the stands. It’s easier to go with the flow. There is less friction and less pain.

But in the end, maybe God isn’t calling you to do the easy thing.

Six Traits of the Best Small Group Hosts

Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?

My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.

So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.

ProfessorThe Best Hosts Are Facilitators, Not Lecturers

I’m all for one-to-many communication, and I think preaching is getting sidelined a bit too much in our modern obsession with one-on-one discipleship. But a small group isn’t the arena for a lecture, it’s a conversation in a circle of chairs where everyone asks questions and everyone speaks up. Good hosts understand the power of leaving good questions unanswered and throwing them back into the ring.

The Best Hosts Include People Far From God

Rather than seeing a small group as a holy huddle or a gathering of the frozen chosen, great hosts remind themselves and their group that we have a common mission to accomplish – including everyone in God’s family so they can encounter Christ in an atmosphere where they are accepted by friends.

The Best Hosts Are Fellow Students, Not Experts

Small group leaders who facilitate growth in their groups don’t have all the answers, and don’t try to appear to have all the answers. Instead, they are fellow discoverers who participate in the group’s journey into greater knowledge and spiritual depth. How then are we to protect groups from doctrinal errors spread by well-meaning new believers? We trust the pastors, to whom the assignment of guarding the flock was given, to mentor leaders to a more thorough knowledge of biblical truth.

The Best Hosts SPEAK Human

Instead of speaking Christianese, they speak human. My Pastor gave me an acronym to remember a basic approach to human conversation…

S – What’s your story?

P – What’s your passion?

E – How can I encourage you?

AAsk, what can I do to help you?

K – Who do you know that I should know?

The Best Hosts Don’t Have It All Together

Not only do they not have it all together, but they’re willing to be open and honest about not having it all together. Life change only happens as masks are removed.

The Best Hosts Dream of Multiplying

Great small group hosts realize that group time is not just a social hour or a Bible class. It’s a time when God’s people get together to do life together, and to live missionally together. So the host is always looking around the group and asking, “who can I pour into next so that we can send out a leader to launch another group?”

The world around us is not impressed when we’ve amassed knowledge without living differently as a result. But as long as Christians are impressed with the same, we’ll never create a small group culture conducive to involving the surrounding world in the conversation. The best small group hosts love Jesus and love people, but are also real enough to relate to people and build genuine friendships.

I’m not the best small group host. But perhaps you’ve got what it takes? There’s only one way to know. Go start a group.

Photo by katiew

What Happens When I Fail to Delegate

LidAlways in the back of my mind is this thought, “Don’t be the factor holding back the growth of Grace Hills Church.” I believe in John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid. So if my leadership is sub-par, and I’m supposed to be at the head of the pack, where does that leave other leaders for whom I am responsible?

I need to be keenly aware of my blindspots, which means allowing other leaders, especially my wife, to look and speak into my life. I have some leadership flaws I’m working on right now, but at the top of the list is my slowness in delegating authority and responsibility to others. Here are some harsh realities about the inability to delegate that I’m trying to embrace today:

  • If I don’t delegate, I’ve snapped a lid on the growth of my organization. We’re done.
  • If I don’t delegate, it could signal a subtle arrogance in me that believes no one else could do as well as me with a responsibility.
  • If I don’t delegate, I rob someone of the pleasure and reward of serving and leading.
  • If I delegate tasks alone, and not authority, I’m still the authoritarian and I fail to value people.
  • If I don’t delegate, I fail to be like Jesus, who had the gaul to go pray alone while sending seventy other leaders out to evangelize.
  • If I don’t delegate, I’m headed for burnout already.
  • If I don’t delegate, I will frustrate the other leaders around me.

I often fail to delegate because I don’t want to burden people, I’m afraid of the “no,” or it’s just easier to do something myself. And therein lies the issue. By doing the work of ten men rather than finding ten men to do the work, I’ve chosen the easy path. I will work harder, with smaller results than if I empowered and released others to fulfill their God-given potential.

What do you need to give away?

Photo by .m for matthijs.

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8 Simple Ways to Pour Into Leaders

Windshield TimeIn the American church, we tend to think of leadership development as a classroom and curriculum-based process, but Jesus had a better idea: spend time with people. Jesus allowed His life to rub off on His chosen leaders and to pour His wisdom into them, and we can do the same. Sometimes it’s a matter of spotting the natural opportunities that come along while at other times, its an intentionally-planned conversation.

Here are some simple ways to make leadership development a part of your life…

  1. Schedule three to five informal meetings per week – coffee, lunch, etc. – with people into whom you want to invest.
  2. Take potential leaders on trips with you. I’ve heard great leaders talk about the mentoring power of never traveling alone. My Worship Pastor calls it “windshield time.”
  3. If you’re a Pastor, take a partner as you do pastoral care – hospital visits, etc. Just the time in the car on the way is a great opportunity.
  4. Buy and send books to leaders. I’ve received and given books that have shaped who I am.
  5. Check in with a phone call. Have a list of potential leaders into whom you’re pouring, and randomly call them once a month or so.
  6. Convene conversations. Gather leaders who aspire to be involved in the things you’ve spent your life doing and let them connect with each other.
  7. Listen. Pouring into leaders doesn’t mean doing all the talking. It often means lending an ear in a tough moment.
  8. Connect leaders to other leaders. It’s powerful when we say, “here’s a friend of mine you need to connect with.”

I can’t begin to thank God enough for the leaders He has placed in my life as mentors, friends, and coaches. I’m sometimes blown away by the graciousness of those who will pour into me.

We recently ran an article on Pastors.com by Pastor Rick Warren on how every Pastor needs a mentor. I was surprised at the feedback when Pastors said they had a hard time finding someone who would make time available to another leader. Never get caught up in getting your own business done that you fail to pour into other leaders. It’s the Jesus way, the apostolic communion, and the future hope of the church.

What are you doing to pour into other leaders?

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The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Leadership

The Threat… is you. We often guard against the negative impact of others or our perceived threat from other leaders, but at the end of the day, we leaders are our own worst enemies. The most damaging things that will happen to your leadership will be carried out by you.

  • When pride prevents you from learning
  • When anger destroys someone close to you
  • When your ego prevents you from mentoring those who might surpass you
  • When you fold to temptation and risk everything important
  • When you let your profession outrank your family
  • When you turn inward and withdraw into a shell
  • When the approval of people outranks the smile of God
  • When you get too busy to hang out with human beings
  • When you stand God up regularly
  • When you quit just before God is ready to really start using you

Paul once told Timothy, “Watch yourself.” He echoed the same to the Ephesian elders in Miletus as he said, “Take heed to yourself.” I think the aged apostle understood this principle well. There is no greater threat to your ministry than you, and there is no greater guarantee of success than focusing totally on Jesus.

You’re quite a threat!