4 Unexpected Leadership Lessons

This past Sunday was my last as the Senior Minister at Redwood Church. It was more than I could have hoped for. My family’s time in California, in the grand scheme, has been brief, yet extraordinarily fruitful. I can’t speak for the congregation, but Rochelle and I are different and better people. We’ve learned much about leadership and loving a church. Mostly, we’ve learned the hard way. And we are eternally grateful for a congregation that allowed us to test, experiment, fail and recover.

Here are a few of our unexpected lessons learned the hard way:

1. Conviction Is Key. In the life of a congregation there are thousands of decisions. In fact, there are thousands of different and difficult decisions to make everyday. This means that leaders need to lead by conviction; knowing what they believe and how to achieve. Andy Stanley says  in Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision that engineering a vision is both knowing what your vision is and having the conviction to bring it to fruition. Leaders who lack conviction will have their vision blown to and fro by the changing winds. In addition, without conviction, slights and criticisms weigh more than they ought. If you’re going to succeed or fail do so under the pressure of your own God-given vision.

2. There’s A Thin Line Between Love & Hate. That’s an overstatement…sort of. In her book Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith Barbara Brown Taylor writes of her leaving congregational ministry. As she exits the pastorate she is reminded of the words of one of her ministerial mentors. He said, “The people who hate you don’t hate you as much as you think they hate you and the people who love you don’t love you as much as you think they love you.” It’s wise counsel. As a leader, you cannot avoid criticism. You will have both detractors and fans. Therefore, you can’t allow other’s opinions to shape your self-perception. And you certainly cannot allow other’s opinions to shape your activities. This is where Jesus’ ministry is key. In the course of a week, our Lord went from celebrated hero to Gethsemane. Crowds are fickle. Always have been.

3. Stay Ahead / Stay Fresh. For a leader to succeed s/he must be ahead of the organization. The leader is hardly ever the smartest person in a group, but they must be the one looking farther down the road. Church world is hectic. And when the leader has to teach and preach each week, looking forward can easily become the first thing to fall by the wayside. It can’t. A few times I struggled to get ahead, to know what was coming in 3, 6, or 9 months. When I stayed ahead, the entire organization functioned better, when I was scrambling we all suffered.

4. Love Before You Lead. I once heard Francis Chan say that he knew he could lead a church, he just didn’t know if he loved his church. That was powerful. And it changed my view of leadership. Recently a friend of mind stepped into a senior ministry position. He called to ask my thoughts. In response I told him that the first thing he should do is make sure that everyone in hos new church knew that he loved them. The apostle Paul was right, the greatest thing you can do as a leader is offer love. What’s more, if people’s hearts aren’t open to you, then you’re dead in the water.

What unexpected lessons have you learned about leadership and church life? What wasn’t covered in class that might help us all lead our churches to greater heights in the God’s kingdom?