I am convinced that gifted and well-equipped leadership is absolutely essential for every church. Biblical leadership is taught clearly in the Scriptures but perhaps often lost in the application of the local church.
Second Timothy 2:2 says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Here we see the transference of the core teachings of our faith to new leaders who will teach others.
This is biblical leadership development.
Now, it’s interesting, I have not always thought that leadership was a big deal. As a matter of fact, as I was writing a book with Mike Dodson a few years ago called Comeback Churches, I was really hoping we would find that it was just not true—that everything did not, in fact, “rise and fall on leadership.”
I was honestly tired of all the pithy leadership-related quotes that are venerated in church life, and I was looking for a reason to write them off.
Once we began the research and writing of the book, however, there was no denying that leadership was absolutely critical for revitalizing churches. The right leader turned out to be key to the process, so I gained a new appreciation for leadership.
Unfortunately, churches often frown on a focus on leadership, and I get it.
Leadership development it is sometimes pragmatic and those who lead often have strong personalities (just ask my team).
There is also a history of poor leadership in churches, so many people have a bad taste in their mouths for any leadership at all. But the reality is that leadership is a high priority throughout the pages of Scripture.
The passage I referenced earlier says equipping faithful people who can to teach others is central to our task as pastors. Its importance cannot be lessened simply because it has been wrongly applied in the past.
A friend of mine, Bill Easum, once wrote about leaders “putting on their own oxygen masks first.” If you’ve flown, you likely recognize that instruction from the flight crew. If air pressure is lost in flight, oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, and parents are instructed to put on their own masks before putting them on their children. It seems counterintuitive, because parents want to protect their children. But the airlines know that if parents lose consciousness, they are of no help to their children or anyone else.
When it comes to the issue of leadership, the same idea is true. We need to put on our own oxygen masks first. We need to be developed as leaders, so we can effectively lead others through a church revitalization process, through a church planting process, or through everyday life and ministry in a local congregation.
Ultimately, it is essential that leaders actually lead.
A few years back we surveyed 7,000 churches from all Protestant denominations for a book called Transformational Church. I am not a natural born leader, so I was encouraged that we found people who are developing their own leadership styles—putting on their own oxygen masks first, engaging others, and multiplying their leadership.
I am a research guy, so let me throw out a few statistics we found in our research.
- 81 percent of the members in their churches moderately or strongly agreed with the statement, “Our church leadership makes sacrifices for the direction God has given our church.”
- 76 percent moderately or strongly agree, “While people may have different preferences, the vision God has given our church overshadows their preferences.”
- 81 percent moderately or strongly agree, “Our church leadership is personally involved in a small class or group.” In other words, they are not just leading; they are living what they lead.
As a part of our research, we sent consultants all across North America and asked them to report back any patterns they saw in transformational churches. They discerned a pattern of vibrant, enthusiastic, and passionate leadership.
The leadership structure and model was not so much the key; it was the vibrancy and trust of the leadership. Seventy-three percent of members in those churches moderately or strongly agree with the statement, “Our church leaders remind me of Jesus.”
Those, my friends, are transformational leaders.
We pinpointed four mindset shifts that need to occur to develop transformational leadership.
1. From “One” to “Many.”
The first is deciding to move from “one” to “many” leaders. Fifty-three percent (a number lower than I’d prefer) of the members in transformational churches moderately or strongly agree with the statement, “Our church has a system in place to raise up future leaders.” Yet, when comparing that number to those that were not in transformational churches, it was much higher—at a statistically significant level.
Sixty-eight percent agree, “Our church diminishes the distinction between clergy and laity and encourages everyone to minister.” I think that is so important; please don’t miss it.
I understand that 1 Timothy 3:1 speaks of the role of the pastor as a noble task; but all Christians are called to ministry.
A shift away from a clergy/laity divide leaving room for more leaders is needed for developing transformational leadership.
2. From “Me” to “We.”
The second shift is from “me” to “we.”
Churches need a compelling purpose, the right leader, the right team, and a conducive culture for transformation to occur. We found that sixty-eight percent of the members moderately or strongly agree that “People in our church are energized by what we’re doing.”
Sixty-nine percent said, “Our congregation knows the vision of our church.”
In other words, they have a vision that drives them, a leader surrounded by a team that leads well, and a culture that encourages transformation. This shift simply reflects what we see in the Scriptures. Leadership is not the accumulation of influence and power; it is the distribution of influence and service.
3. From “Personal Power” to “People Empowerment.”
The third mindset we saw from our research was a shift from “personal power” to “people empowerment.”
Only 26 percent of the members of transformational churches agree, “Our leaders seem afraid to step aside and hand off principles of ministries to others.”
Transformational leaders must be intentional about handing off ministry to the people they’ve been equipping for it.
4. From “Inward Focus” to “Outward Focus.”
Sixty-seven percent of members agree that “Our church leaders think as missionaries and work to understand the cultural context in our region.”
That is an outward focus.
Seventy-one percent say, “Our leadership senses a call to our local city or community.” Seventy-seven percent say, “Our church leadership understands the context.”
So, a shift to an intentionally outward focus is also key to building transformational leadership.
It seems the church goes in cycles. We want leadership principles for a while, and then we want to ditch them and just “preach the Word.” I want both. I want church leaders to focus on the Bible and learn how to be the best leaders we can.
When we look to the Scriptures, we hardly ever see a great work of God without a great leader of God. We ought to be careful not to miss that.
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