Thursday, July 15, 2004

How Do You Know A Leader?

I have a friend who was lamenting this weekend (for the umpteenth time) about the fact that they have not been put into leadership at church despite serving faithfully for years. As I listened I couldn't help but think there is no way I would put this person in a leadership position but I couldn't off the top of my head tell you why I felt that way.

I recently read a Barna report that said roughly 50% of regular church attenders perceive that they are considered leaders in their church. That is absolutely mind boggling to me... my experience says that there is only 2 or 3 real leaders per 100 attenders. Many of the people who we recognize and call leaders are not leaders. One of my favorite ice breakers is to ask a congregation how many of them consider themselves a better than average driver... invariably about 90% will raise their hand... statistically almost half of those with their hand up are wrong in their perception.

Since my perception of this 'would be' leader and their own were so far apart it made me consider what caused the disparity? They are educated, intelligent and spiritually mature. They are loyal and faithful to the church. There is nothing obvious to disqualify them from the goal they desire. But the reality is that nobody I discussed this with could perceive them as a leader.

This opens up a major point...
The only things that can be given to someone are titles, responsibilities and authority. None of these have anything to do with leadership. I believe it is John Maxwell who says you can recognize a leader by seeing if there is anyone following them. This friend of mine is a wonderful, friendly, intelligent person... but there is nobody who is following. Now, we could probably satisfy them by giving them responsiblity and a title... but is it in anybody's best interest to do that with someone who is not naturally capable of leading?

Quite honestly, the most serious issues in churches that I have been part of are people with titles, responsibilities and authority who ARE NOT LEADERS! This creates a situation where nothing can happen because the people holding the strings are incapable of persuading others or are themselves unable to change. You wind up with someone filling a position who has no vision (or talent) for making it anything more than it was when they took it.

How do you know a leader?
  • Are there people naturally following them? Do people come to them or look to them even when they DON'T have position or authority? This is a key indicator to me. When an issue is brought up in a meeting who do the bulk of the attenders look at first to read a response... that person is likely a leader.

  • Are they a person you would like to reproduce? One of my most painful lessons was when I brought in a children's pastor because he "fit the bill" and he had a "passion for the kids". The thing I didn't put as much emphasis on was whether or not they were a person I would like to reproduce. I chose instead to look past the fact that they were simply weird and not someone I would choose to spend time around if they didn't work for me. They soon flaked out on me and resigned... much to my relief... but it made me realize that you better focus on promoting people who you would like to have more like.

  • Is their home life / professional life in order? This one has to be considered with a lot of grace, but its still important to observe. A person can have such a focus and passion for Kingdom things that they are not driven to career success... that is not in itself a problem... career success is not a sign of leadership skills or spiritual maturity. It becomes a problem when they don't fulfill their requirements to provide for their family and financial obligations. I know a guy who insists God told him not to work for a living. Now, whether or not God told him to work is not my biggest issue with him... the fact that his family is suffering and he doesn't seem to notice is my issue. And as regarding leadership? NO WAY... I would never put him in a place of influence.

  • In family matters, is there constant contention in the home or is it relatively peaceful? This is difficult to discern... I've known great men of God with children from hell... and its hard to know why. Judging a person by another person's behavior is dangerous and should be avoided... but its fair to say that a home that is in disarray is likely a sign of other issues that, even if they do not disqualify them from service, will certainly limit their effectiveness.

Monday, July 12, 2004

You Can Never Go Back?

Ministry is hard.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice to pastor a small church... and it is rarely obvious whether or not the sacrifices are worth the effort. Certainly, it is a rewarding venture when viewed from a high level, but that level is difficult to achieve when you're standing in the middle of the day-to-day circumstances. I recently heard someone say about their vacation in Switzerland "I didn't get to see any scenery because of all the mountains in the way." That is a pretty good analogy to the daily pressures of ministry.

I entered the first church that I pastored with a passion... I was going to grow that thing come hell or high water. We were going to see lives changed, people healed, disciples raised up and sent into fulltime ministry. After almost 5 years passed I was tired and discouraged and I resigned, leaving fulltime ministry. I left feeling like... well, if not a failure I certainly left feeling like less that a success.

Lots of years have passed since then... with many successes and many failures under my (substantial) belt. Those early days aren't a shame, I wear them as a badge (a purple heart, perhaps), even with pride these days. I thank God for the opportunity he provided to be part of the lives of some awesome people... friends that I know, even if we haven't talked for months or years, I could call today if I were in need and they would be there for me.

But there are still times when I can truthfully ask, was it worth it? Was there lasting value?

There were two occurrences recently that touched me deeply.

I was back in that church for a wedding recently. As I sat prior to the wedding a little girl came up and sat down next to me... 7 or 8 years old. She looked up at me and laid her head on my arm. I smiled down and asked her name... she told me and asked, "You're Mr. Duke!"...

"That's right", I answered.

She asked, "Know what my mommy said?"

Now I was interested... I still didn't know who she was. "What?"

"She said you gave me to Jesus when I was a baby!"

Now I'm a sucker for little girls anyway but this really touched me... I turned to see Mitch and Beth Hawley and realized that it was their daughter that I had been privileged to dedicate to the Lord as an infant many years earlier. The little girl knew me from the signature on her dedication certificate still hanging in her bedroom.

This past weekend I was back in the church for yet another wedding. A couple came up during the reception that I recognized. John and Angie Unruh whom I had married nearly 10 years ago. They were there to introduce me to their daughter whom was 8 or 9 years old. They wanted her to meet the "man who married your Mom and I."

There are many other things about being back that were blessings. I (and others) worked hard to instill a mission focus in the church. The day I was there they were sending 13 people to the mission field for an "extreme mission" to Mexico.

To see that the work you toiled at is still producing fruit, to see people whom you loved and poured yourself into still serving and faithful and themselves producing disciples, to see young people you held in your lap now praying for others, or a young woman whom you remember when her first boyfriend broke up with her now walking down the aisle to be handed to her new husband, it is fulfilling. God bless Mike and Gail who continue to serve and lead that body.