Leadership is tough! Very tough! So tough, in fact, I nearly went with the word impossible but I thought that was taking it too far. Of course there are countless books out there to help us along the way. They have great titles that promise much; 10 Steps To Being An Inspiring Leader; The Route to Success; or my personal favourite…Anyone Can Be Cool But Being Awesome Takes Practice (personal favourite title that is). Somebody somewhere has probably lifted these from shelves and led their company to unprecedented profits. Maybe they won the leader of the year prize and got a free holiday in Tenerife. As for myself I would have to confess that the word ‘tough’ still applies.
Being a leader of a church is one of the biggest honours the Lord can give to a human being. Think about it this way. Jesus could have saved us and if that was all He did we would still be in awe of Him for all of eternity. He could even have saved us and given us an insight into His plan for the world. Or maybe He could have saved us and given us 24 hours to witness some extraordinary Kingdom building experience. All of that would still constitute amazing grace. But to save us and then involve us? To make us ambassadors for His Name? Then give to church leaders the outrageous privilege of studying His Word and shepherding His blood bought children? If I were God I wouldn’t have come up with that plan. Saving people? Yes! But not involving them. Amazingly and thankfully our gracious God did, and sometimes we can lose the wonder of it. We lose the wonder because it’s tough.
Here are two reasons for all the toughness.
1. People in churches are sinners.
We often forget this. We have been redeemed with the blood of the Lord Jesus and covered with His righteous robes, but everyday we are struggling, straining forward, and longing for the day when we never again reach out for our old spiritual clothes. We still get angry. We get feisty. Sometimes we behave as if the church is ours. We can be incredulous when things are not going our way. We can even be poor parents or hard to manage employees. One or two of us might even lack respect for our leaders in church. That’s tough!
Many times I’ve reflected on poor Moses when he was out in the desert with all those sinners. He was God’s man. The only leader there was. He wasn’t called to Florida Keys. Nor was he leading a band of Angels. Rather, he was out in the baking heat with a bunch of rat bags. He must have been pulling his hair out and beating his camel with his staff before crying all night long in his tent. His problem was a perennial one that will exist in the church until Jesus comes…the people he was leading didn’t want to be led. They wanted a leader but not one that took decisions and steered. They wanted a figure head in name only. That’s tough!
There is, however, a bigger reason why leadership is tough. Not just that people in churches are sinners. If only it were as easy as that. Wait for it…
2. Leaders in churches are sinners too.
The older I get and the more I lead the more I am seeing my own deficiencies in all their glory. It hasn’t always been like this for me. I have had many years of seeing the spec of dust in the eyes of others; My wife will tell you that. I have come home from church meetings in a pink fit at times. ‘How dare they say that to me!’ ‘Who does he think he is?’ Sometimes I have even done a Moses and got a little angry with God and if I had a camel in the garden I would have given it a thrashing for good measure. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these occasions are no more. It’s just that I see my own flaws much more clearly than I used to.
I remember when I went into leadership for the first time a number of years ago. I honestly thought I was about to change the world. I think many pastors in their youth have thought this way. They see the task that’s before them and think that they are the panacea for all the church’s ills. A few more miles on the clock and suddenly they realise they are not the answer to the problem. They are part of it. And it’s a big part! Sinners are not easily led and nor do sinners easily lead. The sooner we wake up to these twin realities the better our churches will be.
In an effort to make church leadership less tough it might be helpful to consider the following…
a. We have feelings! All of us. Even leaders! Some of the things that church members over the years have said to their leaders have not been just close to the line, they have been way over it. We forget that those who lead us are men just as we are. God has called them into positions of responsibility and one day He will hold them to account. For that reason alone they usually haven’t sought those positions and, if truth be told, they would much prefer to sit in pews and be off in the shadows. And yet God had different plans for them. Plans that included leading. I serve in a great church where people have (on the whole) been gracious and warm and kind since I arrived but it is not always this way. Just recently I heard of a poor Pastor who was told, publicly, by some deacons that he had overstayed his welcome in the church and that his preaching was past its sell by date. Did those same deacons think that their Pastor went home that night to enjoy a pleasant mocha with his wife? Did they think he would sleep well? Were any of them concerned he might get stressed out of his box? Were they ‘doing to others as they would wish for themselves?’ We all have feelings. Even leaders. When we forget that…that’s tough!
b. Be encouraging. Someone once said that encouragement is like oxygen in that it keeps us alive! Over the years I have discovered just how truthful that is and how a healthy dose of encouragement keeps us serving over the long haul. In my experience there are three types of encouragement that sustain leaders:
– regularly praying for them
– implementing their teaching ministry
– saying ‘thank you’
Out of those three I would say there is nothing quite as encouraging as seeing a believer taking in God’s Word on Sunday and living it out on Monday. On the other hand there is nothing quite as discouraging as seeing a believer taking in God’s Word on Sunday and ignoring it on Monday.
Long term service without encouragement is tough.
c. Remember they are leaders, and leaders lead. I mentioned this before but it’s worth teasing it out again. Most churches want a 25 year old Pastor with 30 years experience. On top of that they would like him to keep the status quo, not rock the boat, preach and visit, and then leave after 10 years. What they don’t want is a leader. They usually struggle with new ideas and vision.
Before I say anything more it is worth establishing that the Church is the Lord’s and it does not belong to the Pastor. How could it? Everyone understands that when you buy something you are the owner. It’s yours. You pay, take, and own. With that in mind…has the Pastor paid? Clearly not! Well then, nor does He own. He might lead but he leads with a delegated authority which has been given to him by The Head. When this is forgotten and the Pastor struts his stuff, swaggers, makes wholesale changes, and rides roughshod over people he is called to shepherd then of this you can be absolutely sure…that is seriously tough (but not for him!). He has convinced himself he is leading and he is, but not to the happy church haven he thinks lies ahead. He’s leading the whole place to disaster. And one day He will experience another kind of toughness when Jesus asks Him what he thought he was doing. That will be tough.
That said, when a man of God arrives in a church, displays his love for the members, and then tries to gently and patiently steer the church forward into a new era then it is horrendously tough on him when the church says, ‘No!’. That is not God’s intention for His family.
I love the Church and I love the church to which I am called. For the reasons above I don’t find it easy at times. People are sinful and so am I. What I am absolutely sure about is that leading God’s people is the greatest privilege that God could have given to me. It might be tough and even feel impossible at times, but surely it’s a sign of my Father’s amazing grace that He didn’t just save me, He involved me.