All ministry leadership is first and foremost spiritual leadership. Sure there are lots of techniques and tools you can learn to use. There are leadership courses and degrees you can take. But at its root, as I’ve written before, ministry leadership is about leading a ministry that belongs to Jesus Christ, even if the ministry bears your name. Even if you are the founding pastor of a congregation. And because the ministry belongs to Christ and is pursuing his mission for the church, your leadership must be founded on nothing other than spiritual leadership if you want to achieve the results that Christ wants, rather than what you want. Every other leadership activity or technique flows out of that foundation.
Bias to action
We have to acknowledge, though, that boards hire leaders to get results, so we are typically hired for our expertise, capabilities, and proven performance. And naturally, we want to continually reassure the board that they have selected the right leader. So there is a very good reason why we leaders are drawn to a performance, action-oriented type of leadership. In fact, it is probably an innate bias to action that is just who we are that first causes others to see leadership potential in us. When we try to identify future leaders, don’t we often start by looking at practitioners, people who are really doing ‘it’ (‘it’ being getting results), and then giving them opportunities to develop as leaders?
But there is a downside to the bias toward action to watch out for:
Practitioners tend to be action oriented, which is why they’re practitioners and not academics. As a result, they may have little tolerance for engaging in reflection and analysis.Frances Westley and Brenda Zimmerman, Getting to Maybe, p. 89
The downside to a bias to action can be a lack of time invested in reflection and analysis when there is so much to be done!
The most important part of reflection and analysis for Christian leaders is prayer and discernment, looking at your ministry and its results through God’s eyes rather than yours.
Time spent in listening prayer, reflection on your leadership and yourself as a leader, is not wasted time, or something to be done if you have time to squeeze it in. Prayerful discernment is the starting place for ministry leadership. It is what qualifies you to be a leader. You can’t lead for Christ if you are not in moment-by-moment communion with him.
The risk that every ministry leader must watch for and avoid is the risk of professionalizing your ministry. Dave Blundell, the author of Professionally Religious, tells pastors and executive directors to:
Stop giving so much attention and emotional energy to that which you lead and be still, wait, remain, see and reflect, and draw near. Everything you need will flow from that: peace, perspective, power, strength, fruit, results, unity, humility, purity, and joy. The counteragent of professional religion is spiritual vibrancy.Dave Blundell, Professionally Religious, pp. 222-223
If we professionalize our ministries, we will inevitably come to rely on ourselves, our skills, knowledge, and experience. We may end up thinking that our mission satisfies the spiritual element of our ministry, while we consider our leadership attributes as our own practical contribution to advancing Christ’s mission in the material world. But everything is spiritual, and while the practical leadership skills, knowledge, and experience we offer to Christ is indeed a contribution, it is not complete until Christ augments our gift with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and gifts. And that won’t happen if we think that we are bringing all that is needed through our own leadership.
As Steve McVey writes in The Secret of Grace:
Personal strength becomes a barrier in our gracewalk when we trust in what we think we can accomplish instead of trusting in God.Steve McVey, The Secret of Grace, p. 35
Why stand still?
The benefit of standing still for a while and soaking in the perspectives that Christ can provide us through the Holy Spirit, is that we will open ourselves up to possibilities far beyond anything we could do in our own power. Our perception of what is possible and not possible is limited by what we can see ourselves doing. But God’s realm of possibility is vastly, infinitely, larger than our own. Remember what God said through Isaiah,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God made this vividly clear to me when I was at a point in my life wondering what to do next. As I recount in my post “Strategic Planning and the Holy Spirit”, the Spirit reminded me that:
“If my ways are not your ways, and if my thoughts are so much higher than yours that you can’t even conceive the depth and breadth of my thoughts, then the best your puny little plans can do is frustrate what I want to do through you. Stop planning and let me lead!”
Leaders must lead of course, and that requires leaders to be active, taking action to move people forward and accomplish real results. But they must lead by following Christ’s leadership. The bias toward action must be tempered to allow for time to be still and to rest in communion with Christ through his Spirit, to receive his inspiration and guidance.
If you feel you can accomplish the results you can conceive of on your own, then it may be that God will sit back and watch to see just what you really can do on your own. But if you receive and act upon the possibilities he presents, depending on God’s strength and abilities to see them realized, then you will be leading with the power of God.