Search me, God, and know my heart;Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)
Put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Imagine someone asks you, “What does it take to be a successful leader of a Christian ministry?” How would you answer?
You may have a different take or more to say than what is in this post. If you want, you can share your answer in the comments below or, if you are a CCCC member, you can go to The Green and contribute your answer as part of a discussion about this post.
To be a successful leader of a Christian ministry, you must not only deliver results but you must do so in a way that pleases our Lord. How you get results is more important than the specific results you get.
So if you want God’s blessing on you, your leadership, and your ministry, you will have to be a godly leader.
While we might like to think we are already godly enough, I have found that deeper reflection always leads to greater growth. God sends us tests, both large and small, as a way of getting us to do some personal reflection. I have found myself repeatedly tested through the years and every time, the test is an opportunity to examine myself, build my character, and choose a godly response. No matter how mature and experienced you are, there is always room to grow in some way.
Introduction to the Checkup
The checkup has two parts with a total of eleven components:
Part One: Personal Checkup
- Personal Identity: Ways to think about yourself at home and at work
- Personal-Public Life: Everything you do affects your ministry leadership
- Intimacy with God: Be a faithful leader
- Personal Renewal: Keep your leadership healthy and fresh
- Personal Vitality: Strengthen your efficacy and resilience
- Godly Traits: Please God and enable everyone around you to flourish
- Immune System: Protect yourself against failure
Part Two: Vocational Checkup
- Call & Vision: The foundation of your ministry leadership
- Your Aims & Goals: The direction of your ministry leadership
- Motivation: The driving force behind your ministry leadership
- Influence: How you affect your staff and others
I have provided a worksheet as a download to help you track yourself as you do the checkup. When you are done, you will have your personal development plan to work on over time.
Take your time working through the checkup. Each element will require time for personal reflection. May the Spirit give you great insights.
Each link takes you to a post that covers that element and contains a reflection document you can download to help you apply the ideas to yourself.
1. Personal Identity: Ways to think about yourself at home and at work
Your identity as a leader is crucial to how you lead. Everything about how you lead, for good or ill, will flow out of your identity.
- Answer the question, “Who am I?” Ministry leaders must resist building their personal identity based on their jobs. As a leader, your role is something outside of yourself that you fulfill.
- You are a steward. Self-centredness is a significant threat to authentic Christian witness by Christian leaders. You belong to Jesus Christ and are his steward.
- You are a shepherd. Several pastors who reflected deeply on the “shepherd” metaphor reported that they felt a profound change in their sense of identity as they became more connected to the historic plan of God for his people, felt awed that they were called to serve the Great Shepherd, and developed a new regard for their vocation.
2. Personal-Public Life: Everything you do affects your ministry leadership
A ministry leader is always “on” in the sense that you are always representing your ministry, even at private family gatherings, because people know what you do, and while we adjust some things for our non-work lives (such as playfulness, personal interests, etc.) our basic ethics and behaviour must be consistent with what we profess at work.
- You cannot “compartmentalize” your life. Compartmentalization happens when we build walls in our lives to prevent inner conflict, say between what we believe and what we do. This is always a problem.
- Set boundaries to protect your non-work life. Some Christian leaders are such workaholics that they aren’t living the life they were created to enjoy. Setting healthy boundaries is different from compartmentalizing your life.
- Your personal spirituality affects your entire ministry. As a ministry leader, your spiritual life is inextricably linked to the health of the ministry you lead.
3. Intimacy with God: Be a faithful leader
Ministry leaders must be closely connected with the Triune God because the very nature of their work demands it.
- Cultivate a divine intimacy with God. A Christian leader is really a follower of Christ (the real leader). Developing intimacy with God and knowing his heart is the essence of Christian leadership.
- Learn to discern how God speaks to you. Jesus said he would provide his Spirit to be our guide and this series of four posts will help you “hear” him.
- Take care of your soul. Christians working in ministry risk professionalizing their spirituality. If the only time you pray or study is for work, you will dry up spiritually.
- Do personal spiritual retreats to sustain your leadership. Christian leaders need vibrant, healthy spiritual lives to follow God and lead his people. Here’s a way ministry leaders can conduct a balanced, five-day retreat. The first two days are a personal examination and they could be done as a standalone retreat. The last three days relate to the organization you lead, and they also could be done independently as a three-day retreat or a team retreat.
4. Personal Renewal: Keep your leadership healthy and fresh
Leaders do not need to have all the answers, but they are expected to cast vision and set basic direction. Leaders will only be successful over the long haul by keeping their leadership healthy and fresh.
- Be intentional about regularly reinventing yourself as a leader. Every leader asks at some point, “Am I the one to lead this organization through the next phase of its life?” Leaders become stale-dated if they do not take steps to stay fresh. Here’s what to do.
- Get out of the rut. When there is no vision for anything different and people settle for what already is, they are in a rut! Here’s how to get out.
5. Personal Vitality: Strengthen your efficacy and resilience
There is a reason why God placed you and not someone else in the leadership role you have. There is something about you that God wants to come out in your leadership. Personal vitality is about contributing the most you can, including what makes you you, to the ministry’s cause.
- Be yourself. Success stories of other leaders inspire and encourage us, but they become obstacles when we turn them into guides that we slavishly follow. We must ask: When should we copy other leaders, and when should we not?
- Keep the joy in your leadership. Lead by joyfully remembering whom we serve. Knowing God is life-giving and liberating, so as a leader, your leadership should likewise be life-giving and liberating.
- Rekindle your first love. Remember what brought you into ministry leadership.
6. Godly Traits: Please God and enable everyone around you to flourish
These traits will protect you from yourself, keep you reliant on God, and make you an attractive leader others will want to follow:
- Graciousness. If you want to be “Christ to your employees and volunteers,” you must be gracious towards them even when it’s challenging.
- Gratitude. We can take satisfaction in our abilities and accomplishments but must always remember God gave us our abilities and makes our work fruitful.
- Humility. Praise can be both affirming and damaging to leaders. Here’s an appropriate way for Christian ministry leaders to handle praise. For a humorous example of being humbled, read about my humbling experience and maybe you’ll feel some compassion for me while you laugh.
- Love. Leaders must love the communities they lead and care for them just as God loves and cares for the entire human community.
7. Immune System: Protect yourself against failure
The goal of every leader at the beginning of their leadership is to finish well. Unfortunately, that is not always how their leadership ends. You must be vigilant and constantly find ways to protect yourself. I will be writing a series on avoiding leadership failure later this winter that will deal with specific snares that bring leaders down. In the meantime, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
- Keep a full life. A possible downside to ministry specialization is that leaders, who are devoting themselves to a specific cause, can fall into the trap of allowing that cause to consume their whole life. Here is some common sense advice for how to stay balanced and healthy while committed to a cause.
- Protect your call. Two kings of Israel were approved by God and later lost his support. They are sobering object lessons to ministry leaders today.
- Acknowledge that you have “blind spots.” I read a case study about a leader who thought he knew what the answer was, but didn’t know that he didn’t really know what was actually going on.
- Seek out your “blind spots.” Leaders need their board, staff, and outsiders to ask them the right questions.
- Make sure you don’t have “CEO Disease.” CEO disease is the withholding of important information from a leader, usually because it is not good news. Since a leader needs accurate information in order to lead, this is a real problem.
- Learn to appreciate annoying people. How should we think and respond when we feel annoyed by someone?
- Learn from your critics. God could be using them to speak prophetic correction to you.
- Control your dark side. The traits that enabled you to become a leader are the same traits that can be your downfall.
- Watch out for the early warning signs of impending failure. The earliest warning signals of impending failure are things we tend to honour: performing well and working hard.
- Take Jesus up on his offer of peace. The prospect of burnout and losing one’s joy is very real for people working in ministry, so it’s very good news indeed that Jesus says he has a better way.
- Set a goal to finish your ministry leadership well. Leaders who do not finish their careers well usually share a set of common traits. Here’s what the traits are and what to do about them. The goal you set can address any or all of them.
- Decide now what your legacy will be. Here’s my wish list for the legacy that all Christian leaders will leave, one that reflects our Christian faith.
8. Call & Vision: The foundation of your ministry leadership
You must remember your call every day of your leadership. It will keep you focussed on what God wants you to do.
- Discern your call. There are so many different ways of discerning your call. Here are some helpful discernment principles.
- Continue discerning your call. However far you have come in ministry since your initial call, Jesus is still going ahead of you and keeps calling you to follow him, so never stop listening for his voice.
9. Your Aims & Goals: The direction of your ministry leadership
Determining specifically what the ministry will do is where Christian and secular practices intersect. Leaders need to navigate carefully to be sure they are acting in the interests of those they serve rather than their own interests, and that all the practices of the ministry stand up to theological scrutiny.
- Serve while leading. What does it mean to be a servant leader? Whom should leaders serve? What service do they provide? How does one serve and lead at the same time?
- Check that your leadership practices are faith-friendly. The Bible says a lot that applies to leadership, but so does human wisdom. Here’s how to know when secular leadership practices are acceptable in ministry.
10. Motivation: The driving force behind your ministry leadership
Over time, people will see what truly motivates you. Make sure your motivation aligns with our faith, which is all about others and community. Leading a Christian ministry is not about you, but about the Lord and the mission given to your particular ministry.
- Know your deepest motivations. Reflections from the life of a 100-year-old preacher about how to live well with no regrets will help you assess what is really driving you. This post includes a video of him singing “I Don’t Regret a Mile” as part of the service when he preached his 100th birthday sermon.
11. Influence: How you affect your staff and others
Since you have the most influence of anyone over your workplace culture and environment, it is your job to ensure that you model Christlike behaviour.
- Your leadership is contagious. Your staff will inevitably grow to become more like you. If you are casting vision, inspiring hope and brimming with enthusiasm, then you hope other people will catch what you have. But if you are crusty, suspicious and cranky, you might be infecting your staff with your negative attributes.
- Ensure that God’s will is done in your workplace. Let God’s will reign in your workplace. The way I think of this is, if Jesus were to return to serve as an employee at CCCC, would he fit in with our culture and way of being? Would he be able to say of my leadership, “John reminds me of myself?” Would Jesus be willing to stay under my leadership or would he soon be looking for some other ministry leader to share his talents and gifts with?
I hope that the posts have sparked some ideas to help you become an ever more godly leader. May the Lord richly bless you as you strive to become more like Christ in all that you do.