I saw a funny church cartoon once that had a tall man and a shorter man walking down the church hallway. The tall man’s caption read, “Just once I’d like to see this church elect deacons by height!” Obviously, church leaders are not elected by height or any other physical appearance for that matter. Church leaders are not selected based on income or notoriety or any of the things we often associate with leaders in the world. Jesus taught us that His kingdom leaders should have a servant’s heart, not an attitude of superiority. That being the case, how do church leaders influence others to follow their leadership? Here are a few more thoughts to consider.
Church leaders influence through relationships. I’ve made a discovery in ministry—enlisting people to serve from the pulpit is pretty much a waste of time. Announcing a need for more ministry workers during announcement time just doesn't work. People need a personal contact to see the need, see who they are working with and catch the vision. They have questions that cannot be answered from the pulpit, anyway. They need a face-to-face conversation. People want to feel valued as a part of a ministry team and how we enlist them is critical. In addition, they continue to serve as they sense a comradery and connection with the leader. To deepen those relationships, we need to learn what inspires a person and what burdens him. We need to pursue a little deeper relationship with the people we lead.
It is important for us to value people over rules. As a church grows larger, good structure and effective systems are critical. The challenge to keep everyone going the same direction is real—Christians tend to get sidetracked easily. At the end of the day, the church is still in the people business. Years ago, my wife and I attended a big minister’s conference in a huge church. The church provided childcare, so we dropped off our two preschool boys. I politely asked if they could stay together since they were quite close in age and we knew that it would be best for them and the workers. I was promptly told that they had to be separated and if I didn’t like it, I would have to take it up with the senior pastor of the church. I tried to explain the reasons for my request, but the rule had to stand. I think we were offended more by the attitude of the leader than the rule itself. If I had been a prospect for that church, I would have never returned.
People are inclined to follow leaders of character and competency. In Psalm 33 worshipers are told to praise God from an upright heart and they are told to play skillfully. Character and competency are both necessary when leading worship. The same can be said of other areas of ministry. Consider the church leaders who have greatly influenced your life. These key influencers had character, but they also had people skills, communication skills and an understanding of the Bible. This is why church leaders need to become lifelong learners. We need to continue to grow—even in those areas we feel we are most competent. It is why teachers attend teaching conferences. It is why schools and hospitals have in-service training days. A sharp ax can chop more wood than a dull one. When the leader is not skilled at what she does, it creates tension and frustration, but if she lacks character, it is even worse.
Christians leadership is quite different than the world’s style of leadership. Sure, there are concepts that can apply to a church or ministry as well as a business, but Jesus clearly instructed us that His kingdom is led differently than the world’s. In fact, we might be better off to take our organizational charts and turn them upside down!
Dave Frasure is CABA's Leadership Catalyst and pastors First Baptist So. Lebanon, Oh.