The Strength that Eludes the Leader…. (Part 2)

This article continues from “The Strength that Eludes the Leader (Part 1)” (Rev. Dr. Philip Huan)

3. GOD’S JOURNEY WITH YOU: CONTENTMENT & JOY-QUOTIENTS

When I faced resistance from people in a consultancy project I was working on in a church, I felt stressed by the emotions involved. But as I prayed, I remembered that God had called me to this work. I also saw a vision of a huge rock, inside which I saw an angel. This reminded me of Renaissance artist/sculptor Michelangelo, when he said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”. As he sculpted the rock, the angel would take shape and form and become a masterpiece! I felt God say to me, “Philip, there is great goodness in these people which I want to draw out. You need to be patient to see it with Me and partner me in drawing it out”.

God has sent us as leaders to bring out the best in the lives of His people. It will take time, patience, sweat and even tears. But it is a joy to hope and see them become the best God calls them to be. God wants us to delight in this hope, be content with the pace God moves with us, and enjoy this journey with God. In fact, someone one said, “God would rather have you stop work, rather than work in ministry partnership with Him and not enjoy the journey”.

Remembering the hope for change, and enjoying this partnership with God brings joy and renewed strength!

Some ways to enjoy your ministry:

i. What are the friendships God has given me through this season?

ii. What is the hope of the difference I have made through this season? What is the hope and dream I have for these people by the end of that season?

iii. How can I delight in obeying God and walking with Him despite any hardship?

iv. What can I give thanks for, thus far, that God has done?

Paul, our pioneer in Christian ministry, reminds us, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that the work of the Lord is not in vain!” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

4. GOD’S TENURE FOR YOU: HOLDING LOOSELY TO YOUR MINISTRY

We used to play a game when young: at the playground, we would hang on the “monkey bars”, and see who could hold on the longest. As muscles ached and hands chaffed, inevitably one by one would release the bars and fall to the ground in exhaustion. After some time, we observed a pattern: that those who hung on tightly in one position were the ones to fall first. On the contrary, those who hung loosely, throwing their weight to one arm and then the next, shifting position to bring momentary rests to each arm could last longer.

I see a spiritual parallel in this: those who hold their ministry loosely, willing to surrender it to God, often have the tenacity to last the longer haul. There is a need to have a long-term vision and dream in one place to see it comes to pass. However, I submit to you that when one sees every season as God’s gift and tenure, which God may give or take away in His timing, gives us greater tenacity to last through a particular difficult season to see God’s work fulfilled.

Some ways to appreciate God’s tenure for your ministry:

i. What has God called me to do here, and how long is that season?

ii. What legacy do I want to leave by the end of that season?

iii. How can I come to love these people such that I want the best for them?

iv. When is the time when there is someone else better equipped to lead them than me?

Rick Warren, in the early years of his ministry, once wrote, “Lord, bless Saddleback Valley and reach them for Jesus. If there is ever someone who can lead this church better than I, please remove me and put that person there”.[1]

Poignant words from a high-impact leader who has led and endured for the long haul!

5. GOD’S STYLE FOR YOU: LEADING FROM WHO YOU ARE

I would like to spend a little more time on this last aspect as a conclusion to this article.

All leaders have different personalities & values. Although there is a great need to learn of the various styles of leadership, I submit to you that we are best when we lead from who we are:

DOMINANT

Skill: a leader who leads from seeing the overview and moves to align goals to meet the objectives.

Values: decisiveness, clear direction, priority and alignment.

Impact: wins respect from others by “heading in the right direction”.

INFLUENCE

Skill: a leader who communicates passion, vision and the dream God has put on the heart of the organization.

Values: fun, bonding, passion, energy and inspiration.

Impact: sets hearts on fire and wins people to a dream.

STEADY

Skill: a leader who builds teams and bonds people as “family”.

Values: relationships, faithfulness, care and friendships.

Impact: warms people’s hearts to love and deep relationships.

COMPLIANT

Skill: a leader who strategizes and aligns plans to “build bridges” that help people move toward that objective.

Values: integrity, growth, practical guidance and honesty.

Impact: win the confidence of people through viable plans of guiding people towards their destination.[2]

What type of leader are you closest to?

Which values are you most in sync with?

As students of leadership, we should learn of the various traits and grow/train towards as many of them as we can. However, I am convicted that a leader leads best when he honours the way God has made him and trained him by engaging all of his strengths, personality and values. I have observed occasions where when a person who is not strategic tries to leverage strategy, it often blows up. When a leader who is not forceful tries to leverage decisiveness and personality strength to lead, it often blows up. When a leader who is not a people-person tries to leverage relationships and good-will to lead, it may backfire. In other words, I submit to you, notwithstanding the need to train and grow in all aspects of leadership, ultimately a leader still leads best by leading from the strongest, positive aspect of the leader’s values & personality as his center.[3]

When one seeks to lead from the personality and values that one espouses and holds to, such a leader is true to himself, and marshals the best of who he is. Such purity lends passion and strength to work and task of leadership.

What was David’s leadership style?

From young, David always had the courage and leadership style to command and inspire even strong personalities to follow a vision in his life.

In his fight against Goliath, though young, his ideals could be seen when he declared, “what will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” This vision was the beginnings of the inspiration for the armies of Israel.

In a later battle, David had a group of mighty men of valor and great skill, each of them likely a strong personality in their own right. Yet, of their own initiative, they broke through enemy lines to get David a drink because of a mere longing he voiced. His courage, vision and skill inspired even the strongest and most talented of soldiers (2 Samuel 23:8-39)

It is likely that in the kidnapping of his men’s families by the enemy, David used the same skills of vision, courage and inspiration. What defined that moment was David’s ability to lead at his best and still be true to himself in a time of great pain and hardship.

In that situation, David was in even worse trouble. There was talk among the men, bitter over the loss of their families, of stoning him. David strengthened himself with trust in his GOD. (1 Samuel 30:6 Msg)

Whatever you may face today as a leader, may these disciplines help facilitate God’s strength that you may strengthen yourself with trust in your God, to lead at your best and be true to yourself in the best and the worst of times.

By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan



[1] I am unable to recall the source of this reading, except that is was probably one of Warren’s early writings on church growth.

[2] These descriptions are visualized through the DISC personality grid developed by William Masterson & Walter Clarke (1978)

[3] The variety of skills that a leader may train to grow into is described in my article, “The Practices of Leadership”.

The Strength that Eludes the Leader… (Part 1)

Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God… (1 Samuel 30:6, NKJV)

I have always been intrigued by this passage. That phrase “strengthened himself in the Lord…” seems like a million-dollar phrase to me in leadership. Reading that story you would discover that as a pivotal moment in which David turned around. From being greatly distressed, facing grief of his followers and possible stoning, David marshaled his resources to seek God, rally his men, overtake and route those who kidnapped the families of his men and rescued the hostages (1 Samuel 30:1-20).

This remarkable season of leadership was triggered by this turn-around in the person of the leader David. This was the pivotal moment, where David “strengthened himself in the Lord”—a truly “million-dollar phrase”!

If only every leader could have “strengthen-himself-in-the-Lord” moments where his/her leadership turns around.

If only every leader could have such moments where he/she rises above circumstances to lead God’s people to take back what they lost, and lead them into their destinies!

Well, I believe they can. I believe God wants to give such moments! After all, the prophet says,

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…. (2 Chronicles 16:9a).

I once consulted for a church where the senior pastor had reached a point where she considered leaving. There were many crises that had occurred which took a toll on her. Upon my advice, we journeyed through a guided time of rest. She took a 4-week break to examine herself, her role and the call upon her life. She took a good look at the people, the ministries and her future years in ministry. Then, ministered to by God, she returned to make some changes, both within and without, to lead again, although in a slightly different way. In other words, she strengthened herself in the Lord her God.

There are some practices that facilitate leaders to receive strength from God. Such practices should become regular spiritual disciplines in a leader’s life.

More importantly, such times of strengthening need not happen only at the onset of crises. Though, as in David’s case, leadership shines best in dark times, I believe what David did to strengthen himself was probably a heightened and intense practice of what he did regularly as part of his spiritual discipline regime. The many Psalms written by David through difficult times reveal that his “strengthening in the Lord” moment was possible only because it was a culmination of developed practices through his life. It was this training of discipline that enabled him to practice a heightened and intense time of seeking God under pressure of enemy and time in 1 Samuel 30:6.

Let me share some thoughts about what David might have done in “strengthening himself in the Lord”, as well as some reflections on what practices give godly strength to leaders in the best and worst of times.

 

1. GOD’S “BIG PICTURE”: STEPPING BACK TO LOOK AT HIM

When we are enmeshed into a situation that seems overwhelming, stepping back to look again at what God has called us in the picture reminds us that God is in charge despite our failings and struggles.

When people spend time meditating in a nature-scape of great mountains, huge lakes, awesome waterfalls, it reminds them they are playing a small role, and there is something larger then themselves. It brings a sense of perspective, and a sense of calm.

We were made to remember that there is something larger than just us in this picture. GOD is the one who called us, and is ultimately in charge. The Complete Jewish Bible puts 1 Samuel 30 as “David strengthened himself in ADONAI his God”. Adonai, the LORD GOD is the one who is supreme despite the pain, the politics and the overwhelming lack of resources. Despite that, God will fulfill His purpose. We only have to partner Him.

Some ways to think big picture for our calling:

i. What did God call me to do here in the first place?

ii. What is His role, and what is my role He has called me to play? Who am I supposed to be in this situation of God’s call? Therefore, what is NOT my role?

iii. What are “nice to haves” in this situation but not critical in the light of God’s calling?

iv. How can I trust God to provide what this situation needs, which I may not have?

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Psalms 19:21)

 

2. GOD’S PROVIDENCE: GIFT-MIXES, TEAM-FITS

 No one has the complete gift-set to fulfill a humongous calling or challenge. The Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) that certain leadership circles coin refers to a vision from God that is often too large for any one person to fulfill—it needs God! Often, God provides through the gifts of others that often break our paradigms, humbling us to learn to depend on God and on others.

A leader tried to raise a successor for his ministry for many months, but simply could not. He could not find suitable people as the good ones “had already been taken”. The people who were available were not appropriate in some ways, and he “did not want to set them up to fail”. But the leader himself had reached a point of burnout and could not lead any longer. All the principles he cited were good leadership principles. However, the circumstances he faced forced him to simply have to change some of his paradigms. At one point, he paid attention to a possible candidate that he had deemed inadequate. As he listened more intently, he realized there was a deep hunger for God in the candidate’s life. However, this hunger had been distracted by a number of burdens, which included sickness and even relationship difficulties. As the leader examined and engaged these burdens, over time, God convicted the candidate to be willing to take up future leadership. The candidate made a commitment to change some practices and grow. The ministry leader realized that God had opened the door for a possible successor; though not one he initially expected.

A pastor was struggling for a number of years in leading the congregation. She was counseled to get outside help for some of her struggles. However, she felt that as a Senior Pastor there were certain things that fell solely upon her to do so. She continued to struggle for 1-2 years and reached a point where she was exhausted. Finally in a time of reflection she admitted she was not good at planning and setting goals. God provided a consultant in that season to journey with her, and she got a board’s approval to seek consultation on planning and goal setting. God provided a gift-set “outside of the box” of her comfort style to lead the church better, albeit from an unexpected source.

God’s normative way of providence is through the gift-sets of others, and to teach us to be humble to depend on others in some way.

Some ways to be open to God’s providence of gift-sets:

i. What are the gifts needed for this season to lead the ministry well?

ii. If I don’t have them, where can I find them, no matter how “out of the box”?

iii. Are these possibilities new ways of God’s providence?

iv. How can I manage people and my own expectations that I must do everything by myself?

When great effort for a sacrifice was needed, God provided an out-of-the-box ram sacrifice for Abraham. And then, Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Genesis 22:14)

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary once said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan

(This articles continues in “The Strength that Eludes the Leader” Part 2)

The Challenge of Unity: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Philip Huan

(A modified form of this article was published in Eagle’s Vantage Point magazine, May 2013)

SO THAT OUR READERS KNOW WHAT YOU DO, CAN YOU SHARE WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH CHURCHES IN SINGAPORE, PRESENTLY?

I started out as an itinerant preacher for a season but have slowly evolved ministry into a strategic consultancy for churches. To date, I have preached at, coached and guided church boards, senior pastors, key-staff and lay-leaders for over 50 churches locally since 2006 through my ministry “ChurchLife!” (www.churchlife-resources.org)

WITH YOUR CONCERN FOR CHURCH-GROWTH, WHAT IS YOUR OBSERVATION OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF MAINTAINING UNITY IN CHURCHES?

Unity is one of the key challenges faced in growing churches almost across all denominations or sizes. The trigger for this challenge is often a juncture-point of growth that requires some change in the journey of the church. Therefore, such scenarios vary with different church settings.

For example, a church-plant may face a unity-challenge when it grows to a point where fast-paced changes are needed to develop the next level of cell ministries or service ministries.

A mid-sized church (200-600) may face a unity-challenge when it stalls at a certain size. Clergy and lay-people alike may try to contribute to growth albeit in different ways. Those different approaches, if not properly managed, may lead to conflict between various parties.

A larger-sized church (1000 and above) may face the unity-challenge similar to that of the mid-sized churches, however since there is usually a clearer organization and strength of the leadership in larger churches, such conflict may result in the replacement of specific individuals or small groups.

DO YOU FEEL UNITY IS A CHALLENGE MORE FOR SMALLER CHURCHES THAN LARGE CHURCHES, OR VICE-VERSA?

There is a potential for conflict regardless of church size due to differences in personalities and opinions. However, the impact of that conflict may differ.

In smaller churches that do not have a robust system of governance, a conflict may be multi-partied leading to a parting of ways between parties of equal strength. This could have serious impact on a small congregation.

In larger churches, the growth and stability of that church may be indicative of a stable governance and strong leadership base. A multi-partied conflict is less likely. Usually, one party is stronger and has greater ability to chart direction through the conflict.

In denominational churches, governance may be extremely robust with systems that span beyond a local church. Hence, conflict can be addressed by denominational parties outside the local church and may be managed without significant impact on the denominational system.

LET’S GET MORE SPECIFIC TO A CHURCH: WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT OFTEN LEAD TO CONFLICT AND DISUNITY IN RELATIONSHIPS AT THE LEADERSHIP LEVEL?

The Board/Elders or the Senior-Pastor’s team are often the strongest leaders in a local church. Conflict at that level can be the hardest to manage. Conflict below that level can usually be guided or forestalled by the top-most leaders. Hence, the top-most leadership of the church is critical is setting the culture for managing conflicts.

There are many factors that may cause conflict, but let me just share 3 ideas which are adapted from Larry Osborne’s book, “The Unity Factor”:

1. Breakdown in doctrinal agreement can lead to disunity…

Whether one emphasizes more on the Old Testament vs. New Testament, or charismatic practices vs. conservative tradition, or grace vs. law, strict exegetical use of Scripture vs. devotional use of Scripture, (these are just some examples) these nuances may have many practical implications for ministry.

I know of a leader that was very enthusiastic about a pastor’s ministry until she realized over time that the pastor’s use of Scripture differed from her conviction. After some time, that enthusiasm began to wane and later led to several disagreements.

2. Breakdown in friendships can lead to disunity…

Through the difficulties of the church journey, when something happens that leads one party to feel “let down” or betrayed, that can lead to the fragmenting of relationships. It is difficult to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with someone who has hurt and disappointed you.

I know of a pastor who felt side-lined by a senior colleague. Over time it became a hurt and later led to a separation of ways.

3. Breakdown in agreement of ministry philosophy can lead to disunity…

Should we build the service as priority or the cells?

Should we make this a cell-church or a church with cells?

Should we take a prophetic-intuitive approach or a systematic-organizational approach?

These types of questions relate to philosophy of ministry. There can be great frustration when leaders with different philosophical convictions try to make decisions together at cross-roads.

Someone once described it akin to 5 people wanting to travel to Malacca but one wants a scenic drive, another wants to take a relaxing cruise, while yet another wants to fly in the shortest time. Leaders may want to reach the same destination—a healthy, vibrant church—but often there can be only one overriding philosophy at any one time.

ARE THERE WAYS YOU COULD SUGGEST TO ADDRESS THESE DIFFERENT “BREAKDOWNS”?

We need to begin with the conviction that unity reflects God’s heart and invites God’s favour. Unity is like “precious oil poured on Aaron’s head…there the Lord bestows His blessing”! (Psalms 133)

Someone who joined a church observed the leaders working in unity, reaching people for Christ and giving their hearts to doing God’s work. He remarked, “I really sense God is doing something special here, there is no politics, only a genuine desire to do God’s work!”

We must be sensitive when we perceive a fraying of relationships, and to discern the underlying cause. Here are some ideas I suggest in addressing underlying causes of disunity:

In addressing doctrinal differences, I would advocate learning surrender to the whole counsel of Scripture rather than selective emphases. Usually differing emphases are precisely that—the placing of emphasis on different parts of the Bible. If we can acknowledge that there are emphases also found in Scripture that are different from our convictions, we can learn to make allowances for different ideas. If we can hold together a range of different emphases within our teams, it will broaden our experience of Scripture beyond our own individual horizons of experience.

In addressing friendship fragmentation, I would advocate honest conversations, healing and forgiveness. An honest sharing of feelings and affirmation of value in relationships can be very healing. Someone once said, “There can be no lasting relationships without forgiveness”. How true, especially in a journey together as spiritual family!

In addressing differing ministry methodologies, I would advocate learning and growing together. Many times God teaches a leader a new thing. However, the leader moves ahead into it while leaving other leaders behind. It takes a value of unity to slow down and facilitate learning as a group so that the “spiritual family” moves together. Conferences, books and discussions with consultants / mentors are ways to help leaders to move together.

IN CLOSING, ARE THERE ANY THOUGHTS OR RESOURCES YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS ON GROWING IN UNITY?

As you phrased it, unity must not only be guarded but “grown” as well. Friendships, doctrinal and ministry convictions must not only be guarded, but their quotient developed and grown over time. Friendships can deepen; so can ministry and doctrinal convictions be reaffirmed and strengthened as a team serves together over time. Leaders should see this as a necessary “unity quotient” to grow together with other skills and dynamics of the team. Ultimately, I believe it hinges on valuing unity above the “speed” of doing things. We are often too impatient for results rather than patient for friendships and growth. We try to change things at the expense of relating to “bring every one across the finish line together”.

Some of my ideas are partially adapted from Larry Osborne’s book, “The Unity Factor”. I also discuss this issue of unity under a chapter, “Changing the Right Things at the Right Pace” in my book “Enduring Church Growth—Issues of Leadership & Followership” (Armour Publishing).

No matter what we achieve in ministry, ultimately our love and patience with one another is a powerful and godly witness to others who watch the church!

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27-28, ESV)

The Practices of Leadership

Have you noticed that people who are leaders (i.e. who command a following) come in different shapes and sizes?

For example, Mother Teresa was a simple lady but commanded great influence. Obama has a charisma of communication and wields great influence. One of my church leaders is a quiet and godly man, but his colleagues assert that he is of great influence, highly respected and taken seriously when he speaks.

Why do people who can command a following seem to be so different?

As I was growing up, my concept of “leadership” was nebulous. I knew “leadership” existed, but could not quite define it clearly. With time, I realized that “leadership” is a multi-faceted ability. Furthermore, “leadership” was difficult to define because a leader that commanded a following did not need all its facets, but just several of them to be pretty decent leaders. Hence, “leader A” could have facets “1,2,3″ and have a following. While “leader B” could have a different set of facets “4,5,6″ and yet also have a following. But “leader A” could be very different from “leader B”—this reality is what makes leadership difficult to define.

I would like to share my observations on 7 facets of leadership in my pastoral experience.

Many effective leaders have some clusters of these facets, some more, some less. But together they give a broad definition of the leadership gift.

Good Christian Leaders…

1. Have a Divine Enablement

All godly, Christian leaders have an inner empowering that comes from their relationship with God. This “facet” of Christian leadership, is a foundational one. All other leadership abilities stem from this divine enablement which distinguishes Christian leadership from other forms of leadership.

Divine enablement comes from having a vital spiritual life and practices that are conducive to hearing and receiving from God. Such a life often encompasses well-developed spiritual disciplines, e.g. prayer and fasting, worship, bible-study, etc. These disciplines are not cursory but well-developed to enable the leader to hear and receive a “direction” or “vision” from God.

Nehemiah faced a crisis, and had an encounter with God that burned a vision into his heart. This vision was the cornerstone of the next 11 years of his leadership in Jerusalem.

They said to me, ”Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven… (Neh 1:3-4)

When Nehemiah heard of the terrible news of Jerusalem, he committed to prayer and fasting. From his time of prayer, one could see that Nehemiah was also a man who had studied Scriptures and insightfully applied God’s promises:

… ”Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

”They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. (Neh 1:8-11a)

Out of this Scripturally-inspired prayer, Nehemiah resolved on a direction in his heart:

Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” (Neh 1:11b)

Nehemiah is one of many whose investment in a life of prayer, fasting and study of Scriptures created an environment conducive for God to speak in his life. The mandate he received from God as a result stood him through the times of difficulties and challenges.

Divine enablement growing out of a spiritual life with the disciplines that help hear and receive from God, also shapes an ability to persevere in a leadership direction despite difficulties. This perseverance comes from receiving encouragement from God, as well as a conviction that the said direction is an imperative and mandate from God for the leader’s life.

2. Vision-Cast

This is a popular and well-documented facet of organizational leadership—the “vision-thing”.

A leader is able to paint a picture of God’s desired end-product in a myriad of ways. They paint it in a way that is biblical, has eternal implications and touches on the core values of the following community. This facet involves practical skills related to the ability to communicate effectively, including preaching, teaching, sharing, writing, etc. It can be exercised in a sharing over a meal, in a small group or to a large crowd.

I had been encouraging one of my leaders to rise up to worship lead, as well as to give leadership over the worship team. She had expressed her inadequacy and inability to inspire people. I said to her, “I have often observed your ‘fire and passion’ for Christ in your private sharing. I know the ‘fire’ is in your heart. Now all you need to do is to let that ‘fire’ burn outside for people to see.”

The core of vision-casting is really letting a passion for something God has put on our hearts burn outside for others to see. It is about talking late into the night on a topic in Christ which excites you. Vision-casting is fundamentally a passionate communication of something that burns within us. Communicating it with 1 person, 10 persons, 100 persons or 1000 persons requires differing skill-sets to be learnt, but at its core it is basically the same—“setting yourself on fire for Christ and people will come to watch you burn”.[1]

Effective leaders often do not have many different “visions” to cast. They have a few key tenets or values which they cast over and over again in different ways. Like it has been said, “they make the familiar seem strange, and the strange seem familiar”.

3. Motivate Others

People need motivation and encouragement. They need it most in times of difficulties, and when led to move into a new direction. People are often stressed when they go through uncertainty and change.

Joshua’s officers gave direction to God’s people as they prepared to enter the promised land:

After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. (Joshua 3:2-4b)

Joshua’s officers remember that this was new territory, that they had “never been this way before”; so they came beside them, and called them to cast their eyes on God’s presence centered on the Ark of the Covenant. When a follower is discourage, or apprehensive due to stepping outside of his/her comfort zone, they are greatly encouraged when their leaders are aware and sensitive to this, guide them and remind them to trust in God.

One of the most motivating things leaders can do is to genuinely care for their followers. Nothing motivates a follower more than when they know, “my leader really has my interest at heart”. Different people respond differently to change. Learning to speak the love-languages of their followers, and understanding their personality needs are skills good leaders learn in order to understand and encourage those in their team.

4. Give Direction

In a sense, this is the defining role of a leader—to give direction. People need help and guidance when it comes to uncharted territory. When facing a new direction, some questions that percolate a follower’s mind could be:

▪ Where are we going? Why are we going this way?

▪ How will it impact or affect me?

▪ How can I move in that direction? What are the first few steps to take?

▪ How can I overcome difficulties along the way?

One of the key roles of leadership is to address these questions in people’s minds by painting the big-picture, breaking the project into bite-size steps, positioning people well, coaching and guiding are some ways that leaders help followers find direction and persevere in following it.

5. Build Harmony

Have you ever heard the remark, “I love God…its God’s people that I can’t stand”?

Working with people carries all kinds of conflict and stresses in relationships.

Jesus’ team was not exempt from conflicts and stresses:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”…

…When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-38, 41-45)

A conflict arose as disciples became indignant with each other, and Jesus patiently stepped in to remind them of his own example and used the conflict situation to teach the spiritual principles of humility and unity.

Good leaders provide the “oil” that lubricates the different personalities. They remind people of their purpose, their strengths and weaknesses—and above all—God’s call to accept and love one another.

Few followers are able to take responsibility to ensure that their peer-team function well. If it is any one single person’s responsibility to do that, it would be the leader’s. When I served as a Lead Pastor, I pulled together a team of 6-7 staff. In the initial years, as much as 40% of my time went into oiling relationships and helping the team find their place with each other. I believed that once they found their right positioning, the team would truly get great work done. And they did!

6. Multiply Their Followers

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim 2:2)

The apostle Paul’s word to pastoral leader Timothy as part of his ministry was to “reproduce” himself, not to be the sole teacher himself, but to enable others to become teachers as well.

Good leaders seek to produce followers who can, in turn, produce their own followers. This is the dynamic of multiplication that is found in the things of Christ:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. (Isa 54:2)

Good leaders ask themselves, “How can I bless more people through this ministry?”

When that ministry has saturated the church, they ask, “How can I bless other churches, other communities through this ministry?”

In order to accomplish this, they ask, “How can I raise the leaders and followers necessary to grow the impact of this ministry”?

The skill sets of multiplying beyond oneself are equipping others, mentoring and coaching followers, and finally empowering them into the position they are called to.

My friend and dean of leadership studies in seminary, Dale Galloway, once wrote,

God has never given me anything worthwhile to do that I could accomplish by myself…some leaders want to make followers. I want to make leaders. Not only do I want to make leaders, but I want to make leaders of leaders. And then leaders of leaders of leaders.[2]

7. Target God’s Purposes

In olden days, the ships that sailed often had 2 compasses, one in the bridge under the helmsman and one  the mast. When storms occurred and lightning was present, the compass in the iron boat would become unreliable. Often in the midst of the storm, a sailor was sent up to the mast to check the reading of the higher compass.[3] During the storms of life, when the leader is under great pressure, often the thoughts of the heart become unreliable. The leader needs to return to God’s word, remember his/her first call, recall his/her purpose in ministry.

We need to steer by a higher compass—the compass of God’s word and purposes:

Are we still doing what God called us to do when we started?

Am I still faithful to the calling when God first called me into this place or into ministry?

I have seen pastors who served for many years feel they have been pushed into doing things that were outside of their calling from God given at the first. How sad if that is the legacy of our lives! We need a measuring rod to keep us on track despite of busy-ness. We know that the enemy of hearing God is sometimes having too many things to do!

Every leader needs to discern a sense of God’s calling to where he/she is at.

For marketplace leadership, it may be a contribution to a particular field, product or company, to add-value to one’s team and to be a witness for Christ.

For pastoral leaders, that call may be toward discipling people, helping people reach others for Christ, growing others in Christ and empowering others to be leaders.

Whichever it may be, the question is: are you living in the center of God’s calling and purposes for you presently?

Some leaders command a following because they are visionary, give clear direction and concrete steps.

Others command a following because they position people in teams well and truly show welfare to their followers.

Yet others command a following because they are able to equip and mentor people well to grow in their call.

Even though it is rare for any one leader to have all the facets; I believe that as students of leadership, it behooves us to understand the significance of all facets, and seek to grow in all of them to the degree that God has gifted us.

I submit to you that leadership is the divine enablement to cast vision, motivate people and direct them to work harmoniously, in multiplying toward God’s purposes.[4]

 



[1]. This quote is attributed to John Wesley.

[2]. Dale Galloway was then Dean of Beeson Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary.

[3]. This illustration was shared to me by Edmund Chan, Covenant Evangelical Free Church.

[4]. This definition is inspired from an original leadership definition from Bruce Bugbee, Network.

S-CHURCH (“Super-Church”)

When I was starting out as a pastor, I remember attending church-growth conferences which inspired me and filled me with dreams to build a great church, a church that would grow and storm the gates of hell—a “super-church”! (Pastors, remember those days?)

Much of such dreams and inspiration are often used by God to motivate us to grow into His purposes, although the way God guides us may not be exactly how we envisaged at the start. However, the purpose of this article seeks is not to deal with that, but rather to focus on something definitive that makes a “super-church”.

Every church has the potential to grow due to the DNA put into her by Christ, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:13). This phrase in the Greek idiomatic language can be rephrased as “my church will not see death” or “my church will grow under any circumstances”.  (quote)

Every church has this DNA and can keep growing. At multiple points in her journey of growth, however, the church will reach a point of slowing down and stalling.  At this point, what the church does in response to her circumstance will determine whether she keeps growing or whether she plateaus. In fact, on any journey of growth, there will be multiple slow/stall points. They are not something to be avoided, but rather they are a natural crossroad that God brings the church to in her journey.

Such points allow the church to depend on God, hear Him, take stock, and partner God in her continued growth.

Such points also take the characteristic of the “S-Curve” [1] where growth slows to a plateau and then begins to climb again when there are healthy responses to the S-curve points.

“Super-church” can also be defined as a church that overcomes the blocks to growth to be an “S-curve church”. 

I have pastored churches in various settings. I remember in one church where I put in great effort, vision and idealism. The church grew from 160-200 in the first year. However, soon after that, the growth began to slow, and then to stall. I was really stressed, desperate for fear of the loss of momentum. I wished I had wisdom and guidance on how to manage such a point. In retrospect, there were a number of reasons why that slowing occurred.

 

What are some signs that you may be reaching an “S-curve” crossroad?

If you have been seeing the church grow numerically and in enthusiasm of members for a season, let me share some indicators I have observed in my experience that may forewarn that you are approach such a crossroad:

 

1. Tiring Leaders

Leaders are motivated people who rise up to sacrifice for the church. They run the extra-mile, take responsibility for the sheep and give up much in their lives. Leaders are often more mature and have good inner resources. When leaders “burn out”, it is no small thing! When they begin to tire we must ask “what is it about the church’s care system that is insufficient to fuel and motivate these precious ones”?

In a church I consulted with that had a couple of thousand members, I observed that although the outreach efforts were strong in drawing people into the church, there was a 15-20% turnover in leadership. Leaders were stepping down and giving up. That was one clear indication of the church approaching a crossroad. Soon, the church growth numbers plateaued despite all the many outreach and revivalist activities of the church.

 

2. Resistance and Complaints to Ministry Direction

In another church I worked with, I observed that the pastor had brought unprecedented growth through championing a new ministry direction. However, there soon came complains against the ministry direction. I wondered, “why is it that despite growth momentum, changed lives and salvations that there would be dissatisfaction and unhappiness”? When I studied deeper, I realized that the new ministry direction had underlying philosophies that clashed with the church’s philosophical beliefs. The church was approaching an “S-curve” crossroads where such differences had to be worked out. Although there was still momentum and growth, it was just a matter of time before such differences would slow it down.

 

3. Losing Momentum: Decreasing Numerical Growth, Waning Enthusiasm of the Leaders/People

In a high momentum phase, people are excited about what God is doing, there is usually a “buzz” and people feel they have encountered God. One of the indicators of approach an “S-curve” crossroad is when one visits cell-groups and there is a lack of spiritual enthusiasm of the people/leaders at large. Another late indicator is when the rate of growth slows. Less people bring friends to church.

I remember in a couple of churches hearing people declare, “I’m so excited about what God is doing in this place!” or “I really like this season of learning, I keep inviting my friend to come join us”! When such sentiments are held by a majority, they—or the lack thereof—are indicators of momentum possibly leading to an “S-curve” point.

These indicators are obviously not exhaustive. But they represent what I have observed in a number of churches in their journey of growth as they struggled with plateauing.

God allows such indicators to point to us something inadequate in His community. There is something that has not been authentically engaged, something that does not resource as much as it requires. God calls leaders to have insight to address these concerns in good time despite the still-present momentum or the busyness of routine. Sometimes, the larger the church, the harder it is to spot such indicators due to the pre-existing positive momentum and many activities that make one feel the church is doing well. However, as shepherds, when God allows us to observe such indicators, we are called to reflect on the needs it represents in the community and how loving leadership can address them.

 

What is God trying to tell you about His church when see such distinct indicators in your church, or feel you may be nearing/in an “S-curve” point?

When the church reaches a point when requirements exceed resources, God wants to tell us something about His community and their needs. If you are a shepherd of God’s church, I believe He wants to tell you what to do to meet their needs in a loving way.

Here are some possible needs God may want to speak to you about at such “S-curve” crossroads. Perhaps as you reflect on them, some may apply to your situation:

 

1. Is there a lack of Leader-Care?

Leaders serve tirelessly and give to their sheep weekly. They meet pastoral needs or hold ministry teams together. There may come a time where continual giving exceeds the structures you have placed to meet their needs. To sustain serving for the long-haul, most leaders need:

  • inspirational resource in their field
  • coaching in their skills
  • community
  • mentor for life and leadership issues
  • time for sabbatical

What is lacking in providence for them in your church community? Are leadership meetings too much of instruction-giving rather than being positioned for the above? Is there too much information rather than inspiration?

 

2. Is there inadequate Mobilization?

When there are insufficient people playing key-shepherding roles, the load gets heavier on the leaders. When we mobilize and raise more people to serve, this spreads the load of service. Some thoughts for increasing mobilization in a church are,

  • having a deliberate and identified pool of potentials for future leadership development and resourcing them
  • finding assistants for all your leaders
  • challenging the whole church to serve and play their part
  • balancing “empowering people to play key-roles” versus “having strict protocols for appointing leaders”

Is there a lack of a structure to put the “right people in right places”? Do decisions bottle-neck at a few key people or are people empowered for decision-making in ministries?

In one church leaders often complained, “It’s the same few people serving, each wearing 2 or 3 ‘hats’”. After a year of applying some of the above, the mobilization of people serving in one area of ministry increased from 15-60%! In the second year, that leader’s complaint was no longer heard in the church, because more people played their part!

When leaders lead to start new projects, people jump in to help and to follow. However after the project is done, there inevitably comes a time of reflection. Even uninvited, those involved or observing will form an opinion. The opinion may result in support, or in some kind of objection.  This objection may not be explicitly said, but it dampens motivation and enthusiasm. If the project has been done well, these objections may be held in check. However, over time it builds up to a kind of “resistance” and inertia. Such objections may be due to a number of possible differences. Let me share two.

 

3. Are there different Theological/Structural Under-pinnings?

The new project may have a philosophy or structure that is new to the church. For example, an outreach project may use styles that may be deemed a compromise to some ways of using Scripture, or a new ministry structure may change a previous structure deemed to be of denominational origin. While people want to give new projects that chance and to “move with the times”, a struggle with reconciling losing something of theological or structural value is also at stake.

 

4. Is there a discomfort with the Power-Balance of Decision-Making?

As a leader / pastor begins a new initiative, the way of decision-making may also be new. People who used to have a say in the process may be excluded for a variety of reasons, eg. Speed of decision-making, new areas of expertise required, dealing with situations that get bogged down with too many opinions. While many people understand the need to move quickly, some churches come from a background of more consensual decision-making. There needs to be a coming to terms with new decision-processes and how extensive that new process is.

In both the above situations, there could be an implicit snow-balling of lack of enthusiasm or motivation that can become a sense of resistance over the months. If this is observed, authentic conversation to understand people’s hearts and to honor how they feel can be a way to keep a positive momentum. In a church where I was tasked to have honest conversation with various leaders, some of these issues were raised and shared honestly. This then brought the issue up early so that it could be addressed and prayed over.

People want to be at their best for God, and they usually do not want to serve with such burdens on their hearts. They wish for a reconciliation that they feel comes from God. Honest and loving conversation in communities can be a channel for this.

 

5. Is there adequate Coaching of Leaders in Overcoming Difficult Situations?

I was ministering to a cell leader in a church whom I had the privilege to oversee for a season. He had been struggling with an issue in growing his cell group which he had faced for a year. It was not an easy situation, but he struggled with overcoming it. Over the months as he saw no positive result, he began to get a little discouraged, and his motivation waned.

Leaders face all kinds of situations in their ministries, and sometimes they may not have the skills or experience to overcome them. In such situations they need a coach to guide them to understand the situation, learn new skills, and observe a modeling of how that situation can be overcome. Such a coach may be a mentor, overseer or supervisor. However, some systems do not provide for such a coach, or the coaches are too overstretched that they cannot play that specific coaching role.

Is there too little understanding of the struggles faced by people on the ground? Is there resource provided to fill those specific gaps?

Training and enabling good coaches is a worthwhile investment in ensuring your leaders do not lose motivation and momentum.

 

6. Is there an Overly-used Style that has outlived the Season?

As things change, people’s needs and perceptions also change. Every style has its greatest impact for a season. With changing times, people’s perception may require a new way of presenting ministry to meet deep needs.

In a church that had run a particular outreach program for several years, while they saw great responses at the start, the responses had waned over the years. I advised them to take a break from that program and re-evaluate their resources for a year or two and build up outreach through other platforms, then to return to that program after a season. The new platforms would bring in different kinds of people and may then fuel the original outreach program again.

In Acts 6, the early church faced an “S-curve” crossroad. The underlying issue was a potential division between different people-groups (Jews and Greeks) and the needs of a ministry (serving poor widows). To prevent a bottle-neck, a new layer of leaders were raised and empowered (deacons). The group decision-makers was extended beyond the apostles for the first time to even non-Jews and some criteria was given in their equipping and selection (good men, filled with the Spirit). The complaints and decreasing motivation led the apostles to listen to the people and to God. Being sensitive to the needs of God’s church, they made key decisions that brought the church past the “S-curve” crossroad. As a result, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

May the church you are in be a church that navigates the crossroads and grows—that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against her”!



[1] The “S-curve” or Sigmoid shaped curve describes a situation where upward growth plateaus and slows. It then picks up to linear growth again. Such a growth when charted on a graph looks like an “S” in shape. This pattern has been applied to natural sciences, physiology and even business development. I am unable to source its origin.

It Takes Two… (When a Pastor & Church Fit Together)

In my journey with churches and pastors over the last 6 years as an itinerant preacher and church consultant, I have seen different churches and different kinds of pastor. It testifies of the beauty of the different facets of God’s gifts and plans for churches.

However, I have also seen some pastors join churches for a season, then somewhere along the way–the pastor leaves. The leaving may occur quietly after extended reflection, or it may occur over an explosive issue.

What happens on many of these occasions may be summarized as facets of a larger issue–the pastoral fit.

To appreciate the importance of the pastoral fit, one has to understand a key process of influence that occurs when a pastor enters a church.

In the first year, the pastor and church members get to know one another, and they often give one another “space” for different styles, personalities, mistakes to take place. In the second or third year, true “engagement” takes place. The pastor brings his/her gifts to bear in order to make change and bring growth. This causes a stress on the status-quo which the church members must grow along with.

In the fourth and fifth year, this is where real trust and influence just begins. If the “engagement phase” is navigated positively, people begin to work and partner with the pastor in a whole-hearted way that can bring positive change for years to come.

Long-term leadership impact usually sees its fullest in the fourth year and beyond. These time-lines are a little arbitrary and depends on a number of factors, especially size. Usually, the larger the church, the longer these time-lines are stretched.

Through this process, the first thing that can derail it–and often the top reason for a pastor not to continue is this issue of the pastoral fit.

But what exactly should we look out for?
I have summarized some thoughts gleaned from reading and observation of churches into the table below. This helps leaders and pastors consider the various aspects of the ministry and work through them to prevent a misfit.

(Please take a look at thoughts on how to use this resource at the end of the article)

 

I hope this Pastoral-Fit table will be helpful to you at some point.

For the pastor, it can help you reflect on your own season of ministry and where you are in your journey.
If you are a church board member whose church is exploring engaging a pastor, this information can give you a sense of what areas to interview and review more carefully to bring about a more constructive mutual conversation and sharing.
Also, reflecting on the aspects raised in the table can also reveal personal needs or the needs of the church.

There is no perfect fit. The best one can do is try to find the closest fit and to manage the existing differences or gaps. As we journey together, both as church and pastor, hopefully we change our attitudes about which are the really important arenas to us, and which we can compromise upon. Some degree of both are important.

God is looking for faithful shepherds to lead growing churches. Both pastors and congregation need to grow together. A good pastoral fit sets a foundation for entering seasons of deep, long-term impact for both pastors and churches!

Why Doesn’t My Church Grow