In The Mythical Leader: The Seven Myths of Leadership, Ron Edmonson stated: “The longer I am in leadership, the more I realize I may not always know the real health of my team or organization at any given time — at least as much as others do.” You can mistakenly think, just because someone is silent, that they are in agreement, that is why open communication is so vitally important. Ron continued, “Never assume people are on board because they have not indicated otherwise.” Are you having the right conversations with the right people on the right subjects?
Ron’s myth number one is that a position will make you a leader, but that is the lowest level of leadership. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” We are to follow the spiritual leaders who lead well because, in verse 17, Scripture instructs us to submit to them because they will have to give an account one day for their leadership. Are you a leader worth following? Are you able to say, with confidence, what Paul challenged his followers with, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ?”
In Edmonson’s Mythical Leader, myth #1 is “A Position Will Make Me a Leader.” John Maxwell also teaches that your position is the lowest level of leadership. This is where people will follow you only because of the position you have. There is some great validation from rank, but it will wear out quickly if not backed up with a godly character and a biblical example. Quite honestly, there are people in your church who follow only because they are supposed to follow, and if you have to declare loudly that you are the leader, you probably are not. There is normally respect for the office of the pastor, but it can be built upon or squandered.
Maxwell gave five levels of leadership because the longer you stay at level 1 (the position only), your influence is determined primarily by your job description and team morale will remain very low. Level 1, position, is the level of rights. Level 2, permission, is the level of relationships where people begin to follow you because they want to. Level 3, production, is the level of results as people notice what you are doing and how you are leading. Level 4, people development, is the level of reproduction and they have witnessed how you have empowered other leaders. Level 5, personhood, is the level of respect and is rare air!
The reality is that leadership is earned and some people, no matter how hard you try or how well you lead, resist and will even refuse to be led. That does not remove your responsibility to lead well and to be the leader Christ has called you to be. You must earn respect through godly consistency in the position where God has placed you. That is why most agree that the best and most effective years of ministry for a pastor do not kick in until years 5-10. The greater tragedy is that more than half of pastors do not stay at a church long enough to experience the most productive years.
There are multiple benefits to a long tenure, but begin leading from where you are and realize that it takes time to build a team that is functioning well, the vision is clear and is being articulated well. People no longer feel like they are navigating unfamiliar territory and they have watched a leader who not only deserves to be followed because of the position they hold but because of the man of God they have watched and observed through thick and thin. They now remember the times you led with humility through the difficult seasons of ministry and your faithfulness to the Lord, your church and to them.
Thom Rainer stated, “Most relationships do not establish fully until they go through one or two major conflicts.” Both leaders and members have memories of conflict handled poorly and carry wounds that can penetrate deeply. It can take years for people to be able to trust again. Consider checking into some resources on how to handle conflict biblically and how to handle it well. The people you are asking to follow you are watching how you navigate tumultuous waters, and your influence can be greatly enhanced or diminished by not only doing the right thing but doing it the right way.
How do you lead well? Make sure you take care of your own soul first. Your first priority is not your job or ministry but your intimacy with Christ. If you are not spiritually healthy, you cannot expect those around you to be healthy. You must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary and pay the price to have intimacy with Christ. Do not allow anything to interrupt or distract you from this, your first priority. Now that you are in His presence, make sure every move you make as a leader is God-initiated. Remain humble in what God is directing and always be willing to admit that you could be mistaken.
This brings us to the third leadership principle of seeking the godly counsel of others. When God does speak and guide you, to whom do you need to communicate that? You not only need to have a clear vision of the direction He is leading you, but you must also be able to clearly articulate it. Allow others to speak into your life because iron does sharpen iron and now God is forming a powerful guiding coalition that has vetted the process on their faces before God, individually and corporately. Who needs to know and how will you communicate what God is leading you to do?