It’s no secret: some pastors do better than others. They enjoy ministry more, their churches seem to thrive, whatever their size. So what does it take? Here’s my take on the four basic principles pastors can utilize to step up their leadership game:
- They take a stand. To be a leader, you have to have a position. You have to, over time, develop a sense of where you are headed, and actually get up and tell people what you think. You have to say, “I believe in this.” “This is where I sense God is leading us.” “This is what I will do (and won’t do).” You need a strong spiritual life and growing emotional maturity to be able to do this. And good leaders take stands.
- They relate to people who have different perspective without getting defensive or overly anxious. Effective leaders anticipate the pushback, rather than get surprised by it. They don’t try to talk people into something they are not prepared to support. They are curious about new ideas and perspectives and can even separate the viewpoints from the person – which allows them to continue to value every interaction with that person, instead of dread it.
- They tolerate other people criticizing them. Being a pastor means going through some tough criticism, even attacks. In my observation and experience, those who can ride this out end up doing better in the long run. Sometimes they need help. (Some of my own coaching practice is helping people get through times of intense criticism and conflict). Edwin Friedman called this “not getting reactive to the reactivity.” He thought the reactivity was inevitable when a leader took a stand, and the ability to manage oneself through it was critical for leadership. Criticisms will come and go – can you stay steady through it all?
- They adapt without being a pushover, and persist over time. You won’t always get your way. That’s the reality. Sometimes paying attention to feedback and backing off is the better part of valor. You can come back with your vision and ideas later. You have to discern when to push through and when to step back, and to let go of needing to take the credit. I’ve heard more than one story of a board member bringing up an idea the pastor mentioned earlier and having it be enthusiastically accepted. These pastors laid the groundwork, even though it took longer than they thought. Adapt and persist.
These are my top four recommendations for long lasting leadership. Of course, every church is different. Some churches have more potential than others. There’s no magic formula. It’s about the relationship, about the wider community, and a myriad of other factors.
However, all you can work on is you and how you take a stand, relate to those who differ or are critical, and cultivate flexibility and persistence. Whatever your ministry setting, you can always pay attention to these matters.
Which of the four leadership tasks above are you doing well? Let me know!