There must be hundreds of books on leadership published each year and there is no shortage of those that focus on the subject within the context of ministry. It seems like I have read them all, but surely I have not. What strikes me about those volumes that I have read is that they all resonate with the same message. Underneath it all, they say the same thing. Christian leadership, first and foremost is Christ-like. Now doesn’t that sound absurdly obvious? Yet somehow, in all my reading and research, my study of the subject, I missed that basic point and I had even considered myself a student of leadership.
With my extensive military background, my discovered spiritual gifts, and the passion with which I considered the topic, I was a person informed in the art and science of leading others. I have received Professional Military Education, trained in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, and attended at least five other specific military schools geared to developing the student as a leader. I had command over troops and equipment and had executed significant military operations notably well, yet the concept of servant leadership was unknown to me.
When God called me out of the military and into full-time ministry I enrolled in and completed the course of ministry preparation, complete with its focus on developing the pastor as a leader. And on top of all that, I have been on staff in a church or the senior pastor of church for over eighteen years! Now add up all that experience, all my reading and research and one ought to come to the conclusion that I was an “expert” in leadership. What I discovered across the last several years of my life is that I knew a lot about leadership and understood nothing of its truths. The truth is Christian leadership is all about being like Christ.
One of the earliest books I read as part of my ministerial course was The Power of Vision, by George Barna. A class project had us develop a vision for our current ministry assignment and as I conducted research for this presentation, I came across Barna’s definition of vision that captivated me and still resonates deeply within my thoughts. He describes vision for ministry as: “A clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants and is based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.” Coming from my objective oriented military background and coupled with my dreamer’s heart, this concept was an incredibly powerful revelation for me. I became aware that beyond the cliché statement from the Four Spiritual Laws that “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” there was a Master Plan for ministry and the church.
As I undertook this new approach to equipping believers to change the world I attempted to marshal (interesting word….) that small group who would accept these insights and commit to the process of ministry change and restructure, as well as provide the energy to execute the plan that God would give us. Oddly enough I could never seem to get enough people (six to ten) to sit down long enough to learn the concepts, explore the possibilities, seek God’s plan through prayer, and then flesh out that plan on paper, let alone in actuality. There were always too many distractions, seasonal interruptions, emergencies or higher priority activities.
Though I could not yet admit it, I began to contemplate whether or not the problem impeding my success in ministry was myself, but why? My preaching was great, my organizational skills appreciated, my intensity was even understood. What was missing though was a gentleness and loving-kindness for those who were not where I was philosophically. Instead of being a mentor as Lynn Anderson describes in They Smell Like Sheep, as someone who “pull[s] up alongside human beings [to] model behavior, values, and faith through the shared life,” I had wounded my flock through harsh looks and demoralizing criticisms; hardly a way to inspire them to fulfill a vision!
I ultimately realized that a behavioral deficiency was undermining my leadership endeavors. There is no way that my motives were wrong. I wanted God to use me for His glory, but I just could not get the cooperation of others to allow Him to do it! Primarily because I was more concerned about saving the lost than I was for loving others, saved or otherwise. If I had properly first understood my role as a follower of Christ, rather than as a leader for Christ, I am confident that my ministry fruitfulness and fulfillment would have been begun so many years earlier than it has.
Fortunately, when God sees someone genuinely willing to admit his or her shortcomings and commit to a life that benefits others, He will provide help to make that transition possible. In my case, a few very good friends and some Providentially arranged circumstances were what it took for me to reorient my approach to leading others. The results have been nothing less than amazing. Where I once had to cajole and coax others to participate in projects, activities, and actions, I now have no difficulty getting people involved and it simply centers on experiencing and expressing genuine care for the people I lead.
Of course all the leadership experts had written of gentleness, respect and brokenness, but I was too fixated on what they had to say about goal setting and vision casting to grasp the “heart” of the matter. By caring for others, my leadership philosophy was evolved and as a result, my personal enjoyment as a leader has soared.
 The Power of Vision (Ventura, CA: Regal Books), 28.
 Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep (West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing, Co.), 48.
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Photo 2: United States Marine Corps Official Page / Foter / CC BY-NC
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