How the Best Leaders Develop Self-Control—Dan Reiland
Without self-control, a leader will be sidelined, derailed, or perhaps taken out of ministry.
You may need self-control to win over anger, discouragement or speaking …read more
From:: Eric Geiger
Before King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and attempted to cover his sin by murdering her husband, boredom settled into his heart. He was bored the night he was on the roof, bored and looking for something else other than God. Earlier in his life, while on the run from Saul, David woke up at dawn with singing (Psalm 57) to the God He sought. David had longed to stare at the beauty of God, but not on the fateful night he stared at Bathsheba. He was looking for something else, something other than the Lord, when his eyes and heart were captured by the beautiful woman bathing.
If we are bored we are looking for something other than God because God never bores. And anytime we look for something other than Him, we are looking for something less. Where does boredom manifest itself in ministry leaders? Where must we pay attention and guard against boredom seeping into our hearts?
The apostle Paul challenged the young pastor Timothy to “pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). We must watch both our lives and our teaching. Boredom in either can lead us away from the Lord.
If we find ourselves bored with our lives, we have stopped staring at the One who is infinitely awesome. If we find ourselves looking for a new mission to conquer, it is because the mission He has given us no longer captures our hearts. There is a massive difference between longing for a new mission and seeking new approaches or opportunities to fulfill the mission the Lord has given. All believers have been given the mission to make disciples, to be His ambassador, to declare Him as praiseworthy. How we fulfill the mission the Lord has given may change, but if the Lord’s mission bores us we are headed towards ruin.
Boredom in doctrine expresses itself in longing for something new and unique to say. But we don’t have anything new and unique to say. We have a faith that “was delivered to the saints once for all.” Longing to say something no one has ever said will pull you away from the truth we are to stand on. Seeking new ways to communicate the same message is vastly different from wanting to say something no one has ever said before.
Don’t let boredom ruin you. Look to Him and you won’t get bored. Seek new ways to fulfill the mission the Lord has given, but don’t seek a new mission. Seek ways to communicate the message in new ways, but don’t seek a new message.
Since leaving full-time local church ministry to become one of the vice-presidents at LifeWay, I have always missed and loved the local church. Dr. Draper, the former president of LifeWay, once told a leader on my team, “If you ever stop missing being on local church staff, leave immediately.” The sentiment was that we could only be helpful to local church leaders if we love what they do and miss what they do.
So after moving to Nashville almost six years ago, I still looked for ways to serve a local church body. I became a teaching pastor at a church and led a Sunday School class for young married couples before I began serving churches as interim pastor. My second interim was a church right where I live, just a few minutes from our home, and I loved and connected with the people very early on. In time they asked me to move from being interim pastor to serving as bi-vocational senior pastor. I was honored and prayerfully jumped at the opportunity. And I greatly underestimated the weight of being the senior pastor. I calculated correctly the time it would take to prepare sermons, meet with pastors on the team, and give direction to the church. I scheduled, blocked off, and fiercely protected the appropriate time. But no amount of time management can decrease the weight of being a senior pastor. It is no exaggeration to say that being an interim preacher weighs less than 1/10th of being the senior pastor—even when the senior pastor is “bi-vocational.”
When the apostle Paul listed all his sufferings, he concluded the list with referencing his burden for the churches he served.
The weight of pastoring, though filled with immense joy, was a weight that topped Paul’s list of suffering.
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)
Notice a few of the words Paul uses: face, daily, pressure, concern, sin, inwardly, burn. With those words in view, here are five realities about the weight of pastoring.
Paul declares the weight is “daily.” A pastor never stops being pastor. The weight is there constantly.
Paul writes that he “faces” the pressure daily. The weight of pastoring is not merely something you read or hear about. It is something you face, sense, and experience.
More than merely dealing with measures on an income statement, sales report, or balance sheet, a pastor deals in the arena of “sin” and wrestles continually with the implications of a fallen and broken world.
Paul mentions his “concern” for real people, people who are weak and struggling. There are tangible needs of real people, and they weigh heavily on a pastor who loves the people being served.
Paul writes that he “burns inwardly.” It is not only the tangible needs of people but also the inward burning for continual responsibility for the flock. The tangible needs of individual sheep are present but so is the intangible burden for the whole flock.
I recently met with all the managers and directors of the Resources Division at LifeWay, the division I am responsible to lead. We have nearly 650 employees in the division, and they all report to the leaders who were in that room. At the beginning of each calendar year, I remind our team of our mission and values, our identity that is foundational for all we do. For five years we have lived with the same mission and values and have seen the impact on the culture of being crystal clear about our identity.
I have given up on the fantasy that a leader can get in front of a group of people and declare a culture into existence. We are not the Lord; we cannot speak something into existence. Creating and cultivating a culture takes time. I asked our team if they really believe our mission and values have worked their way into our culture. They shared stories of how our values impact decision-making, inform execution, create shared energy and enthusiasm, and increase our ability to attract the right people to the team. Here is a copy of our team’s mission and values.
So how, over five years, have we driven these deeply into our team? Here are five practical ways:
We invest time to re-teach our mission and values to the team. Sometimes the whole meeting is about the mission and values (as in early January), but most often we embed teaching into our regular meetings. For example, for the last two years I have taught on one value each meeting at each of our division-wide meetings.
We discuss our mission and values in team meetings, and the language is a filter for how we make decisions. If values are only shared from the microphone, they have little chance of being driven into a culture.
We hire through the lens of our mission and values. We want to make them so clear that if someone has not fully bought into them, they self-select out of the hiring process. If you don’t lead with mission and values, you cannot expect to hire the right people.
We give awards based on our values. The awards are based on great stories that illustrate the commitment to the mission and values we desire to live by. Stories can give people a tangible example of what living a value really looks like.
We regularly evaluate how our execution is rooted or fails to be rooted in what we say we believe. From annual evaluations to evaluating a particular project, evaluation through the lens of mission and values further drives them into the culture.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges leaders in growing churches face is the sense of failing to meet expectations, particularly of some who were in the church when the church was not as large as she currently is. Here are a couple of examples from recent conversations with church leaders:
Some members of a church of 2,100 in attendance expect the senior pastor to visit them if they are in the hospital. These members were in the church when it was 250-300 people and that is how the pastor led during that season. Other members in the same church would never even think their senior pastor would or should be at the hospital for their appendectomy or bout with kidney stones. In fact, when a pastor calls these folks, they are blown away “that we have such a relational pastor.” What some view as a calloused leader, others view as a compassionate one.
Some members of a church of 500 in attendance are surprised to learn that the student ministry bought a new sound system. In the past, when the church was just getting started, each of these types of decisions was discussed in a quarterly meeting, and some of the members remember those days. Now, it seems, “decisions are just made with no communication.” Newer members in this church never complain that a sound system purchase should be discussed, nor does it seem they want to endure long meetings to discuss those types of decisions. What some view as an essential directional decision, others view as an issue of execution.
How do we make sense of the difference in perspective? A wise pastor once told me that for many people “in their minds, the church is always the size it was when they first joined.” In other words, in the minds of many people, the church should still function like the church did when they joined.
The reality is that as a church grows, the church must change some ways in which she functions. And if she doesn’t, her growth will be hampered.
A church should not change or evolve doctrinally, as a church should stand on the “faith delivered once for all to the saints.” Nor must a church change her ministry philosophy and mission in her local community. I am simply suggesting that as a church grows, if a church grows, how she functions in at least these three areas will need to change.
1. The expectations on the senior pastor
As a church grows, it is illogical for a pastor to perform every wedding, lead every funeral, and visit every hospital. Some would wisely argue that regardless of church size, the biblical mandate on a pastor is not to “do the ministry” anyway but to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). But from a logical vantage point, as a church grows, the senior pastor’s role will need to adjust. While remaining connected to people and the community, the pastor will focus more and more time on teaching, on staff development, and on the overarching direction of the church.
As a church grows, how she makes decisions will need to change. For example, as a church hires more specialized staff, some of the decisions related to ministry execution should be entrusted to those staff members. They are both trained and equipped for their realms of responsibility and deeply connected to their ministry areas. This is not to say that an oversight group (board, elder team, senior staff, etc.) no longer stewards the overall direction, doctrine, and ministry approach of the church but that many decisions will be pushed to leaders who shepherd groups of people within the church.
3. Communication to the church
As a church grows, communication to the broader body will likely need to change. For example, group leaders in a church of 70 who once stood up at the end of the service to invite new folks to their group likely won’t be able to do so in a church of 700 as there are now lots of groups.
Of course, change is challenging and inevitably results in tension as some people’s expectations will not always be met. Ironically, some of the unfulfilled expectations are ones the church helped set years ago. If a church continues to grow, the tension will continually be there. Wise leaders teach and remind people to hold tightly to the doctrine of the church and the ministry philosophy that gives the church her identity but to hold loosely to the functions that will/should be adaptable.
There can be seasons in a church leader’s life when reading leadership books is a bad idea. If one’s devotional life is weak, Christian worldview is not firm, or compassion for people is waning, then church leaders should flee from leadership books.
However, if devotional life and Christian worldview are solid and accompanied by a growing love for people, church leaders can benefit from reading leadership books. Here are three reasons why:
1. To learn from outsiders
Yes, we can learn from others, even those who write from a worldview that is not distinctly Christian. The most classic leadership development story in the Bible is when Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) confronts Moses for being an unwise leader who is failing to delegate. Jethro was a priest of Midian, meaning he was not a Hebrew but an outsider, and Moses listened to him because the counsel was wise (Exodus 18).
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable about a wicked and shrewd manager who, in a savvy way, ensures that people will welcome him into their homes when he is no longer employed. Jesus affirms his shrewdness, not his wickedness, to challenge believers to be more shrewd with eternal matters than the wicked are with temporary ones. Jesus says, “For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people” (Luke 16:8). There are some things we can learn from the sons of this age. Reading is a great way you can learn an outsider’s perspective.
2. To grow mentally
Reading leadership books can help sharpen your mind. John Wesley believed this so strongly that he told young ministers to “read or get out of the ministry.” Of Wesley, A.W. Tozer wrote, “He read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another.” Meaning, Wesley did not only read books that were distinctly Christian. Oswald Sanders, in his classic work Spiritual Leadership, devotes a chapter to the subject of “The Leader & Reading” and insists that “the leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be constantly reading.”
If you value your development, then reading is essential. Many have said that you will be the same person in several years except for the people you meet and the books that you read. Books can help develop you. It is a great leadership blunder not to use them wisely.
3. To understand culture
When a pastor reads leadership books, the pastor is stepping into the world of the leaders in the congregation. The pastor gets a view of the language, values, and priorities that are discussed in staff meetings and around leadership tables in the city where the church is located.
Reading leadership books can help you understand the everyday culture of the people whom you serve. With a better view of the culture, you are better prepared to apply the Word to their specific issues, concerns, and challenges.