As I look back on over 60 years of ministry, I have discovered many changes in my role as a minister. I have already written about circumstances or situations that changed the way we do church. I also wrote about changes in my prayer life.
In this article, I want to share about changes in my leadership philosophy and practice. This has been an amazing journey. I praise God for the many opportunities He has allowed me to experience and the way He has helped in various leadership roles.
I have served as a minister of music, children and youth, a minister of education, an associate pastor, a church administrator and business administrator. In addition, I have served in three denominational entities, the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources), North Pulaski Baptist Association, and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
In my student days of college and seminary, I didn’t really give much thought to leadership philosophy or principles. I just assumed a leadership role because of my staff position. Not much thought was given to leadership—-what it was and how to be a good leader. I just expected people to follow.
A little older (my late twenties and early thirties), it became evident that people looked to staff for leadership. At that time of my life, the pastor was considered the leader of the church. If people followed his leadership, I assumed they would follow my leadership. (I had not learned the lesson, “never assume anything”).
As I became older (forties and fifties), it became evident that I had to give more and more thought to the meaning of leadership and how it should be practiced in a church. Maybe the hardest lesson learned was that people would not necessarily follow me just because I had a title that indicated leadership.
During this time of my life, I began to study and read about leadership. One of the studies related to how Jesus led during his lifetime. He invested three years in the lives of the twelve apostles. He knew He would be ultimately crucified, and He wanted these twelve men to continue His ministry particularly through His church.
As he led these men, He not only told them how to be a leader, but He also showed them by example how to be a leader. For example, He taught them how to pray. He also spent much time in prayer himself. These twelve men had to be impressed with His prayer life.
In my later years of ministry (late fifties until now), I really began to understand the role of leadership in ministry. One of the most important things I learned is that in order to be a good leader, one has to have the trust of those who were followers. By the way, if one does not have followers, he/she is probably not a very good leader.
Another great leadership principle I finally learned related to competence. Followers had to really believe I knew what I was talking about and how to do what I was talking about before they would become real followers.
One thing that helped me was to observe other leaders. I observed how the pastor led the church. I’ve had the privilege of working for three executive directors in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Each one of these godly men had different leadership styles. I tried to emulate some of their leadership methods. Many times that didn’t work because I hadn’t developed my own leadership philosophy. But I did learn a lot from other leaders.
During this time of my life, I really determined that leadership was a matter of influence. This conclusion came after reading many books and articles on leadership. Also, during this period of my life, I read Henry Blackaby’s book, Spiritual Leadership. Blackaby defined spiritual leadership as the ability to move people and influence people to be on God’s agenda.
Finally, I came to the conclusion, that Dr. Blackaby had the right
idea about leadership. Of course, a leader should lead followers to have a vision for what God wants to do through the organization—church or convention. The leader and followers have to be in agreement that they are trying to accomplish God’s agenda.
When this happens, the leader’s role is to influence followers to do what God wants everyone to do—-be on His agenda. It wasn’t my job to influence people to do what I wanted them to do. I had the responsibility to influence followers to do what God wanted them to do.
Certainly, I have not always been successful in my leadership roles. In fact, as I look back, I know that I failed in many ways. However, God was patient with me. What a great journey it has been.
Two great Biblical leaders also influenced me as I continue to grow in my thinking and practice of leadership. Moses was 80 years old when he began leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. He served 40 years in that leadership role. Caleb was 85 when he said to Joshua, “Give me this mountain.” (Josh. 14:12, KJV) Since I’m in the same age bracket as these two men, I am encouraged and challenged by their leadership skills.
Needless to say, I am truly thankful for every leadership role I have experienced and pray that even during these latter years of my life, God will allow me to continue influencing people to be on His agenda and say, “Give me this mountain.”