Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)

Examining courageous leadership, a fifth principal is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.  Watching ministers lead for more than thirty years, it’s breathtaking how diligently and fruitlessly so many of us labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.

No wonder the burn-out rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the drop-out rate.

Here’s an alternative, practiced by the most effective leaders in ministry: Pastor, live with your pioneers.

Make sure those most ready to follow your leadership populate your appointment calendar.  Every week, spend most of your time with the pioneers: those who’ve trained themselves to take risks, to try new possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result. Ask about their passions for the things God has laid on your heart.  Listen for the overlap between your vision and theirs, your heart and theirs, your passions and theirs.  This area of overlap is where you and they get to play!

Pray with them. Dream with them. If your dream is to touch the un-churched, envision the kinds of impact you’d most want to have on the lives of those you’ll serve.  Imagine yourselves serving authentically, regularly, generously—for their benefit.

Do some planning and strategizing…but please don’t get a brain cramp trying to figure it all out in advance.  Planning for ministry is an almost irresistible temptation for church people.  Don’t waste your vigor over-planning in the comfort of your church conference room.

Quick, before you lose your nerve, get out there and bless people. Thrust yourself into action with your pioneers. Get off the property. Meet with civic leaders. Learn where your congregation can help, where you can make a God-honoring difference, and go after it.  Love people.  Serve them.

For Heaven’s sake, experiment.

Incubate.

Pilot.

Test.

Adjust.

Go-again, fearlessly and flexibly.

When what you tried doesn’t work—do something else.

Do anything else. Let these be rich times of learning and of enjoying the adventure together.

As your pioneers love and care for the un-churched in ways that bless their lives, they’ll be skeptical initially.  They’ll be wary that church people would serve without an agenda, a “gotcha”, a hook.  As you keep being with them for their benefit–and not for yours–their skepticism will be replaced by gratitude.

Communicate their appreciation broadly through the congregation.  Raise the visibility of your pioneers; make them your “heroes” and make a big deal of their willingness to risk, innovate, and lead in the change.

Over time, the belongers will decide it’s beneficial and safe to join in.  Have places ready for them to serve.  Plan these in advance.  Eventually, more and more belongers will embrace the changes, until they become the “new normal” for your congregation.

All the while, another amazing transformation is taking place.  As you continue serving the un-churched, from a place of humility and unconditional love, their gratitude will be accompanied by openness.  When they ask about your relationship with God, then you answer.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” [1 Pt 3:15b]

The key, Pastor, is to give yourself to the pioneers, the “yes” people, the adventurers. Suspend your preference to win over the resisters and to bring along the belongers.  They will watch—from afar—and when it seems safe to them, they will begin to play.

In the meantime, have a blast with your pioneers.  Make a difference in the lives of those you’re serving.  Enjoy what God does.

Hurray!