CHALLENGES & STRUGGLES OF LEADERSHIP
In the last two issues of iLINK, we have explored responses to two out of the three questions I posed to ten pastors of growing Illinois AG churches – “What are the top five skills/facts a pastor, regardless of church size, should learn or work on to help his/her local church grow?” and, “What are the key performance indicators/measurements that you use to define a ‘Healthy’ church?”
Though the churches of these 10 pastors are dissimilar – rural, suburban, and urban, with attendances ranging from 100 to 1000+ – they have one thing in common: each has been in a growth pattern for more than five years.
In this column, I’d like to share responses to the third question, “What would you identify as the top three challenges/struggles of a leader?”
We all face universal challenges. I remember fervently praying for God to supply our church’s $440 mortgage payment; years later, I prayed just as fervently over a $19,000 mortgage payment. I encountered the “angry and occasionally carnal parishioner” in both churches.
I have divided responses to this third question into the four topics of Time, People, Emotions, and Culture. Close examination of their answers revealed that the real issue was with the management of these topics rather than the topics themselves. For instance, shortage of time isn’t the problem; it’s how we manage our allotted time. People aren’t the problem; it’s how we motivate and develop them. Emotions aren’t our problem; it’s how we harness them to deliver the best outcomes. Culture isn’t the problem; we must work out a process that neutralizes cultural difficulties.
I recently read an article about successful leaders that stated successful people live by the “one-touch” rule. When faced with a task, they decide right away how to resolve it, rather than setting it aside to be dealt with later.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of two Fortune 500 companies, Twitter and Square, says he manages his time by designating specific tasks for each day of the week. Monday is management; Tuesday, product; Wednesday, marketing/communications and growth, and so on.
Each of us has biblical mandates to take care of our family, our ministry assignment, our physical bodies, and more. To accomplish everything, we need to develop a workable time management plan. As one pastor wrote, “There will always be more to do and never enough time to do it.”
Another pastor mentioned the problem of “sideways energy … too busy doing the things that aren’t primary.” I love one pastor’s description of “the struggle of finding genuine quiet time for restoring your soul while you keep all the plates spinning.” The sad truth is that if you practice poor time management habits, eventually your view and urgency of the call of God on your life will be diminished and far less than what God intended.
Every pastor struggles with people management. I first heard of this issue from my pastor when I was just 15. “People just don’t work in the church like they did in the past. I can’t get volunteers. They’re all too busy.” That was the complaint in 1974!
People management seems to fall into three interconnected categories – developing leaders, managing staff, and motivating the people who sit on the sidelines. Managing and motivating people will always be an issue if we aren’t developing leaders.
Football has been described as “50,000 people who desperately need exercise watching 22 people who desperately need rest.” I think that defines many churches. We work a few wonderful people to death instead of managing to motivate and develop the ones sitting on the sidelines. Develop your leaders, whether they are paid staff or volunteers, into people who train and develop other leaders. Paul addresses this issue in 2 Timothy 2:2. Do we want people to simply do what we tell them to do, or are we willing to manage and motivate them by developing their spiritual gifts?
Ministry is tough. As a leader, you are faced with the emotions of, “The fear of failure and confrontation and the lack of confidence in the results of your decisions.” When we become overwhelmed by a lack of emotional management, we quickly lose perspective and risk sinking into depression, anger, and jealousy.
If your emotions or that of your family seem overwhelming, remember that the District offers financial assistance for Christian counseling to IDC ministers and their families through SafetyNet. Call 217.854.4600 Ext. 4111 for information. Your Presbyter is also available for prayer and support. Don’t face these battles on your own.
Another emotional challenge is to remain humble and rely on God’s strength rather than our own. Be a servant leader. One pastor said, “We must ensure that we don’t get the ‘I got this (cocky)’ attitude. It’s important to constantly develop yourself as a leader.” None of us have arrived. Even the Apostle Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal.” Peter faced this emotional battle while Timothy seems to have faced the emotional battle of timidity. There are times that we simply need, as one pastor described, emotional “grit!”
Culture has become a daunting issue for every church. In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to Christian values, it’s turned into “church culture vs. American culture vs. biblical culture.”
As Christians, we tend to think in one of two paradigms. We either view culture as our enemy or as our goal. One pastor described it perfectly, “The pressure occurs between a desire to ‘grow’ a church and confronting society's socially defined Christianity. Preach it straight, and people won't like it, and you won’t be the ‘cool’ church in town."
Culture shouldn’t become our behavioral goal, but rather our conversational goal. Jesus taught in a manner that the people in His audience could understand. He confronted the culture not as His enemy but in a redemptive manner. He sought to confront in a way that helped Him stay relevant in the conversation. You can see a couple of these moments when He said, “You say that …. but I tell you …” I hope that we as leaders can confront our culture in that same way!
Please know that as your pastor, I understand the challenges and struggles that you’re facing. I have walked where you are walking. Our ministries, though not the same, share many common experiences. I also hurt, grow discouraged, and struggle to manage all the areas of my life that are integral to fulfilling my calling. I pray for you every day. If you ever feel a need to talk, just pick up the phone and call me or another minister. Remember – we are stronger together.