“Real Leaders Apologize” by Thom Rainer

heart of a servant leaderFor some leaders, apologies seem to come reluctantly if they come at all. Perhaps a mea culpa seems like an indication of weakness. Perhaps the leader’s ego is too fragile to admit that he or she is wrong. Perhaps some leaders really don’t believe they are ever wrong.

There are certain facts upon which most of us can agree. First, all people make mistakes, including leaders. Second, some of those mistakes will rise to the level of needing an apology. Third, a sincere apology is usually received well.

Here are some miscellaneous notes I have gathered as I have observed apologies or lack of apologies by leaders:

  • Many apologies begin with “If I have offended anyone . . .” That is a non-apology apology. Leaders need not apologize if they don’t know whom they have offended. It’s a cop-out apology.
  • A good apology states the nature of the offense: “I was wrong when I said you are a jerk.” The apology does not sidestep the issue, but confronts it head-on.
  • One of the roles of good leaders is to build strong relationships. All leaders mess up relationally at times. The organization needs leaders who are willing to apologize not only to heal a relationship, but for the health of the organization.
  • Apologies defuse antagonism in the organization. Antagonism can seriously harm the health of the organization.
  • Apologies should be a part of a leader’s life on both a professional and personal level. It takes both humility and integrity to admit fault and to apologize for it. But most recipients of our apologies are grateful beyond measure that we are willing to do so, whether they or a co-worker, a spouse, or a friend.

Allow me to speak directly on this matter to fellow Christians. I recently spoke with a young man I befriended on a trip. He is not a Christian, but he is a seeker in the true sense of the word. He also seems to be very smart and informed. “Thom,” he began, “I read a lot of interactions among Christians online. I really am interested in learning from them.” He paused for a moment, and continued, “Why is it that you Christians fight so much? Why are you so antagonistic toward each other?”

My purpose in providing that true story is not to tell you how I responded. My greater purpose is to remind ourselves that the world is watching. We will certainly make mistakes and say things we regret. But we can always apologize. If we are wrong, we should always apologize.

Real leaders apologize.

Real Christian leaders apologize.

Source: Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources

Every Pastor’s Job Description

Pastors Job DescriptionI absolutely love being a pastor and getting to studying God’s Word in preparation to share it with my church family each Sunday. There is a satisfaction beyond description from seeing someone move from casual attender, to consistent attender, to serving, to leading, and finally becoming a disciple-maker. Watching members grow in their faith and service often brings me to tears. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and long to be around my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I once heard a wise statement about being a great pastor, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” A shepherd lived with, protected, fed, and led the sheep. They knew him, trusted him, and followed him without reservation. The pastor’s first responsibility is to be a shepherd to the people. Shepherding should be a task the pastor loves. If a pastor doesn’t like being with the people then you have to ask why is he a pastor to begin with.

This morning I read a great post by John MacArthur on “Every Pastor’s Job Description.” It was refreshing to hear such a great leader of a mega-church describe a pastor’s greatest responsibility.

MacArthur writes:

Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.

These days, my heart aches for pastors.

It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.

That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.

That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.

Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.

The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.

The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.

Source: Every Pastor’s Job Description

Insecurity–The Church Killer

challenged church, the_t_nvJesus said, “…everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12.48b). Those who find themselves in a position of leadership have been given a great responsibility. We are to lead those entrusted to us toward attaining “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13).

Our calling requires us to keep our heart and mind focused on Christ’s leadership. Being a leader is never easy; however, when we are rightly focused the burden of leadership seems light. Dealing with those who are argumentative, stubborn, or people who just don’t like us can be difficult. Yet, they are not the greatest hinderance to leadership success. When we allow our insecurities to start controlling us we put ourselves and the church we lead in dire circumstances.

In Ronnie Floyd’s post “Pastors and Church Leaders: Will Your Insecurity Problem Hurt Your Church” we are given a few signs of insecurity, the solution for each, as well as the ultimate reason for not being insecure.

Floyd writes:

One of the major challenges that prevent many churches from being focused on their mission can be summarized in one word: insecurity. It eliminates opportunities for evangelism, planting churches, ministry expansion, and making disciples because it creates conflict in the church. I have even seen insecurity ruin ministries.

A Testimony: I will never forget talking with a leader who served with his Pastor for decades in one of the strongest ministries in America. I asked him about the challenges of adjusting from leading church staff leaders from people in the world. He remarked, “I have found that ministers are the most insecure people I have ever met in my life.”

Since insecurity can hurt ministers, churches, and ministries, we need to consider ways to overcome this problem. Here are some helpful tips for identifying the signs of and solutions to insecurity.

Signs of Insecurity

  • Competitiveness – One of the biggest problems insecurity carries with it is overt competition. Churches try to “out-do” one another. Pastors find themselves competing with other pastors. This competitiveness results occurs because of insecurity and further results in jealousy and a critical spirit.
    • Solution: Remember that as a Christ-follower your only competition is the world, the flesh, and the devil; not other pastors or churches. Remember who you are in Christ and abide in this spiritual reality.
  • Combativeness – I have seen many pastors or other church leaders ruin their ministry by the incessant need to have their way all the time. God has not called ministers to always “be right”, but to “be godly.” In my book, “Ten Things Every Minister Needs to Know” I talk about this issue in detail. I am convinced we can do the right thing in the wrong way. We need to operate with the Spirit of Christ at all times.
    • Solution: Recognize that not every hill is worth dying on. Sometimes the best, most Christ-like way is to humble yourself and see that the best idea is not always your own. Listen to others. Learn from others. Learn from your own mistakes. Do not let a word, a sentence, or a spirit take away from your main message. Your goal is always be like Christ, not to always be right in the eyes of others or even in your own eyes. 
  • Complaining – Some of the whiniest people I know are ministers. It also happens that pastors are some of the most insecure people I know. The two often go together. Complaining is a serious obstacle for many ministers of the Gospel. How can we expect others to be attracted to our message and our leadership if we are complainers? This does not magnetize people to the message but it distracts them from the message.
    • Solution: Return to the reason you are in ministry. Church leadership roles are often very hard. When all the bad stuff starts coming your way instead of complaining about it keep your heart in the Word of God and keep your eyes on Jesus and the lost-ness of the world. Most of all, return to your call from God to go into the ministry . . . this is why you are doing what you are doing.

What We Do Not Have Time For

We don’t have time to play games and be insecure. We are not competing against the pastor across town. We are not competing against a church across America. While every church is called to make disciples of all the nations, we have to carry out this commission in the different contexts God has called us to serve. We are not entitled to getting everything our way because we’re in a church leadership role.

Insecure Pastors and Churches

Insecure pastors create insecure churches. Insecure churches are ineffective churches. Competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining do not have a place in the church of Jesus Christ, especially in the life of a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So let’s set aside the competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining and focus on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and making disciples of all nations.

Why There Is No Need To Be Insecure

Our Lord’s command to go and make disciples is prefaced by the statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and is followed by “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18, 20). Because we live in and with the authority of the Great Commission there is no need for insecurity. This is why there is no need to be insecure . . . The Lord is with you always!

Daily, I pray for the authority of the Great Commission to operate within and through my life as a leader. Knowing that the One who has all authority is with us, we can face anything in life and ministry.

If you suffer from various forms of insecurity, I would encourage you to pick up Timothy Keller’s book “The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy.”

Improving Your Leadership

heart of a servant leaderAny leader who really cares about accomplishing great things will examine their methods to make sure they are still effective. There are particular behaviors which should be found in every leader. These behaviors help insure that a leader will continue progressing from good to great. As we discipline ourselves in the practice of self-examination we will be setting an example for those we lead. Eventually they will follow our example and begin progressing from good to great. However, leaders who do not apply or practice these behavior will set themselves on a downward spiral until they become nothing but a bad leader.

This morning I read “From Bad to Good” by Sam Rainer. Sam lists a few of the behaviors that help leaders keep moving forward and prevent their leadership skills from deteriorating.

Rainer writes:

Leadership literature is chock-full of ways in which an average leader can become great. We all believe we’re good. Greatness is just a book, a conference, or a degree away. Indeed, I believe run-of-the-mill leaders can become better with training. A desire to learn, self-awareness, and a solid work ethic go a long way.

Some leaders, however, are just bad. They don’t lead well. Poor decisions are normative.

I believe most pastors want to lead their congregations in a way honoring to God. I believe most pastors care about their flocks. And God uses different types of leaders in different contexts. A rural setting, for example, requires a different type of leader than an urban setting. One is not superior over the other simply because of contextual expertise. But not all leaders—or shepherds for that matter—are great. And some pastors are poor examples of leadership, even if they really do care.

Years of practice entrench bad habits.

At some point, enough imbedded weaknesses transform an otherwise mediocre leader into a bad leader. Sometimes bad leadership is caused by context or position. The church leader is a poor match for the church, ministry focus, or setting. What makes a good senior pastor does not make a good middle school pastor. What makes a good worship pastor does not make a good children’s pastor. While environment and position influence bad leadership, not every case of poor leadership can be blamed on a mismatch. Some leaders are just outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve.

There are two types of bad leaders: the inept and the unethical.

Prominent malicious leaders tend to make the news. Unfortunately, scandals and scoundrels abound. But another category of bad leaders involves those who do not intentionally lead people astray. They are not malicious, just incapable. I’ve written previously on what makes a pastor a bad boss. These leaders desire to make ethical decisions, but they are oblivious as to how their decisions affect others. They shoot from the hip and trigger collateral damage.

The focus of this post is improving the ineffective rather than redeeming the unethical. What are some ways in which bad leaders can become better? A recent study sheds light on behaviors helping a leader transition from bad to good.

  • They shared their knowledge. One of the main drivers of poor leadership is poor interpersonal skills. Many people get promoted because of their expertise in a specific area, but leadership is more than technical knowledge. Bad leaders are stingy with knowledge. Bad pastors can guard theological and methodological black boxes. Good leaders use their knowledge to develop others.
  • They raised the bar of expectations. Expecting little of your church or staff is usually a reflection of low personal expectations. Raise the bar of personal expectations and improvements are bound to occur in the people around you.
  • They shifted from a discouraging posture to an encouraging posture. Bad church leaders become better when they stop focusing on why something can’t be done and rather focus on how something can be done.
  • They worked at becoming proactive change agents instead of reactive change agents. If all you do is put out fires, then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Little flare-ups always exist. Bad leaders reactively move from one to the next. Good leaders proactively discern the dangerous fires with the potential to affect everyone.
  • They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition. Bad leaders divide people, creating opposing camps. Bad pastors use theological nuances as a wedge. Bad church leaders pit style preferences of one group against another. Good church leaders are bridge builders, demonstrating how different people can cooperate rather than compete.

Bad church leaders fail in many areas, but average leaders have weaknesses in specific areas.

Good, bad, or ugly—we can all improve our leadership. And the best pastors recognize continual improvement is the only option for leadership. While only a work of God can redeem unethical pastors, I believe every incompetent pastor can become a good leader. Bad leaders are not locked into poor decisions. Greatness is a noble goal, but good is an achievable step.

Sam S. Rainer is the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN, and president of Rainer Research. He blogs regularly at SamRainer.wordpress.com.

Is Your Church Happy?

i love my churchThis morning Thom Rainer posted “Nine Characteristics of Happy Churches.” It is a wonderful blessing to pastor a loving and happy church. When we gather together as a body of believers we should have fun. Worshipping, serving, singing, teaching, listening, caring, sharing, or any other “ing” you can come up with should be a joyous occasion.

The nine characteristics Thom Rainer listed below can be found in any church where all the people work together as one body.

  • The pastor was a strong leader, but not an autocratic leader. He was able to maintain that healthy balance of providing clarity of vision without imposing his will on every decision.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the congregation. In both his actions and his words, the pastor communicated clearly that he loved the members of the church. And he loved them regardless of their apparent feelings toward him, though most of the members genuinely loved the pastor as well.
  • The pastor regularly demonstrated and affirmed love for the community where the church was located. Though he could not be omnipresent, the pastor made it a point to be involved in many of the affairs of the community. He genuinely loved people in the community and viewed the entire area as his mission field.
  • The ministry staff liked each other, and they worked well together. If there are tensions among the staff, they cannot be hidden from the congregation. But if the staff is unified and banter in fun with one another, the members feed off that joy and unity.
  • A high proportion of the membership was actively involved in ministry. When church members are doing the work of ministry, they have a sense of fulfillment and joy. When they aren’t, they often have extra time on their hands to be divisive.
  • Business meetings were brief and friendly. These meetings were rarely a time of infighting and complaining. To the contrary, most of the members were too busy doing ministry to be negative (see #5).
  • A high proportion of the members were in a small group or Sunday school class. Community grew in these small groups. People who are true members of a community tend to be happier people.
  • The pastor’s time in the Word was protected. It is easy for a pastor to yield his time in the Word for the tyranny of the urgent. Thus he becomes frustrated, as he has to rush to complete a sermon, or as he does not have sufficient time to do the sermon well. The members likewise become frustrated because they don’t feel like the pastor is feeding them. A happy church makes certain that the pastor has adequate time every week to be in the Word.
  • The pastor had a small informal or formal group to whom he was accountable. This group includes those members who clearly love the pastor. They offer both encouragement and accountability for him. The interchange between this group and the pastor is frank, transparent and, overall, healthy. And all communications take place on an unmistakable foundation of love.

How do these nine characteristics compare to your church? What would you add? Which of the nine “jumped out” at you the most?

Please leave a reply, I would love to hear your thoughts.