I've been blessed to know many wise and courageous ministry leaders over the years. Some have been examples from a distance and others have been mentors up close. But I have also known many leaders whose churches or organizations failed because they didn't adopt the solid principles of leadership found in the Bible.
Today I constantly remind young leaders what I've observed. Based on the eight biggest blunders any leader could make, I offer this cautionary advice:
1. Never treat people like projects. Many leaders are so caught up in their heavenly vision that they view people like pawns to achieve their dreams. If you don't love and respect people, you will run over them. Learn to value people by offering encouragement, affirmation and rewards for service. When Paul said goodbye to the elders of Ephesus, they wept and embraced him because they knew he genuinely loved them (see Acts 20:36-38). Love people; don't use them. If you treat them like cogs in a machine, they won't feel sad when you leave!
2. Never try to do everything yourself. Can you imagine if Nehemiah tried to rebuild the crumbling walls of Jerusalem by himself? Yet some leaders try to manage multiple projects rather than delegating the work to people who have the skills and the passion to achieve a common goal. Stop thinking you can do every job better. Help each team member find their place "on the wall" where they can work effectively. If you never take the time to train others, your ministry will remain small and you will eventually burn out.
3. Never focus on your critics. All leaders receive negative comments from armchair quarterbacks and petty people. Get over it—this is just one of the many occupational hazards of ministry. Never become obsessed with what people are saying behind your back. Their words are like the buzzing of insects; what Mrs. Jones told Mr. Smith after hearing Mrs. Williams' criticism of your sermon will not affect you. Keep your heart focused on Jesus and let the sound of your joyful praise crush Satan's accusations.
4. Never make big decisions without wise counsel. Some leaders jump from one big project to the next, jerking their church or organization to the left and then to the right as if they don't really know where they are going. These erratic leaders never submit their ideas to others for accountability—or they surround themselves with yes men who rubber-stamp every foolish idea. Proverbs 11:14 (NASB) says, "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory." Stop jerking people around and ask wise advisers to pray with you about your plans.
5. Never avoid confrontation. Every ministry will develop problems. But a good leader will see a problem when it first buds and take the initiative to correct it. Leaders who fear confrontation will let things fester until the problem spreads like a poisonous vine that eventually chokes the life out of the ministry. When the apostle Paul stepped in to correct a problem in the Galatian church, he warned them: "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9). Never assume that a problem will "take care of itself." Deal with it!
6. Never try to pour into others when you are empty. Even Jesus had to go to a lonely place to pray after ministering to the crowds (see Luke 5:16). Yet many leaders will run on fumes for weeks without resting and recharging. If you work your fingers to the bone without taking care of your own spiritual life, your axe will get so dull that hours of work will become fruitless and exhausting. Pull away regularly to sharpen your blade.
7. Never close your heart to personal ministry. One ministry school in the United States taught its students that pastors should never share their struggles with anyone—because people would gossip about them or stab them in the back. I feel sorry for any pastor or leader who doesn't have a network of mentors and friends with whom they can share their deepest struggles. Leaders are just as flawed as anyone else and they need to confess their sins, process their pain and receive healing prayer. Leaders who stay isolated will end up emotionally unhealthy and they do not finish well.
8. Never lose your spiritual passion. King Saul is a sad example of failed leadership. He started well but ended miserably. May the Lord deliver us all from the spirit of Saul, who felt the call of God and experienced the oil of the Spirit's anointing in his youth but departed from God's ways in his later years.
We cannot stay faithful to the Lord if His flame is not continually blazing in our hearts. Even when the apostle Paul was in prison, he wrote, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14). Paul continually stoked the fire of the Holy Spirit in his life because he had a secret life with God. He prayed continually, he soaked his mind in God's Word and he lived on the altar of surrender every day. May Paul's passionate devotion be ours.
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J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression. Author of several books including 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, he has just released his newest book, Set My Heart on Fire, from Charisma House. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeeGrady or go to his website, themordecaiproject.org.
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