5 Dumb Leadership Assumptions You Never Learned in Seminary

After two seminary degrees and 35 years in ministry, I’ve gleaned a few insights I wish I’d learned long ago. Although my seminary profs never directly taught me to question the dumb leadership assumptions I’ve listed below, even if they had I wonder if in my youthful enthusiasm I would have listened. Unfortunately it often takes the hard knocks in ministry to teach us what we must know.

Don't assume text concept write on notebook with pen

As you read each assumption below, ask yourself if you agree. I’ll comment on each of them after the list.

  1. What worked before should work again.
  2. Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.
  3. When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.
  4. Reason always prevails.
  5. Everybody perceives the same reality.

It’s taken a few years for me to realize it, but each of these has proved grossly false.

What worked before should work again.

It just doesn’t. Culture changes. Technology changes. Expectations from church people changes. If we as leaders and churches don’t consider how we can do ministry better, this proverbial definition of insanity proves true: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.

I recall one preacher who quoted Psalm 105.15 (KJV) Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. He used it in the context of elevating the pastor’s role to an esteemed position. It may be nice if people do that, but some people won’t respect just because you are a pastor. Sometimes the contrary proves true. Your role actually may elicit disrespect from some.

When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.

I’ve tripped on this one a lot. Too often when I’m jazzed about an idea and share it with key leaders or staff, I’ve gotten blank stares or simple nods when I first shared it. I’ve interpreted those nods and stares as resounding support from them. After all, if they objected, they should have said so right then. In retrospect, however, often they were simply being polite. Although I had spent sufficient time to process my idea, they hadn’t. By not asking questions or providing them more soak time before implementing the idea, I’ve often found later that they never really liked it. The result? At best reluctant acquiescence and at worst, active resistance. But, when I’ve provided sufficient soak time, the idea often evolved into an even better one that the leaders really embraced.

Reason always prevails.

Unfortunately, emotion often trumps reason, even among mature leaders. I’m learning more about how neuroscience affects church leadership, especially when hormones hijack clear thinking. Check out this post to find out if your emotional brain has hijacked your leadership.

Everybody perceives the same reality.

In court, lawyers often use conflicting testimony to their advantage. The same holds true in churches. People simply perceive reality differently. Some may see the church as going great. Others may see the opposite. It can become frustrating at times for every leader. When those conflicts arise, seek wise counsel from someone outside of the conflict who can provide objectivity.

What assumptions have you found to be false in your ministry?

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12 Powerful Questions Pastors should ask about Effective Leadership

In the book First, Break all the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they list 12 core questions the Gallup organization discovered that when asked, give organizations the information they need to attract, focus on, and keep the most talented employees. I’ve included them here as a helpful set of questions about effective leadership pastors should ask themselves and ask about those who serve on their staff.

Speech bubble with the word questions on white background.

12 core questions about effective leadership

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my church make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Questions have a way of making us think deeply.

What questions would you add to this list?

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9 Things Great Leaders Do

The book of Acts describes the amazing story of Jesus’ work through the Holy Spirit in the early church. With an explosive start, problems were certain to surface. And they did. In the first example of internal dissension the Apostles displayed great leadership. The church had grown so rapidly that some of the widows were being overlooked in the regular distribution of food (Acts 6.1-7). And murmuring began that potentially could fracture the church. However, they lead the church well and model for us 9 things great leaders do.

Chart depicting the leadership style of transformational leaders

Great leaders…

  1. Define reality.
    • They assess and solve problems. What was the reality in the early church? Needs were not being met in a segment of the church (some widows), those not best qualified were trying to meet the needs, and unless fixed, greater problems could result. Good leaders don’t stick their head in the sand when they face problems. They tackle them head on and find solutions. Their solution was to reorganize and find qualified people to fix the problem. Growing churches and ministries often demand new structures and ministries and ways to solve problems.
  2. Think big picture.
    • The apostles didn’t stay at the granular level. They didn’t say, “Maybe if we divide the bread better and use sturdier bags we could feed all the widows properly.” No. The murmuring caught their attention and they knew that if it continued, it would not be good for the church as a whole. It would affect the entire church, not just this group of widows. Good leaders must schedule time to get above the fray, think long term, dream big picture, and get the 10,000 foot view.
  3. Keep the main thing the main thing. 
    • They knew what was most important, the Great Commission. The Apostles knew where they needed to leverage their time, abilities, and influence. They knew the situation required they focus on big picture items which in their case were teaching, prayer, and the overall leadership of the early church. As a result, they needed a new structure so that the main thing (the Great Commission) would not suffer. In churches the good often becomes the enemy of the best. Great leaders guard against the temptation to say yes to every good idea.
  4. Make tough calls. 
    • They decided that they weren’t the best ones to feed the widows. That decision posed the risk that some might say, “So it’s beneath you to do these servant kinds of ministry? Jesus washed your feet and you’re not willing to put a plate of food before a hungry woman?” Some of the widows probably preferred that a true Apostle provide their food. They made the tough call, though. And tough calls are just that, tough.They aren’t easy to make, but crucial
  5. Collaborate.
    • Great leaders welcome others into the decision making process and the execution of ministry. They welcome input. The Apostles had the group select seven godly men to take on this task. Although they themselves posed the solution, they welcomed the input from the others to choose the seven.
  6. Set healthy standards. 
    • The Apostles set the parameters for the solution: the number of people (seven), the roles (handle the food distribution), and the qualifications (men full of the Spirit and wisdom). Our staff operates by a set of staff values we call Permission to Play Values. You can read about them here.
  7. Delegate.
    • After they selected the seven, they delegated this pastoral responsibility to them. Good leaders share ministry. Good leaders don’t try to do it all themselves. And good leaders don’t feel threatened when someone else can do a ministry better than they. It’s a temptation for a leader to think, “If it’s going to get done right I’m going to have to do it myself.” That attitude stifles leadership effectiveness.
  8. Trust other people. 
    • This relates to delegation. How did the Apostles show trust? They gave the ministry away. They trusted that this group of seven would do the right thing. When leaders trust they build others up and give others opportunities to grow. And when you trust, you won’t micromanage.
  9. Discover, develop, and deploy other leaders.
    • This sums up this entire biblical scenario. They guided the people to discover seven qualified people, they handed off the ministry and developed the seven by bringing them up to speed, and they deployed them. The mark of a good leader is reflected in how many he or she deploys into ministry.

So, the Apostles set a stellar example of great leadership as they helped solve the first internal problem the early church faced.

What other essentials should great leaders embody?

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The “Measure Up Mentality” in Today’s Church

I’ve served in full-time ministry for over 35 years in churches in many places in the U.S.: the south, the southwest, the far west and the mid-west. I now serve as lead church in Ontario, Canada. I’ve noticed that a church’s expectations of a pastor varies depending on the region. And when that church, culture, or pastor gets caught up in a ‘measure up’ mentality, it can be deadly. Consider these thoughts on the ‘measure up mentality’ in ministry.

Illustration of a tape measure

The Measure Up Mentality:

When I served a large church in the central valley in California several years ago it seemed that I could easily meet the church’s expectations. Yet in another large church in another part of the U.S. I found that meeting others’ expectations was extremely challenging, especially among church members successful in business. I attribute that to both the business environment there that required you to perform at a high level and to the fact that that church was located near four well-known mega-churches with world class leaders and preachers. Comparison came with the territory.

However, here in Canada, I don’t seem to face that same mentality as I did in that region of the U.S.

Every ministry leader deals with this ‘measure up mentality’ to some extent. Although we can’t avoid it, we can choose how we respond to it.

Some unwise choices include…

  • thinking we can please everybody
  • morphing into someone we are not to get everybody’s approval
  • using “I can’t please everyone” as an excuse to be lazy, not work hard, or avoid difficult problems or people
  • obsessing over those you can’t please

I admit that at times the ‘measure up mentality’ has sucked my joy out of ministry. But I’ve applied some simple ideas below that have helped me keep my joy even when I felt I didn’t measure up in the eyes of others. Perhaps they will encourage you as well.

  • God made me who I am. I may not be a world-class leader, a ‘blow you a way’ preacher, or as creative as some, but I must appreciate, embrace, and faithfully use the gifts and competencies He has given me.
  • He has placed me where He wants me to be. I must accept that and do my best with the opportunity He’s provided.
  • I must not dismiss or cutoff those with whom I don’t measure up.
  • It’s ok to take care of my valid needs. I can’t change what other people think about me, make them like me, or force them to approve of me, but I can take care of the body, soul, and spirit God has entrusted to me. In doing so, I then become the best pastor and leader He has created me to be.

This old King James Version verse has encouraged me as I’ve faced the ‘measure up mentality.’

Psa. 62.5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. 

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I deal extensively with how to manage this ‘measure up mentality’ as it relates to the temptation to people please.

How have you handled the ‘measure up mentality?’

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The Well Placed Question – an Often Overlooked Leadership Tool

As a pastor and a leader I guide the process to help our church set and accomplish goals, move us forward into a preferred future, and make progress. And it seems like I do a lot of telling. I wonder if we leaders sometimes miss how a well placed question can enhance our leadership. Consider these thoughts about leadership and asking questions.

illustration of 3d character with question mark on an isolated white background

The power of a well placed question:

  • We cast vision by telling.
  • We craft strategies by telling.
  • We set goals by telling.
  • We recruit leaders by telling.
  • We manage staff by telling.

Unfortunately, our fast-paced world often tempts us to give quick answers. In Mark 2 we can see a pattern in Jesus’ response to those who questioned Him. That chapter records four unique questions posed to him. Three out of four times Jesus responded with at least one question. In those responses He didn’t immediately tell them an answer to their question. Rather, He sought to make them think about what they asked by asking them a question.

When we build into our churches and ministries a culture that encourages questions, these benefits result.

  • We see reality more clearly. One more well-placed question may surface an important issue you otherwise might have missed.
  • Innovation. Questions can spur new ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Self-reflection. Simply telling someone an answer may stifle his need to think through the answer for himself.
  • Perspective. A good question can open up a fresh perspective to a perplexing dilemma.
  • Focus. Questions can help a group or person focus on the real issue.

However, when we use questions as we lead we must avoid these unhealthy patterns.

  • Defensiveness: using questions as a defense mechanism, a ‘tit-for-tat’ response.
  • Aloofness: using questions to avoid answering a valid question because you think it is beneath you to answer.
  • Ignorance: not answering a valid question about which you have no knowledge in order to hide your lack of knowledge. In that case it’s best to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Controlling: using questions to put another into a corner to embarrass him or shut him down.
  • Deflecting: using questions to move a valid conversation to another subject.

Asking questions can become a potent tool in our leadership toolbox.

How have you used questions in your leadership?

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