Like most little boys, my son is fascinated with superheroes. Maybe that’s why I’m writing an article about the parallels between leadership and ambiguous fictional superheroes. For the most part, I’m critical of pop culture. However, the cultural fascination with fictitious superheroes (it’s a multi-billion dollar industry) is interesting from an anthropological perspective because it demonstrates that people have an innate desire to see good triumph over evil in spectacular fashion.
People are fascinated by the idea of a super savior that defeats evil and overcomes extreme obstacles. From here I could launch into a diatribe about the disturbing trend towards the cultural celebration of “bad guys” winning, and the glorification of evil, but I’ll refrain.
Oddly enough, fictitious superheroes often instigate seemingly innocuous conversations with my son about very deep topics. For example, the reality of good and evil, the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s hard, doing what’s right even when everyone is against you, and how to be a leader. That might sound silly to you, but those are things I want my son to take seriously.
During one of those “deep” conversations, it dawned on me that most people want to grow up and be heroic. Sadly, age and the strains of real life have a way of tainting that desire if we’re not careful, but the desire is there somewhere. And that brings me to the topic of leadership. Ask any good leader and they will tell you that they were drawn to leadership because they wanted to help people. This is never truer than in the case of pastoral leadership. Godly ministers desperately want to see people saved. That’s our number one goal. I recently spoke with the CEO of a billion-dollar medical device company and I asked what drew him to the industry. His answer was typical; he wanted to help people.
Obviously, there is an evil side of the leadership coin. Those are the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, false prophets, and wolves in sheep clothing kind of leaders. But I’m writing to the “good guy” leaders today. The ones who desperately want to make a difference and truly help people. But maybe leadership isn’t everything you thought it would be. Maybe leading has left you feeling more and more jaded. These ten “superhero” inspired leadership lessons are for you.
Heroic leadership is a lonely business.
Heroic leadership will often cause you to be misunderstood and mistreated. Doing the right thing means swimming against the current of popular culture and failed methodology. Heroic leaders must be prepared to endure times of loneliness and isolation.
Heroic leadership is a dangerous business.
When you shine a light on evil, expect evil to retaliate. When you challenge the status quo, expect the status quo to retaliate.
Heroic leadership is often a thankless job.
Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be respected, but heroic leadership does not lead for accolades. Heroic leadership leads to help people. Jesus spoke of avoiding the pharisaical spirit that does good deeds just to be seen (Matthew 6:1-16). Heroic leaders don’t need a pat on the back to keep doing the right thing.
Every heroic leader has an inner villain.
In the biblical sense, this is the epic struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Even heroic leaders have inner struggles and temptations that constantly threaten to overthrow righteousness. Our villainous nature must be crucified every single day or it will gain dominance in our lives.
Every heroic leader has a super-nemesis.
It’s tempting for heroic leaders to view wicked people as the enemy, but this is not the Christian worldview that God wants us to hold. We don’t wrestle with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). There is a super villain named Lucifer who is the arch enemy of everything that is good. Knowing the source of evil is paramount if you are going to effectively combat evil.
Every heroic leader has unshakable core convictions, values, and drive that sustains and propels them against overwhelming odds.
Heroic leaders have solid principles that are unchanging. Genuine righteous values don’t shift with circumstances. Adversity exposes cowardly leadership. Cowardly leadership sacrifices values on the altars of convenience, popularity, and self-preservation.
At the end of the day, heroic leaders take off the mask and look like everybody else.
Heroic leaders wear a mask of professionalism. Heroic leaders can’t be everybody’s buddy or best friend, they are leaders. I know the big buzz word these days is “real”. Everyone is talking about being real, authentic, and genuine. Some of that is good. I get it. But often, just being “real” is code for lack of composure. Heroic leaders aren’t fake or plastic, but they do maintain composure, high standards, and a work ethic that sets them apart from others.
But when heroic leaders get home they are tired and human just like everybody else. They need genuine connections, love, and relationships. They need interaction with their family and close friends. Heroic leaders must learn to let down their guard at home or risk alienating their deepest, most important relationships.
Heroic leaders aren’t trying to be heroes.
There’s a difference between being a wanna-be hero and simply being committed to doing what is needed, necessary, and right. Heroic leaders are like David when he saw Goliath intimidating the entire army of Israel. David wasn’t trying to be a hero when he faced Goliath, he just couldn’t stand by and let evil win.
Heroic leaders always have a kryptonite that the enemy will try to exploit.
Even heroic leaders have a weakness (or two, or three). Knowing what your kryptonite is and learning how to deal with it is critical.
Heroic leaders sometimes lose their way, but they face their failures and make things right.
In the quest to do right, heroic leaders sometimes lose focus or let the ends justify the means. They falter, they fail, they miss the mark, they err, they misjudge. That’s because they are human beings. However, heroic leaders know how to say, “I was wrong.” They learn how to say, “I’m sorry.” They face their failures and own their mistakes. They don’t shift blame or pass the buck. Owning and correcting mistakes is one of the most heroic things a person can do.
These strengths and weaknesses are generalities, not absolutes. Also, commenting on weaknesses is not intended to be disrespectful or to help generate criticism. Instead, the intent behind this writing is to help us address issues with clarity and resolution. If you take the time to peruse the related articles below, you will find that I support apostolic ministry and believe that pastors should be vigorously defended. Saints, I think you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
Saints, I think you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
The Warrior is like The Authoritarian, with a few critical variations. For example, they are less emotionally controlled than The Authoritarian. They are usually heavily influenced by an authoritarian’s leadership. The Warrior is fearless and approaches leadership like a battle. They attack problems zealously. When they see wrongdoing or injustice, they are the tip of the reformative spear. Their preaching might sound like an army drill sergeant. The Warrior has a profound sense of duty and is very comfortable with authority structures.
Strengths: dependable, reliable, bold, brave, courageous, protective, principled, ethical, honorable, and self-sacrificing. Winds of culture or popular opinions do not easily sway the Warrior. When they believe something is right, they hold the line. They are uncompromising (in a proper way). They don’t wait for public opinion to tip in their favor before doing necessary things. They make people under their care feel safe and protected. They know how to take the vision of others and make it a reality. Warriors are hardworking, prepared, and follow direction from leaders without complaint.
Weaknesses: anger issues, impulsive, harsh, heavy-handed, impatient, insensitive, and narrow-minded. They can be smart but impulsive. Honest but overly blunt. The Warrior can become so fixated on one mission that he fails to see peripheral problems emerging. Their shock and awe tactics sometimes result in collateral damage. The Warrior, without the help of the Holy Spirit, can be unforgiving, vengeful, and overpowering. The Warrior wrestles with the impulse to preach mad and tell everybody off.
The Warrior is fearless and approaches leadership like a battle. They attack problems zealously. When they see wrongdoing or injustice, they are the tip of the reformative spear.
The Organizer is always prepared, systematic, and plans everything down to the final period. They plan, and then they plan some more. They organize and pre-arrange everything. They are detailed and meticulous. The Organizer is cautious, calculated, and calm. They are forward-thinking. They anticipate the future and learn from the past. All these traits are reflected in their teaching and preaching. The Organizer loves meetings; they have meetings to plan meetings.
Strengths: rarely caught off guard, The Organizer is dependable and handles complicated operations with ease. They’re not intimidated by mundane or tedious tasks. They hold everyone around them accountable, and manage people closely. They communicate efficiently, albeit briefly, because they are always juggling several major projects at once. In a secular environment, they make great managers. The Organizer will communicate things clearly and repeatedly.
Weaknesses: Organizers are rarely caught off guard because they have a contingency for everything, but when they are, it makes them crazy. Usually mild-mannered, the unexpected unglues The Organizer. It’s typically manifested in an outburst of anger or an embarrassing tantrum. Also, they can be so tightly scheduled they fail to make room for the Spirit’s working. Their constant planning feels overwhelming to more spontaneous personalities. They seem awkward in settings where spontaneity is required. The Organizer has trouble unwinding. Their focus makes them seem unapproachable and anti-social, even when they’re preaching. However, they’re usually much more sensitive and caring than they appear.
The Organizer is cautious, calculated, and calm. They are forward-thinking. They anticipate the future and learn from the past. All these traits are reflected in their teaching and preaching.
The Motivator is nearly the opposite of The Organizer. The Motivator may appear organized, but they are generally off the cuff. They have expressive energy that fills a room. They know how to connect emotionally with a crowd or an individual. Their zealousness is contagious; they can sell sand to a camel. They have an uncanny ability to gauge what people are thinking and feeling. The Motivator will make you laugh and cry at the same time. They can be deadly serious and hysterically funny in the same sentence. If given enough time, they can turn a “no” into a “yes.” The Motivator helps other, more organized leaders launch their vision.
Strengths: persuasive, influential, impacting, memorable, intuitive, intense, complex, sensitive, concerned, and dynamic. The Motivator is skilled at getting other people to get things done. They are team-minded. They connect quickly with others and make a lasting impression. They are vision casters, futuristic thinkers, and they can see the potential that others miss.
Weaknesses: pushy, overly aggressive, impatient, forgetful, demanding, rash, and careless. They don’t mean to be dishonest, but they are so focused on the moment they often make promises they can’t keep. It’s not unusual for The Motivator to make a claim or promise and forget about it the next day. Motivators tend to exaggerate when making a point. They are results-driven and demand immediate responses; they become very frustrated when they don’t get quick answers. The Motivator can become manipulative. Motivation and manipulation are similar but not the same; motivators straddle that fine line.
The Motivator may appear organized, but they are generally off the cuff. They have expressive energy that fills a room. They know how to connect emotionally with a crowd or an individual. Their zealousness is contagious.
The Weeping Prophet shares many similarities with Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations. Their ears are finely tuned to the voice of God. They are sensitive and heavily burdened by the sinful condition of the world. Their methods and deliveries may seem drastic, but it flows from an unbearable burden for the lost. They wrestle in the Spirit realm and make sacrifices others would not make. God speaks to them in vivid and exclusive ways. Their prayer life is healthy. They are deniers of self (their ministry is fueled by fasting). They are given to outward explosions of powerfully felt emotions. They are often misunderstood and marginalized. They preach and speak forcefully, prophetically, and authoritatively.
Strengths: deeply spiritual, convicting, corrective, self-disciplined, anointed, deep, God-fearing, focused, forthright, honest, observant, sacrificial, and biblically astute. The Weeping Prophet is no stranger to the presence of God. They speak with revelation. They are not afraid to talk about the truth in hostile environments. They are willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. They pull other ministries out of the pit of carnality. They see dangers ahead, and they ring the warning bells loud and long.
Weaknesses: grapples against paralyzing depression, suffers under the spiritual burden’s weight, and can easily become isolated. The Prophet can go from the mountain of faith to the valley of doubt in an instant (think Elijah right after Mount Caramel). Their introverted personality makes working with others difficult. Their quirkiness and eccentricities can be off-putting (think John the Baptist).
The Weeping Prophet shares many similarities with Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations. Their ears are finely tuned to the voice of God. They are sensitive and heavily burdened by the sinful condition of the world.
The Dreamer is a visionary. Like Joseph, they don’t always know what the vision means or how it will work. Also, like Joseph, God speaks to them through visions and dreams. They have big plans; they spend a lot of time looking ahead. Their goals often seem farfetched and fantastical. They suffer setbacks, but they keep dreaming. They inspire others to reach for bigger and better things. The Dreamer knows the status quo can become deadly tomorrow. They prepare and equip themselves and others for the future.
Strengths: vision caster, prepared, inspiring, spiritually sensitive, forgiving, patient, kind, competent, dependable, and helpful. Other ministries become jealous and dismissive of The Dreamer, but they would be in a world of hurt without them. The Dreamer has a God-given vision that ensures a healthy future.
Weaknesses: easily misunderstood, naïve, cryptic, vague, and emotional. The Dreamer sometimes shares the vision prematurely out of sheer exuberance. Their excitement gets the best of them. Their trusting nature invites pain and disappointment. They have a bad sense of timing; they know the “what” but they rarely know the “when”.
The Dreamer knows the status quo can become deadly tomorrow. They prepare and equip themselves and others for the future.
The Wall Rebuilder is a modern-day Nehemiah. As you know, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around the city of Jerusalem. The temple had already been rebuilt, but now the city was without protection; Nehemiah took on the extraordinary task of rebuilding broken down walls in the face of hostility from virtually every direction. The Wall Rebuilder works tirelessly for the restoration of righteousness. The Wall Rebuilder appreciates the protections holiness brings. They see exposed weaknesses. Anticipate dangers. They rebuild what others have left vulnerable. When other ministries crash and burn, they move in with a restoration mindset. Sanballats try to turn their ministry into a punchline, but The Wall Rebuilder prays and keeps working (Nehemiah 4:1-7).
Strengths: restorative, uncompromising, uplifting, convicting, calculated, prepared, disciplined, sacrificial, hardworking, trustworthy, brave, insightful, and wise. It’s hard to fool The Wall Rebuilder; they see through bluffs and blusters. Their work keeps other people safe and protected. While some view walls as constricting, the Wall Rebuilder sees them as a bulwark against the enemy.
Weaknesses: workaholic, harsh, stoic, insensitive, and hyper-focused. The Wall Rebuilder can get so focused on the walls they neglect the temple. They are loving, but layers of self-discipline may give them an indifferent exterior. Often overworked, they suffer from exhaustion, discouragement, and anxiety. The same personality traits that make them spiritually cautious also cause them to be extremely untrusting. They write people off too quickly and struggle with unforgiveness.
The Wall Rebuilder appreciates the protections holiness brings. They see exposed weaknesses. Anticipate dangers. They rebuild what others have left vulnerable. When other ministries crash and burn, they move in with a restoration mindset.
The Martyr is the modern-day Stephen. They may not be killed; however, they give everything they’ve got to the work of the Kingdom. Their life is genuinely a sacrificial offering unto the Lord. They are the church planters, the missionaries, and the forerunners of revival. Many times, they never have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They give financially until it hurts. They give of their time and energy until they have nothing left to give. They are pioneers that dig out a work in barren wildernesses. They are unappreciated, unassuming, and unselfish. Subsequent ministries owe an outstanding debt of gratitude to The Martyr.
Strengths: selfless, hardworking, giving, humble, sincere, idealistic, visionary, steady, bold, faithful, unflinching, uncompromising, and courageous. The Martyr does the right thing, no matter what. They do what others are afraid to do. They go where others are afraid to go. They speak when others are afraid to speak. They work when others are too tired to work. They are tenacious and sure-footed. They don’t have to be propped up by others to stay the course. They have an inward assurance and strength that keeps them moving forward regardless of the obstacle. They are foundation layers and spiritual brick makers. Tragically, they suffer tremendously and make the ultimate sacrifices when needed. They are the unsung heroes of the faith.
Weaknesses: it’s hard to say anything critical about The Martyr (for obvious reasons), but they do have personality weaknesses. For example, they are so driven it can lead to extreme physical and spiritual burnout. They struggle to balance family and ministry successfully. Because they are so unappreciated, they are not immune to toxic levels of bitterness. They can unintentionally become isolated and lonely. They don’t prioritize rest, which is spiritually and physically hazardous. The Martyr fights against cynicism and is sometimes excessively critical of those who are less devoted.
Martyrs are pioneers that dig out a work in barren wildernesses. They are unappreciated, unassuming, and unselfish. Subsequent ministries owe an outstanding debt of gratitude to The Martyr.
If you are a pastor wanting to be more self-aware, a saint hoping to understand your shepherd better, or a pastor who wants to understand other pastors better, this article is for you.
Pastors and preachers are people with personality strengths and weaknesses, just like everybody else. They’re anointed, and God called, but that doesn’t mean they lose their distinctiveness. Pastors are not monolithic. This diversity of personalities and leadership styles is helpful and necessary for the overall health of the Church.
I’m fascinated by personality studies. There are hundreds of them (I still prefer Why You Act the Way You Do? by Tim Lahaye). Like many teenagers, I was awkward with a touch of moroseness; understanding why people acted the way they worked helped me make sense of the world, and it still does (here’s a very brief online temperament test that tends to be scary accurate).
Pastors are not monolithic. This diversity of personalities and leadership styles is helpful and necessary for the overall health of the Church.
From a ministry leadership standpoint, having a grasp of basic personality types is invaluable. When you understand personality differences, you are less likely to be offended or caught off guard by common weaknesses. You spot strengths faster and see buried potential in people as well.
When you understand personality differences, you are less likely to be offended or caught off guard by common weaknesses. You spot strengths faster and see buried potential in people as well.
Even more importantly, understanding your own personality creates self-awareness. Knowing your temperament will help you avoid lots of grief. We’ve all worked alongside people who are entirely unaware of their flaws and overconfident about mediocrity. Or worse, they can’t see their tremendous potential. That lack of self-awareness is dangerous in a leadership paradigm.
I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor. I’ve spent my whole life observing preachers and pastors from all around the world. I love pastors and have been blessed with the opportunity to interact with dynamic preachers regularly. Over the years, I’ve observed fourteen distinct pastoral leadership styles that directly result frompersonality types and influences. Most pastors and preachers are a mixture of several of these styles but predominated by one. Each of the styles listed below contains distinct giftings and shortcomings. I don’t think one type is any better than the other. What’s essential, regardless of which leadership style a personality enables, is that the strengths are cultivated, and the weaknesses are minimized.
What’s essential, regardless of which leadership style a personality enables, is that the strengths are cultivated, and the weaknesses are minimized.
My prayer is that this list will be helpful to pastors and maybe a few saints as well. Most problems between saints and pastors are nothing more than personality conflicts. Many saints misunderstand their pastor’s personality and find unnecessary offense and vice versa. I highly respect and honor every pastoral temperament and mean no disrespect by discussing them in this format. The Bible gives us snapshots of spiritual leaders from diverse backgrounds and emphasizes drastic differences between personalities. It’s still that way today.
Most problems between saints and pastors are nothing more than personality conflicts. Many saints misunderstand their pastor’s personality and find unnecessary offense and vice versa.
So, let’s jump into the fourteen distinct pastoral personalities and their resulting leadership styles. Remember, as you read, you or your pastor are likely a blend of more than one of these styles, but one will outshine the others.
The Theologian is a master of doctrinal dispositions and a student of Scriptural nuance. They are intensely smart. The Theologian is well versed in even the most obscure details of Scripture. Minutia matters in a big way to this kind of pastor. They’re likely to be a more introverted temperament with a strong sense of self-discipline. The Theologian’s quiet confidence and knowledge inspire and bring clarity to those around him.
Strengths: attention to detail, doctrinally sound, calming, focused, inspire spiritual confidence, produce well-rounded disciples, mentor other leaders, produce helpful resources, and hold the line against invading false doctrines. The Theologian is an irreplaceable and indispensable resource within the kingdom of God.
Weaknesses: The Theologian struggles with being heavy on information and light on application. They can be extremely introverted (check out this article for introverted leaders). At times, they borderline being extremely anti-social. The Theologian’s hyper sense of focus can easily be mistaken for unfriendliness. When teaching and preaching, the Theologian’s natural tendency is to remain bland and detached, making an otherwise powerful presentation low impact.
The Theologian is well versed in even the most obscure details of Scripture. Minutia matters in a big way to this kind of pastor. They’re likely to be a more introverted temperament with a strong sense of self-discipline.
The Teacher is much like The Theologian minus the extensive doctrinal savvy. That’s not to say they don’t have firm doctrinal grounding; they do. The Teacher fills an important and tragically underemphasized role as outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13. Although their ministry may seem less dynamic on the surface, nothing could be further from the truth. The Teacher grounds what other more extroverted ministries leave unfinished. In many cases, The Teacher is introverted, but not always.
Strengths: mentally disciplined, consistent, highly organized, carefully structured, well-rounded, dependable, typically compassionate, produces helpful resources, inspires confidence, exposes and corrects false doctrine, strengthens other ministers, and produces other ministries. The Teacher is extraordinarily dependable, trustworthy, and unflinchingly honest.
Weaknesses: usually lacks creativity, resists healthy changes, and struggles to engage people emotionally. The Teacher finds it challenging to be concise and naturally overloads people with more information than they can retain in one sitting. The Teacher’s high level of intelligence can unintentionally seem arrogant and condescending.
The Teacher grounds what other more extroverted ministries leave unfinished. In many cases, The Teacher is introverted, but not always.
The Authoritarian has an enormously outgoing and strong personality. This leadership style is usually coupled closely with one of the other personalities on this list. The Authoritarian has a top-down mindset. Authoritarians are confident, self-assured, and strong-willed (making them exceptionally gifted and effective preachers). They make an impression everywhere they go and are easily spotted in any setting. Authoritarians have a keen sense of right and wrong, loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, and law and order. They command respect and inspire others to do great things. Many of the great leaders in the Bible were authoritarians.
Strengths: brave, concise, competent, efficient, inspirational, self-disciplined, and confident. The Authoritarian inspires the kind of loyalty that generals have when leading troops into battle. They are fearless, focused, accomplished, disciplined, and courageous. They never do what the crowd is doing just because the crowd is doing it. They make fierce friends and worthy adversaries. They are a true leader in every sense of the word.
Weaknesses: ego, pride, unwillingness to change course when needed, tone-deaf, unkind, quick-tempered, and reckless. The Authoritarian struggles to accept wise counsel and respect the reasoned opinions of others. Because authoritarians are so often right, they don’t handle being wrong very well. Strong people are attracted to an authoritarian’s leadership. However, more sensitive people are easily wounded by The Authoritarians’ aggressive personality. Without meaning to, authoritarians occasionally harm gentler personalities without even knowing it. The Authoritarian naturally lacks compassion for weaker vessels. Because loyalty is so important to The Authoritarian, disloyalty (whether real or perceived) is met with overly punitive measures. Their mission mindedness makes them extremely useful in completing tasks but generally makes them lose sight of the feelings and emotions of the people around them.
Authoritarians have a keen sense of right and wrong, loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, and law and order. They command respect and inspire others to do great things. Many of the great leaders in the Bible were authoritarians.
The People Person is a fascinating blend of introvert and extrovert. In the right setting, they are incredibly outgoing, but they become reticent in other settings. The People Person likes people, likes to be appreciated by other people, and wants people to like other people. They are talkative, emotional, engaging, charming, fun, humorous, witty, and networked. They thrive in a crowded room. They thrive off the energy of large groups. They dislike being alone. Their effervescent personality makes them terrific communicators. Their preaching often full of humor and down-to-earth relatability.
Strengths: passionate, compassionate, likable personality, excellent communication skills, super relatable, community builders, bring other personalities together (networking), very creative, open to ideas and opinions, make people feel loved, and big-hearted. The People Person operates on bursts of creative and emotional energy that is compelling and contagious. They always have big plans that usually includes bringing people together in one way or another. They are inclusive and exude self-confidence even when they don’t feel confident.
Weaknesses: quickly discouraged, easily offended, insecure, prone to bouts of melancholia, sometimes quick-tempered, disorganized, lack follow-through, forgetful, appear shallow, and enigmatic. The People Person has lots of big ideas but doesn’t implement them well because they continuously overlook “pesky” details. In worst-case scenarios, that same inattention to detail causes them to be doctrinally imbalanced. Because they love people deeply, they are also hurt deeply by people. The People Person seems confident but often wrestles with profound insecurities. Their desire to be liked can be detrimental when making difficult decisions. They handle rejection poorly. The People Person’s desire to be center stage may cause them to feel jealousy when others are in the spotlight. They privately battle depression, but most folks would never know it.
The People Person likes people, likes to be appreciated by other people, and wants people to like other people. They are talkative, emotional, engaging, charming, fun, humorous, witty, and networked. They thrive in a crowded room.
The Orator: Although it does become a defining characteristic for many pastors, the Orator is not a standalone personality trait. Not all dynamic orators are great leaders, and not all great leaders are fiery orators. However, when the two are combined, it becomes incredibly potent. Biblically speaking, I think the apostle Paul was an example of a powerful orator (Acts 17:22-31). The Orator is demarcated as being an incredibly moving preacher and communicator. Regardless of their other traits, they have the uncommon innate ability and God-given anointing to move crowds via preaching. Their preaching calls people to repentance, builds faith, motivates change, encourages, convicts, and shapes entire generations. The Orator is not typecast into one personality or leadership style. Their gift crosses lines and spectrums. Some are incredibly inward, while others are highly outgoing. Some pour themselves out while preaching and finish empty and spent, while others are fueled up by preaching and end with a frenzy of energy. Regardless, their gift is usually in high demand.
Strengths: highly skilled communicators, heavily anointed, insightful, reflective, unique, inspirational, thought-provoking, culture shaping, smart, mentally organized, prepared, persuasive, influential, compelling, convincing, adept, well-read, forward-thinking, sensitive to the Spirit, and they exude confidence. The Orator often plays a crucial role in influencing movements and instigating revival on a large scale, even without official positions or titles.
Weaknesses: pride and ego are dangers that every spiritual leader must navigate, but this is especially true for The Orator. Because they are so gifted and well-liked, their egos can swell quickly. The Orator needs the anointing just like every other preacher, but they typically have natural abilities that could just as easily make them great politicians, salesman, motivational speakers, or actors. This means, if they aren’t careful, they will rely on their own ability rather than the Lord. Also, because powerful orators are in such demand, they may not always have time to develop other leadership skills before launching into public ministry. As the old saying goes, “not all great preachers make great pastors, and not all great pastors are great preachers.” Because orators love preaching and communicating so much, it’s often difficult for them to invest their time into developing other important attributes. However, when they do, they are amazingly impactful within the kingdom of God.
Not all dynamic orators are great leaders, and not all great leaders are fiery orators. However, when the two are combined, it becomes incredibly potent. Biblically speaking, I think the apostle Paul was an example of a powerful orator (Acts 17:22-31).
The Nice Guy is just that, a nice guy. This person genuinely cares and has a sincerity that cannot be denied. They lead from a solid core of kindness. Their personality is gentle and calming. Everyone they meet feels loved. Everything they do flows from love. They can be introverted or extroverted, but meekness (not weakness) is their dominant trait. This kind of leader’s personality is usually coupled with a complementary style; typically, The Theologian, The Teacher, The Orator, The People Person, The Poet Performer, The Organizer, The Motivator, The Weeping Prophet, or The Dreamer. They reap a loyal following because of their sincere and warm demeanor. I imagine John the Beloved (John 19:26-27) as a biblical example of the Nice Guy.
Strengths: kindness, compassion, empathy, loyalty, sincerity, warmth, and relatability. Notwithstanding other flaws, much is forgivable with The Nice Guy because they are so likable. People are drawn to them like a magnet. Their love for others flows from their love for the Lord.
Weaknesses: on the surface, you wouldn’t think The Nice Guy could have flaws, but they do. They dislike confrontation more than the average leader, making them anemic in crisis situations where conflict is needed. They are often too slow to rebuke and correct, which causes problems to escalate that could have been alleviated. They are susceptible to being victimized by manipulators and blindsided by pretenders. The Nice Guy may shy away from necessary doctrines that might offend the hearers. In other words, sometimes they forget that love must often be tough.
The Nice Guy is just that, a nice guy. This person genuinely cares and has a sincerity that cannot be denied. They lead from a solid core of kindness. Their personality is gentle and calming. Everyone they meet feels loved. Everything they do flows from love.
The Poet Performer is artistic, talented, and entertaining. David comes to mind as a biblical example of The Poet Performer (1 Samuel 16:16). The Poet Performer doesn’t necessarily have to be musical, but they are always creative, imaginative, and gifted in some artistic way (frequently, they are multi-talented). They are cerebral. Like David, they can also be a warrior, but they are predisposed to spiritual things. Praise and worship come as naturally as breathing to The Poet Performer. They are anointed in almost everything they do. They are emotional, sincere, and sensitive.
Strengths: Besides their talent, The Poet Performer is smart, intensely spiritual, focused, and passionate. Their worship compels others to worship. Their creativity helps others to experience God in dynamic and dramatic ways. They breathe life, energy, and passion into the Church. When The Poet Performer preaches, it is with cadence and rhythm, almost like a spoken song.
Weaknesses: Much like The Orator, The Poet Performer is prone to egotism and pride. They have so much innate talent that even if they stop depending on the Spirit, they can still manipulate a crowd’s emotions. They receive a lot of admiration (deservedly), which produces narcissism if not received correctly. The Poet Performer’s emotions fluctuate wildly (just read the Psalms), hysterically happy one minute and manically melancholy the next. Selfishness is another personal battle that many Poet Performers must fight.
Praise and worship come as naturally as breathing to The Poet Performer. They are anointed in almost everything they do. They are emotional, sincere, and sensitive.
Caveats: again, I feel compelled to mention that most ministers are not a perfect match to any of the above traits. The strengths and weaknesses are generalities, not absolutes. Also, commenting on weaknesses is not intended to be disrespectful or to help generate criticism. Rather, the intent behind this writing is to help us address issues with clarity and resolution. If you take the time to peruse the related articles below, you will find that I support apostolic ministry and believe that pastors should be vigorously defended. Saints, I believe you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
Saints, I believe you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
If you missed part one, just click the picture below.
Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.
Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.
The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).
I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.
A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.
Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.
Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).
Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.
Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.
Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks likehere. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.
Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.
Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.
The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.
Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.
Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.
Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.
Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.
Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.
Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.
Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.
Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.
Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.
If you’re anything like me, you’re leery of church growth books and articles. I’ve read them by the dozens and most of them are either completely irrelevant for apostolic churches, full of platitudes, totally unrealistic, or so technical that you need a college degree just to wade through the formulas. It can be more discouraging than encouraging by the time you’re through. I’m writing this with that in mind.
I’ve hesitated to broach this topic for some time now because just writing about church growth can sound smug and braggadocios. I for one, do not claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that will fill every pew overnight. In fact, I don’t even think filling every empty seat overnight is truly healthy in most circumstances. If your leadership structure is too small to handle a sudden influx of hundreds of brand new spiritual babies you’ll see a lot of premature deaths. In my opinion, consistent gradual growth is the healthiest form of church growth. It gives the leadership and the congregation time to adjust when and where needed.
For the record, I don’t serve a mega church. But by the grace of God, Apostolic Tabernacle has grown in attendance by over 150% in 5 years. Our church has benefitted from a wonderful legacy and stellar stewardship from our Bishop. There was a tremendous small core of godly saints when we arrived. We’re also in a highly populated, although economically struggling, metropolitan county. In spite of those blessings, we’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures. We’ve tried things that flopped and we’ve made mistakes. We still have lots of room for improvement. That’s all part of the messiness of revival. I’m telling you this because there is no one size fits all path to church growth. Every city is different, every church is different, and every situation has nuances that must be identified before sustainable growth will take place.
Keep in mind, the average church loses about 10% of its membership on a yearly basis. Some of these are healthy losses like job transitions or college student move-aways, and some are due to spiritual backsliding and the church hoppers that we all know so well. This means that for a church to grow annually by 10% it actually needs to grow by 20%. As I’ve written in the past, Gideon had to lose some losers before the victory could be obtained. Not all losses are a bad thing, and not all gains are godly. So this article is about healthy church growth, not just temporary crowd generating activities.
After evangelizing for five years all over the US in churches of every shape and size; I’ve had the privilege of seeing almost every church paradigm imaginable. I’ve observed first-hand what to do and what not to do. Both have been instructive and helpful. I’ve tried to whittle these church growth insights down to universal truths that transcend into every apostolic church setting. Let’s get started.
You get what you preach. I love deep sermons that explore the rarely mined gems of Scripture, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of preaching, but I’m amazed at how many churches think preaching the basics is boring. If you rarely preach the plan of salvation, you’ll rarely see people obey the plan of salvation. That goes for holiness too. If you want people to evangelize, talk about it. Talk about it a lot. I would suggest taking inventory of how often you are preaching core doctrinal subjects. Most are surprised at how rarely they actually tackle doctrinal fundamentals. Furthermore, I know the trend is to have less church, but less church means less opportunities to preach into different situations. I realize it varies from church to church, but for us, Sunday mornings tend to be evangelistic, Sunday nights are the best opportunity to preach specifically to the church, and midweek Bible Study is the time for digging deep and mining for those Scriptural gems. If the Bible tells us that people are saved by the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then shouldn’t we be preaching more not less? As churches have less and less church they also have less and less preaching, and sometimes almost zero teaching. Laying Scriptural admonishments aside, we live in a culture that demands options and opportunities. Shouldn’t we be giving people more service options and opportunities not less? Can you imagine a hospital only opening its doors once a week? If you rarely have church, you rarely have preaching, and for those who are trapped in the 24/7 work culture, missing their one-weekend service option can be spiritually devastating. On the opposite end of the spectrum are churches that never preach beyond the platitudes and always preach down to the lowest common denominator. They render all preaching down to spiritually anemic bullet points that leave people spiritually malnourished. There is a time for meat and a time for milk.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).
One man cannot do it all. Churches that think a lone pastor can and should do everything are destined for failure and pastors who think they can do it all are crazy. One person cannot be on call 24/7, preach and teach great new sermons, visit everyone, attend every event, be a financial guru, be a janitor, plan ahead, keep his family healthy (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), teach home Bible studies, cultivate relationships, manage day to day building operations, win souls, pray for the sick, maintain a personal prayer life, study, counsel with people (sometimes for hours on end), and mentor other leaders. It’s just not humanly possible or healthy. Even Jesus didn’t do all those things. Even Jesus had a leadership team of twelve. Even Jesus went away for days to pray and fast. So what’s the solution? Delegation.
Some things must be delegated to volunteers, and as soon as possible additional pastoral (and administrative) staff should be brought onto the team. Jesus demonstrated this process when he began sending his disciples out in pairs to preach and pray for the sick (Matthew 10:1-5). Quick thought, no matter how large the church, there’s never quite enough money in the budget for new ministerial assistants or support staff. Taking that leap of faith is vital. Most churches peak out because they max out their leadership’s capabilities. Ironically, one of the surest signs that a pastor is a great leader is if he can be gone for a week and everything still operates smoothly. Again, churches that refuse to add additional staff and train qualified volunteers always plateau. Period.
Many years ago Pastor Paul Mooney said something about church structure that shapes my thinking even to this day. He likened the average church leadership structure to a small table. He poured a bucket of sand onto the table and compared the sand to saints and church growth. The table easily contained the majority of the sand with only a few specks trickling off the edges. But as he continued to pour sand over the table eventually the majority of the sand began dramatically sliding off the sides onto the floor. His point was clear, the only way to sustain more growth is to build a bigger leadership table. None of this should be interpreted to mean that you should use sub-par leaders out of desperation. No. The only thing worse than maxed out leadership is toxic leadership on your ministerial or administrative team. Delegation is only effective when it is delegated to the right kind of leaders (read more on that subject here).
Be consistent. I’ve outlined the importance of consistency in leadership here. But beyond that, churches must be consistent as well. Remain consistent in the mission, purpose, culture, plan, and apostolic identity.
Insist on excellence. I’ll never understand why some churches develop the mindset that doing your best is carnal. You can’t just show up and wing it and expect God to bless your halfhearted efforts. Insist that your singers and musicians do their very best. Insist that your ministers give their very best in preparation and dedication. Insist that your teachers, greeters, and volunteers give their very best. Call people out of mediocrity. If you don’t take church seriously no one else will either. Practice, plan, prepare, and lovingly pressure people to be the best that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom. People who have grown complacent and comfortable with mediocrity will dislike you for a season until they see their own personal growth. Eventually, they will be glad that you insisted on excellence. No matter how small your congregation is you can call them to do their absolute best for the Lord.
This also means that not everyone who wants to do something should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do. For example, not everyone is musically gifted, which means that not everyone should be allowed in the music program. This can be awkward but it’s less awkward than having visitors flee from your off-key church services. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. Not everyone who wants to preach is called to preach. Not everyone who wants to decorate is gifted in decorating. The same goes for media, design, kid’s ministries, hospitality, and general leadership. Insisting on excellence means that sometimes you have to say no and redirect people towards their area of gifting. I know. I know. This is easier said than done. But it must be done or you will wallow in a sea of mediocrity that repels visitors and discourages your saints.
I’m not talking about absolute perfection. I’m talking about common sense policies. In the corporate world, they call this personnel placement. Meaning, you place people where they are best suited to be productive based on their talents. Knowing where you and others fit in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-25) is a biblical imperative. Paul made it clear that the hand is not better than the foot, but the body will not function correctly if the foot is trying to operate in the same capacity as the hand.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:17,23).
Love, equip, encourage, and care for people. People can tell if you genuinely love and care about them. There’s no replacement for this quality. Spiritual leaders who love the lost and the saints will equip them to withstand spiritual onslaughts, hardships, and teach them how to thrive spiritually. Love means more than smiling and having a good time. Real love tells the truth and confronts painful realities. If you’re struggling to truly love people, ask God to give you a new heart.
Expect a mess. In case you didn’t know, America is a post-Christian nation. Meaning that now more than ever, people are going to bring baggage with them into the church. Multiple broken marriages, addictions that you’ve never even heard of, tons of false doctrines, strange philosophies, and on and on and on. If that makes you wildly uncomfortable it’s time to reshape your perception of ministry. Imagine a hospital full of doctors and nurses that can’t stand the sight of blood; it definitely wouldn’t be a very effective environment. Churches that get all dizzy and faint-hearted at the sight of sinners have forgotten where they came from and their commission. They alienate the very people that Jesus has called them to reach. Squeamish churches will not grow. Churches that are condescending towards sinners will not grow. Churches that only welcome pristine people will never grow, nor are they godly. If it hadn’t been for a righteous man who was willing to pray for a hateful, messy, murderous, blind sinner named Saul there would be no Apostle Paul (Acts 9).
Additionally, conversion does not make all the baggage magically disappear. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Yes. God forgives. Yes. God removes eternal damnation after repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). But a lifetime of sowing sinful seeds will produce a painful earthly harvest for some time. Thankfully, the Fruit of the Spirit and the sowing of spiritual seed will eventually replace bad harvests with good harvests. For example, God can deliver an alcoholic from addiction in a single instant, but that doesn’t mean the broken relationships the addiction caused will be mended overnight. New seeds will slowly be planted, growth will begin, and the Fruit of the Spirit will bring about the healing. Taking this hodgepodge of analogies one step further, Jesus referred to salvation as being born again (John 3:1-8). Peter continued the metaphor by referring to new Christians as infants (1 Peter 2:2). Birth is messy. Babies are messy. Even toddlers are messy. My mother would be quick to tell you (based on my teenage years) that teenagers can be the messiest of all. Growing churches love spiritual children enough to keep cleaning the mess and raising new believers into full maturity in Christ.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Protect the platform and the pulpit. The people on your platform and in your pulpit are a reflection of the values and culture of your church. Just because someone wants to preach doesn’t mean they should be allowed to preach. Just because they want to sing and can sing doesn’t mean they should sing if they don’t reflect the biblical values and culture of an apostolic church. Earlier we were talking about standards of excellence but now we are referring to spiritual protection. You can avoid a lot of spiritual heartaches and perceived inconsistencies by keeping your platform and your pulpit carefully guarded. This is easier said than done; do it anyway. Scripture repeatedly warns us that wolves will try to invade the church and cause division (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29). Be careful and use discernment. Don’t give influence to people who could be spiritually harmful to the church.
Pray. Fast. Study. Rinse. Repeat. Make prayer a priority. Maintain corporate times of prayer and fasting. Equip and engage people to maintain personal Bible study habits. All leaders are readers. Study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15).
Preach and teach with clarity and conviction. I’m noticing as I write these thoughts that much of my focus revolves around preaching. I make no apologies for that, preaching has always been central to apostolic revival. The New Testament Church was birthed around Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2). Using Peter’s sermon from Acts chapter two as an example, you’ll notice that he was completely confident in his delivery, he spoke from the head and the heart, and he spoke with clarity. In other words, he was clear and understandable. He didn’t leave any wiggle room for the hearers to squeeze in their own interpretation of what they needed to do to be saved. I hear far too much ambiguous preaching these days. Fuzzy preaching that sounds brilliant (or sometimes just incoherent) but makes it hard to pin the particulars down. This isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from a desire to sound intellectual, or maybe it’s just poor communication skills, sometimes lack of preparation is the culprit, or possibly it stems from a subconscious fear of offending the hearers. In worst cases, it comes from internal doubts and disbelief. You don’t have to be a great orator. Passion, conviction, confidence, anointing, and clarity are far more valuable qualities than just being a wordsmith. Bottom line, clear preaching isn’t always the prettiest preaching but it produces apostolic results. Study thoroughly, know what you believe, say what you believe, believe what you say, and let God do the rest. Secondly, a clear distinction must be maintained between teaching and preaching. Many churches are seriously off balance in one direction or the other. They have tons of preaching and very little teaching or vice versa (this goes back to the problem of having less and less church). There really must be a balance between the two for healthy spiritual conversions and spiritual maturation to take place. Interestingly, most pastors struggle to accurately define the biblical differences between preaching and teaching. I’ve often heard people make the tongue-in-cheek statement that teaching is just preaching with less screaming. That’s funny but horribly inaccurate. Teaching should never be used as an excuse to be boring, uninspiring, or less anointed. Robert L. Waggoner gives one of the best differentiation between teaching and preaching that I have read. Waggoner writes:
“The primary meaning associated with the nature of preaching in the New Testament comes from the fact that the Greek word most frequently used to describe a preacher was that of a herald. A herald was one who announced a message, generally from the king or some other ruling authority, to those who had not heard it before. Preaching in New Testament times, therefore related primarily to announcing good news. In the New Testament, the content of that good news centered around the themes of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. On the other hand, the nature of teaching in New Testament times was primarily to explain ideas and their implications, and to exhort people to live by declared values. Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character. Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad terms.”
With this definition in mind, many churches lay a lot of good foundation with preaching but never adequately build upon it with solid teaching. This creates tons of spiritual babies that never survive into maturity. On the other hand, churches that are imbalanced on the teaching side of the equation are constantly trying to build structures on weak foundations.
Volunteers are valuable. As I mentioned earlier, there’s never going to be a big enough budget to hire the staff needed to fulfill all the needs of the church. Even large churches rely heavily on volunteers. Sunday school teachers, ushers, greeters, behind the scenes tech engineers, cleaning crews, board members, youth workers, bus drivers, outreach teams, hospitality teams, altar workers, and more are usually volunteers. They are the backbone of your church. Love, respect, appreciate, honor, lead, train, and equip them. Do not take them for granted.
Refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. Let me say that again for impact, refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. The idea that compromise always results in church growth is a huge myth that many have swallowed hook line and sinker. This often makes watering down the Word seem attractive even to preachers who actually believe in sound doctrine simply because they feel a desperation to grow. I’ve made this point in a previous article but it bears repeating, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise (or likely never preached apostolic doctrine in the first place) without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publicly or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. If you’re an apostolic church and you’re not growing it’s not because of your doctrine. There are probably many reasons you’re not growing, but standing for apostolic truth is not one of them.
Consider this, recent studiesare showing that liberal mainline churches are in sharp decline while Pentecostal churches are still experiencing dramatic growth worldwide. This leaves researchers scratching their heads because we Pentecostals tend to be doctrinally dogmatic which is terribly politically incorrect. Biblically correct churches are outgrowing politically correct churches because they stand out as a beacon of light in a philosophically and doctrinally hazy world. To be clear, it would be better to preach the truth and stay small than to preach a lie and be damned. I would rather lead a small church to Heaven than lead a megachurch to Hell.
Know your limits. Even super-duper mega churches with deep pockets can’t do everything well. Find the things that your church is really good at (probably through a process of trial and error) and do them really well. It would be better to do a few things passionately and excellently than to do a hundred things badly. If your church isn’t exceptionally gifted in music don’t try to put on a music conference or a concert. That’s counterproductive. Find what you’re good at (and your church is good at something) and double down on it. Doing more stuff for the sake of doing more stuff is a terrible idea. Busyness for the sake of busyness is a recipe for burnout and church-wide depression. Oftentimes, less is more. Just because other churches are doing it doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. In fact, your focused efforts and unique abilities will set you apart in your community in a good way. By the way, the reason many church growth books are grossly unhelpful is because they want you to imitate every move of another numerically (although not necessarily spiritual) successful church. Unfortunately, your church may not be gifted or motivated in the same ways by the same things. You must identify your localized abilities and focus on them with laser-like intensity.
Trim the fat. Once you’ve found what your church is really good at and what it’s really bad at its time to trim the fat off the “sacred cows”. You’re going to be met with a lot of resistance at this point. You’re going to hear a lot of things like, “But that other Church does this and we should too” or “But we’ve always had this program” or “But everyone else is doing it this way or that way.” Stand firm, once you start doing things just to do things you will lose purpose, passion, and perspective. Cut out time-consuming, cumbersome, unproductive, expensive, and counterproductive programs as quickly as possible. To review, it’s better to be known for doing a few things really well than for doing tons of stuff really poorly.
Don’t be a seeker-friendly church. Be a God friendly church. Remember, God is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and He alone gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be friendly to seekers (you absolutely must be friendly), but the term “seeker friendly” has become synonymous with churches that try to create a generic and culturally acceptable worship environment. Again, if we use the book of Acts as our model, we find that the Church was anything but generic. The apostles spoke boldly into hostile and conflicting cultures with their primary concern being to please the Lord, not people. If God gives the true harvest than being a God-pleasing church should be our main concern. Churches that are more interested in pleasing people than God attract crowds and nothing more. Churches that are more concerned with crowds than the Gospel throw Super Bowl parties and churches that love the Gospel throw Holy Ghost parties. That’s a generalization, but the point is valid. A crowd does not make a church, but a book of Acts church will attract a crowd. When God starts moving, people in a cold world will be attracted to the warmth of the fire.
Promote praise and worship. I have explained the often overlooked differences between praise and worship here. God dwells among the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Praise sets the tone and the right atmosphere of faith for preaching to be most impactful. Praise drives away dark spirits (1 Samuel 16:23) and turns mourning into dancing (Psalms 30:11). Praise gets our flesh out of the way making room for the moving of the Holy Spirit. If you want revival you must promote and cultivate a worshipful church environment. Like it or not, you can gauge the spiritual temperature of a church by its praise and worship. Outward praise is not a replacement for spiritual depth, but you cannot claim to have spiritual depth without outward manifestations of praise. A church that refuses to be demonstrative in praise is in direct violation of countless passages of Scripture (Romans 15:11, Psalms 22:23, Psalms 33:1, Psalms 66:8, Psalms 67:3, Psalms 98:4, Psalms 100:4, Psalms 102:18).
Define revival. As Rev. Wayne Huntley often explains, many churches confuse revival with evangelism. The root word of revival is “revive” meaning to bring back to life or to infuse with fresh strength. You can’t revive something that has never been alive. Revival is for the saints and evangelism is for the world. A church that is not constantly being revived will not grow. A dead church cannot give birth. Having said that, evangelism is something altogether different. Evangelism reaches beyond the walls of the church house into the lives of those who are lost. The distinction between revival and evangelism is important because what revives the church does not always produce evangelism. Evangelism does little to no good without a revived (alive) church.
Revival and evangelism must be approached as two distinct processes that are connected but unique. Otherwise, a church will fall into the trap of having revival without evangelism or vice versa. I’ve preached in many churches over the years that settled for having terrific revival but never evangelizing. They needed to learn that being revived over and over again is not the same as reaching out to the lost.
Let me address an elephant in the room that is seldom mentioned; many churches love revival but they dislike evangelism. Sadly, many congregations grow very comfortable with their crowd of friends and they become content to just have good church and leave their community unchanged. This is a direct violation of the Church’s mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Every church needs to be taught that revival must overflow from our church services into spontaneous bursts of community evangelism, which leads nicely to the next point.
Live evangelism. Often, churches relegate evangelism to group events like door knocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 110% for door knocking and passing out flyers and water bottles at the park on a hot summer day. All great stuff, but if that’s the extent of your church’s outreach efforts your church is either dead or dying. Evangelism is a daily lifestyle, not a weekly or monthly program. Every growing church has one thing in common, saints who organically invite and encourage others to visit their church on a regular basis. This organic church-wide evangelism is not limited to friends and family members but includes strangers and acquaintances. Growing churches live evangelism as a constant lifestyle everywhere they go.
Have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I’ve laid out the case for yearly preaching plans here. My thinking has drastically evolved concerning church planning over the last several years. I used to disdain the idea of being overly planned because I felt that it hindered spontaneity and the flow of the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. God honors planning. God knows the future and He can give us direction a year in advance just as easily as He can give us direction ten minutes in advance. Every church regardless of size should have an annual planning session mapping out a schedule for the upcoming year. That calendar should be neatly printed and made readily available to the entire church. This keeps ministries and activities from overlapping. It gives each ministry an opportunity to suggest strategies and develop a game plan. It promotes unity and creates general awareness. Obviously, there must be a level of flexibility throughout the year in scheduling and things will be tweaked and changed as needed, but every ministry and department will operate best within the structure of yearly preplanning.
Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). That word quench in the Greek literally means to “extinguish” or “to go out”. In its normal context, the word was used to describe putting out sparks, fires, or flames. Many churches either intentionally or unintentionally quench the moving of the Spirit. If you read the context of the passage you will notice the next verse admonishes the church to “despise not prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:20)”. Spite towards spiritual things automatically hinders the Spirit. Churches that develop a top-down aversion to preaching, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, praise, prayer, and holiness are perverted vessels that put out revival fires. Some churches love prophecy but they despise praise. Some churches love preaching but they disdain the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Some churches love outward holiness but they dislike the very sinners that the Church is mandated to reach. These imbalances hinder the Spirit and create dangerous droughts. Learning to be sensitive and responsive to the moving of the Spirit is paramount in terms of church growth. A spiritually tone-deaf pastor will stick to the program even when the Spirit is flowing in another direction. A spiritually insensitive preacher will miss windows of opportunity when and where the Spirit is trying to flow. While I affirm that we must do all things “…decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)” it is always orderly to abstain from quenching the Spirit’s flow.
Deal with sin quickly, mercifully, and decisively (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). Sadly, sin is going to infiltrate the lives of even the most trusted of saints from time to time. Even worse, it’s possible that trusted leaders in your church will fall into sin. It can be tempting to procrastinate addressing the issue at hand. Don’t do it. The festering will grow worse and leave a wake of destruction in its path. Make the necessary adjustments and corrections as quickly as possible. Take decisive and integrity-laden steps of action. And above all, be merciful and restoration-minded when and where possible. If you publicly oppose sin but privately tolerate sin among the core of your church or within the leadership structure over time the entire foundation of the local church will be weakened. If sin within a church is left unchecked for a long enough period of time it will replicate and spread like cancer until a church is no longer a church; just a collection of backslidden posers.
Have a guest follow-up ministry. As I peruse over what I’ve written so far, I’m realizing that the vast majority of these points are mindset oriented. They are mostly spiritual principles. But for those of you who are technique-minded, you will appreciate this point. Guest follow-up is a technical imperative for church growth. Yet, I am amazed by how many churches either have zero guest follow-up or very insufficient guest follow-up. To put things in perspective, if someone goes through all the trouble of getting ready and driving out to your church to visit they are the most likely converts in your proximity. I’ll double down on this point, if someone pointed a gun to your head (silly hypothetical) and forced you to choose between having a guest follow-up ministry or a neighborhood outreach ministry, you should choose guest follow-up. Studies have shown over and over again that a church is far more likely to get someone to come back than they are to convince someone to visit for the first time sight unseen. For the record, I absolutely believe that churches should be using every means of evangelism possible.
There are gobs of ideas out there about the best way to do a guest follow-up ministry. By the way, I prefer the word guest over visitor because the word visitor has a temporary connotation while the word guest is more welcoming and permanent sounding. Regardless, here are a few basics of guest follow-up. One, have some kind of welcoming area with a stationed greeter (preferably a very friendly and warm person) who is equipped with guest information cards. Two, the greeter’s goal is to make guests feel welcome, answer all of their questions, and acquire the guest’s contact information. Three, a letter from the pastor should be mailed or emailed to all guests within the following week. Four, a quick personal phone call or text (some people prefer this) from an actual human being should be initiated. Five, add them to a mailing list so they can be invited to all major events and activities throughout the year (unless they request to be removed from the mailing list). Those are the very basics. Many churches do personal visits. I did this in my early days of ministry but found that people were a little creeped out by having someone randomly show up at their house (maybe it was just me). Some churches with big budgets send a gift basket with all kinds of logo-covered goodies and edible treats. I think that’s great if you can afford it but unnecessary. However, I do suggest three things if your budget allows: 1) provide all your visitors with a very nice looking (professionally printed) brochure complete with information about beliefs, programs, media, service times, and ministries, 2) give away nice but inexpensive pens with the church logo and website emblazoned on it (people will use pens forever and it will serve as a gentle reminder of your church), 3) give away refrigerator magnets that contain your church contact info (people love fridge magnets and they will use them). This may seem like a lot of trouble but it will reap immeasurable benefits.
One last thought regarding this point (and this just might be the most helpful thought in this whole article), tell guests that you want them to become a part of your church. I mean, literally say those words to them out loud. Don’t just assume that they know how you feel because of your friendliness. Don’t say, “I really hope you visit again” as if they will always be an outsider trying to get into the club. Say, “I’m really hoping that you’ll make this your home church and become a part of what God is doing here”. One is exclusive and one is inclusive. Tell them they are wanted and mean it from the bottom of your heart.
Be a self-aware church. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and awareness of how we are coming across to our guests and to our communities. Individuals can do it and churches can do it as well. For example, just because we think we are a friendly church (I’ve never been to a church that didn’t think it was crazy friendly) doesn’t mean that we are actually a friendly church. Be friendly, don’t just act friendly. Meaning, many churches become proficient at going through the motions of “friendliness” without truly having a caring or loving desire to know and help people, and they don’t have the self-awareness needed to even realize what has happened. But people can quickly spot all the things that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to in our comfortable surroundings.
In many ways, it’s similar to how I feel when people visit my home. My home doesn’t seem dirty, messy, or disorganized until guests show up, and then I start noticing every flaw and imperfection. The difference between church and our homes is that most folks rarely have guests in their homes, but we constantly have guests in our churches. Make a conscious effort to look at your church like you do your house when you know that company is coming. If nothing else, keep the platform and altar area clean, organized, clutter-free, and pleasant. Why? Because the platform and altar area is where people’s attention will be focused 99% of the time. Do your best to “awkward-proof” your platform as much as possible. Meaning, avoid tripping hazards, weird set-ups where singers are practically on top of ministers who are seated, chairs that make strange noises (funny story goes with this tip), busy seating arrangements that people have to weave around like a maze, bad lighting, exposed tangled wires, decorative arrangements that are easily bumped or fall with little provoking, and odd instrument and musician placements that conflict with the overall environment.
Being self-aware also means that we realize that unchurched people often don’t understand expressions and words that are common to us. No. I’m not one of those guys who wants to dumb down our preaching or secularize our expressions, but I do think we should pause often and explain to guests what we’re talking about. Yes, sir. That’s just common courtesy and good manners. We know exactly what we mean by God is going to “split the eastern sky wide open” but a guest just hears a weird, scary sounding phrase. Self-aware churches do a lot of patient explaining.
Along those same lines, if you announce that everyone who wants to be a part of “such and such” needs to talk to “so and so” without visibly showing them who “so and so” is, every one of your guests and newer saints is going to feel completely lost and excluded. Self-aware churches do lots of introducing people to people.
Utilize the power of social media and onlinepresence. I’ve written many times about the dangers and pitfalls of social media (here, here, and here). However, it’s simply irresponsible when a church fails to harness this powerful outreach tool. Our church reaches over fifty thousand people each month via iTunes and podcast, and much more than that through our online presence. The vast majority of people in your community will check out your church online before making a decision to visit. Very few people show up without doing a little research these days. If possible, set up a podcast where people can listen to your lessons and sermons. Have a website, it doesn’t have to be state of the art but it needs to be updated (don’t have announcements posted for things that have already happened) and very informative. There’s no such thing as too much information. Tell them about your church, what to expect, what you believe, all about your vision, your ministries, your leadership (many church sites make it challenging to even figure out their pastor’s name), your service times, and your location. Link your site to various social media sites and utilize them to the best of your ability. Ideally, someone trustworthy and tech-savvy should be shepherding this ministry (and it is a ministry).
Don’t be ashamed of your apostolic identity (Romans 1:16, Luke 9:26). Hollywood isn’t ashamed of their spectacle. In fact, the world has never been prouder in spite of the chaos that it’s in. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus, holiness, Apostolic doctrine, the moving of the Spirit, exuberant praise, passionate preaching, or our Pentecostal heritage.
Beware of the Grasshopper Complex (Numbers 13:26-33). Remember the ten spies who gave an “evil report (Numbers 13:32)”? They said that they could not take the Promised Land. Mostly because they had spotted intimidating giants. They famously whined, “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs (Numbers 13:33)”. They were suffering from an Inferiority Complex. They were so impressed and oppressed by the perceived strength of their enemy that they lost faith and paralysis took control. Many churches suffer from a Grasshopper Complex. They see thriving false churches, encroaching evil from every side, political pressure, cultural decay, obstacles that seem insurmountable, and they are frozen in fear. This is fundamentally a faith problem. Here’s the deal with giants; the bigger they are the easier it is to hit them with a slingshot. Okay. I know that sounds flippant and sometimes the battle is extremely intense. But in the end, we either trust God for the victory or we don’t.
This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.
The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.
A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.
We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.
If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.
It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.
Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.
With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.
Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.
For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.
Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.
With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.
Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.
5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
Pastors and leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. I definitely fall into the introverted category (here’s a great article for inward pastors entitled 7 Ways to Thrive As an Introverted Pastor by Ron Edmondson). I was a shy kid and I kept pretty quiet in college too. I am one of those strange people who actually likes to read and study. But budding leaders are usually pushed out of their comfort zones into a more outgoing demeanor. For the most part, this is a positive progression but at times, it can be taxing on the spirit of an introvert. Here are five tips that have helped me overcome the weaknesses and maximize the strengths of my introverted leadership style.
1. Resist the Pressure to be Something That You’re Not
There’s a lot of pressure on pastors and leaders of all kinds to be dynamic. However, it’s important to remember that outgoing, highly extroverted leaders are not necessarily dynamic by virtue of their personality alone. In fact, those personality types come with their own set of struggles and weaknesses. Early on in ministry, I found myself trying to imitate leaders whose personalities were miles apart from mine. Before long I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. Did I need to mature and address a few character flaws? Yes. Did my entire personality need to be discarded before God could use me? Certainly not. In the Bible, you will find various leaders who had very different temperaments and yet they were all mightily used of God. And yes, many of them were introverts.
2. Resist the Temptation to Retreat Within When Under Pressure
I would be lying if I told you that I had this little piece of advice down pat. I don’t. It’s normal for us introverts to pull away and become very inward when we are hurting, stressed, attacked, or feeling pressured. Grandma always said, “Isolation is the Devil’s playground.” She was right.
3. SurroundYourself With People Who Know, Value & Understand You
Because it’s my default setting to retreat inwardly at unhealthy moments I strive to surround myself with people who understand my personality and respond accordingly. Cultivate relationships with friends and family that sustain you. Keep people close who will lovingly remind you to set the book down and leave the office from time to time. People who truly love and care about you will walk the healthy line between respecting your temperament and helping you adjust the flaws.
4. Know Your Personality Limitations
I purposely didn’t call them weaknesses because not all limitations are weaknesses. Every leader should have a good measure of self-awareness. If understanding the personalities of others is important; understanding what makes you tick is paramount. For introverts, we can’t maintain the steady social schedules that our highly extroverted friends can. Find a balance that is healthy for you and learn your limits. Just as importantly, learn when to break out of your personality and be what is needed for the moment. For example, there are times when even the quietest individual must speak up, speak out, and speak long.
5. Know Your Personality Strengths
We introverts do have strengths that we should use and we should use them often. Because our minds never quite seem to shut down we can be very thoughtful and considerate. We have a greater capacity for compassion than most, and we make good listeners when needed. We’re less likely to say something foolish in the heat of the moment. Our love for study and meditation makes the fundamental spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading a natural part of our daily routines. We speak with conviction and sincerity. When we are loud, forceful, energetic, or angry it gets people’s attention because it is never contrived or overblown.
I remember a kind of gloomy fog settling over my mind after hearing from my Pastor (who doubles as my father) that we would be planning preaching and teaching strategies for the entire upcoming year. Dread! Panic! A throbbing, and all too familiar migraine, began forming in the base of my skull. Up until that point, I had mostly been a high powered evangelist approaching each new service like a maverick gunslinger. On some, albeit rare occasions, I even went to the pulpit with a few scribbled notes and an open Bible. I had a preaching mindset that prided itself upon being highly in tune with the Spirit, and evidently (according to my youthful way of thinking) the Spirit could only see a few days (or even hours) into the future.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a certain kind of desperate advantage to that style of ministry. Certainly, an evangelist is charged with the sacred duty of stirring a sudden response to the Gospel that is often best served with a large dose of spiritual spontaneity. But my role in the Body of Christ had shifted, and now my pattern was being drastically jolted.
Plan we did, with calendars and coffees in hand. We planned teaching series for Midweek Bible Study and Sunday School, and preaching series for Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings (we have lots of good church at Apostolic Tabernacle). Thankfully, we left some wiggle room for my coveted spontaneity. We left no stone unturned. We met with our church staff (paid and volunteer) to plan yearly events and activities. Meanwhile, I held my breath and nursed a silent tantrum fully expecting this strategy to fail magnificently. Not only did it not fail, it excelled beyond my wildest ability to believe. When I say excel, I mean far more than that the church received good sound doctrine, grew at a reasonable pace, and enjoyed good health (although all of that is true); I mean that the process has been a tremendously freeing experience.
This is shocking to me because it seemed so constricting at first. I discovered a profound peace in having a structure (loose but not too loose) in which to study and seek God’s heart. Also, it seems that God is fully aware of what will be happening next month or even (gasp) next year. God can give direction far in advance of any man made time stamps. Not only that, God operates according to a certain command structure. God honors us when we surrender our stubborn will to ordained authorities.
Fast forward several years later, and I can’t imagine ministry without a well-planned preaching and teaching schedule. I just happened to mention this to Dad at lunch the other day, he laughed and gave me a knowing look; then he said something profound (as he often does), “If you approach study without self-imposed parameters of difficulty you will always seek the most familiar path or the mediocre path of least resistance.” In other words, when we approach preaching and teaching like a maverick gunslinger we never challenge ourselves to learn, study, contemplate, and digest things that are unfamiliar. It’s well and good to have a favorite soap box or a tasty candy stick but those things, although comfortable, may become little more than an excuse for intellectual laziness if we are not very careful. So father does know best (sometimes).
I just read a great article entitled How to Serve Your Pastor Well by Jamie Brown. I encourage you to read his article for yourself (after finishing this one of course). Jamie writes from the perspective of a Worship Leader but most of his points are relevant to all ministry positions within the church. His article resonated with me because, like Jamie, I am approaching 10 years of full time ministry in the second chair position.
Almost immediately after graduating from Bible College I stepped into the position of Assistant Pastor. Several years as a full time evangelist followed, which is still a second chair position with its own specialized set of challenges. Currently, I am privileged to serve as Assistant Pastor to my father (Dr. Talmadge French). Nearly 10 years in the second chair has given me a perspective that may be helpful to my fellow second chair colleagues, and perhaps for senior pastors to consider as well.
1. Count it an honor to serve your Pastor. Now I know that in some church paradigms the role of Assistant or Associate Pastor is little more than a title with no meaning, but thankfully this sad paradigm is shifting. Pastor’s desperately need faithful ministers who will stand beside them and hold their arms up in battle (Exodus 17:10-13). However, if you view your role as nothing more than a stepping stone to a greater position, or as a launching pad for your personal (yet unappreciated) ministry than you are not serving your Pastor; you are serving your own selfish ambitions. You may think that your motivations are sufficiently hidden but usually they are far more visible than you imagine, not only to your pastor, but also to the congregation that you are serving. There is nothing more rewarding than ministering without hidden agendas. Remember, it is God who exalts us according to His perfect timing (1 Peter 5:6).
Many capable ministries never reach their full potential because they refuse to see the value of the second chair position. As a church grows and flourishes in healthy, God-given revival the need for dedicated support ministries becomes more and more vital. To serve in the capacity of pastoral support ministry is an honorable and highly commendable calling. If you closely examine any thriving, revival church you will find not only a dynamic Pastor, but a dynamic support ministry as well. God uses unity to propel revival not a maverick mentality.
2. Remain fiercely loyal at all times. Loyalty is becoming extinct in our fast moving culture. Our grandparents drove the same Ford or GMC their whole lives, many of them lived in the same towns that they grew up in, attended the same church that they were saved in, lived and died under the same pastoral ministry, and drank the same brand of coffee every morning. Fast forward to my generation; we’re moving from church to church, from city to city, from fad to fad, constantly moving to the next big thing, or the next big idea, and yet it never seems to occur to us that we have embraced a culture of disloyalty. This is not how God intended the Church to operate, while fierce independence may be admirable in the dog-eat-dog world of corporate leadership, in ministry, loyalty and faithfulness are absolute necessities. If you can’t be loyal in the second chair position than you can never expect loyalty from others when you find yourself in the first chair position.
3. Be a dependable shield and a worthy confidant. One of the most admirable roles that you can fill as the second man is to shield your Pastor from harm. Anticipate possible problems and internal factions, and do everything in your power to shield your Pastor from attacks. Guard your words and your integrity. If your Pastor confides in you be sure to keep that confidence or you will lose a level of trust that you can never fully regain.
Inevitably you will notice that your Pastor has weaknesses and flaws. Except in extreme instances where sin is involved, it is your role to pick up the slack in these areas. If you study the Apostles you will notice that although they were greatly used of God they had personality flaws that often needed to be put in the hands of God. Your Pastor is no less human and he deserves your fidelity. If you strengthen his weak areas he will return the favor when you are lacking.
4. Avoid flattery that produces unhealthy pride in your heart. Often the second man will receive adulation from those who seek to undermine the Pastor. I once had a man try to convince me that I should be pastoring the church that I was serving in at the time. Needless to say, I shut that conversation down in a hurry. He wanted to use me as weapon against his own Pastor. Shame on any second man who allows himself to be used as a pawn in the hands of rebellious saints. Sometimes the second chair position feels unappreciated and we become vulnerable to the enticements of flattery. The book of Jude warns of those who employ flattery in order to manipulate others for their own selfish desires (Jude 1:16). Learn to distinguish the difference between healthy complements and manipulative flattery.
5. Don’t be naïve. Sometimes saints are simply refreshed by the variety of hearing a new voice. This doesn’t mean that they don’t love their Pastor’s preaching, and it certainly shouldn’t cause you to feel superior. Evangelists and all other support ministries must take care not to allow compliments to go to our heads. Sometimes people are just being kind (they aren’t going to tell you that you did a second class job). Accept compliments carefully and gracefully.
During my first year of full time ministry, a family invited me to their house for dinner. Everything seemed kosher until dessert was served; suddenly I found myself dodging personal questions about our mutual Pastor. This seemed highly inappropriate and I told them so with as much kindness as I could muster. Many young ministers naively divulge privileged information in an effort to demonstrate their insider status. This is a terrible ethical precedent to set for your ministry and life in general. Appearing “in-the-know” isn’t nearly as important as being a man of integrity.
6. Avoid second guessing your Pastor. There are going to be times when you feel as though something should be handled differently. You might even feel as though you could have done something better or smoother. Once more, you might even be right, but it’s unhealthy to dwell on those emotions. Submission is only submission when you are in disagreement. God honors us when we yield ourselves to spiritual authority (Hebrews 13:17; Romans 13:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Ephesians 4:11). However, many times a Pastor makes decisions and judgments based on information and facts that we are not privy too. If we are walking in true humility we must be willing to acknowledge that we may not always know what is best. After all, a Pastor is the God called watchmen on the wall (Isaiah 62:6; Ezekiel 3:17-19), and this vantage point gives him spiritual insight that we simply do not have.
7. Don’t be high maintenance. I’m taking this one directly from Jamie’s article (mentioned above), along with a few additions of my own. Your Pastor is bombarded with high maintenance people on a daily basis and he certainly doesn’t need his close leadership adding to that chaos. Remember your role is that of supporter and if you are constantly adding to your Pastor’s stress level than you are failing in that mission. This is not to say that you can’t turn to him for advice and guidance but do so with care and moderation. Learn to be respectful of his time, his privacy, his family, and his work load. I guarantee that if you learn the value of this particular piece of advice your pastor will love you for it.
8. Respect, value, and be considerate of the needs of the family. I have already alluded to this point, but it is extremely important that the second man is respectful of the needs of the Pastor’s family. Many Pastor’s kids and Pastor’s wives suffer the indignity of waiting on their father or spouse to finish lengthy conversations that were dishonestly presented as only needing “a moment of your time.” A considerate leader is sensitive to these things and learns to use the appropriate timing to make important connections. If your Pastor’s family begins to resent your constant interruptions and intrusions than you will eventually find yourself feeling cut off and disconnected. Work to identify the proper times to make lengthy connections and your Pastor and his family will love you for it.
9. Avoid telling your Pastor how other Pastor’s do things. Every Pastor has their own style and way of doing things. Most Pastors have their own biblical perspective of how the Church should operate. It took me a few years to realize as the second man that my Pastor did not appreciate my constant little reminders of how so and so Pastor did this or that. In a sense you are telling him that you respect this other Pastors way of doing things more than his way of doing things. Furthermore, every church, city, and culture is vastly different. What works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another.
10. Follow through and finish what you start. If you begin a project see it through to the end. Nothing is more frustrating to leadership than watching another project get placed on the backburner. If you make a commitment follow through, otherwise it will be very hard for your Pastor to entrust you with greater responsibilities. Along this same vein of thinking, try not to despise the small, unpleasant, or seemingly unimportant duties. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
11. Don’t be a copycat. This is not to say that you shouldn’t emulate your Pastor’s leadership or take on any of his characteristics, however, it’s ok to be you. Your church doesn’t need identical twins, identical preachers, and identical leaders. In fact, the differences are often refreshing for a congregation. Variety is the spice of life, and your unique qualities will endear you to others. Copycats become disingenuous and plastic over time.
12. Have fun. Ministry is serious business, and we ministers have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously. This might seem counterintuitive but you should cultivate a fun and friendly demeanor. There is a time and a place for extreme seriousness, but no one wants to work closely with an individual who doesn’t understand the value of laughter. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength (Psalm 28:7).
13. Know your role and what is expected of you. You will circumvent all kinds of frustration by simply understanding what is expected of you. Many Pastors are hesitant to tell you everything that they expect from you on a regular basis (maybe we’ll cover these reasons in a later post). Dig deep and learn your parameters.
14. Be spiritually sensitive. It should go without saying that we must be spiritually healthy. Pray for your family, your church, and your Pastor. Pray and pray some more. Let’s lay aside our over inflated ideas of dignity and worship God with all of our might. Guard your heart, guard your mind, and never stop growing in the Lord.