Leadership Priorities: Five Thoughts on How We Can Lead Better
Being a leader is tiring. When I was pastoring in Buffalo in the early 90s, I was responsible for EVERYTHING. You name it, I did it:
Make the bulletins. Check.
Visit the hospitals and sick. Check.
Preach the message. Check.
Lead worship. Check. (I am still apologizing to Jack Hayford for my rendition of Majesty.)
Looking back, I am reminded that effective leadership is not in all the responsibilities or tasks we have, but rather in how well we develop the processes needed to accomplish them with excellence. We often lose sight of the fact that leadership, at its most basic level, involves the leading of people.
This means that we need to develop priorities in our leadership aimed at being efficient and effective with our time and energy.
I want to outline five ways that pastors, ministry leaders, and Christians as a whole can start to think through their leadership priorities.
1. Assemble a high quality team and empower them to excel.
Quality seeks quality.
The first step in leadership priorities is making sure that you have a quality team and that they know that you believe in them. Too often, leaders let their insecurity push them to surround themselves with less talent, concerned only that their star is the brightest. Leadership priorities begin with constructing a team that is talented, skilled, creative, and that buys into the vision of the organization.
As Sydney Finkelstein notes in his new book Superbosses, “If you look around the room and you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
2. Delegation is critical to success and healthy for your team.
Having talented and capable people on your team means that you can then trust delegating responsibility and authority. At its core, delegation is the act of giving someone under your charge responsibility and authority in your place, freeing you to focus on higher priority objectives.
A guiding principle that I adopt in terms of delegation is: I only do what I can do. In other words, if there is something that others on my team are capable of handling, I delegate that responsibility to them and empower them with the authority to pursue it with excellence. Methodically going through and cutting out those things I am doing but that others can do eventually leaves you with a focused list of core responsibilities that are central to your effective leadership.
While I can do the research I assign to my intern (and probably quicker), it’s better to invest that time into other responsibilities that she could not do. Delegation is not a question of worth before God, but rather stewardship of our resources in service to the kingdom.
For example, only I can parent my children. Delegating this responsibility is a mistake likely to do untold damage and provoke hundreds of hours of therapy. So while I delegate the responsibility of driving people around to those on my team, I make a point of driving my daughters around because it is an opportunity to be present.
At the same time, delegation is an important tool in training your staff to grow in their own leadership and other gifts. The micromanaging pastor who has a ‘do-it-myself’ mentality doesn’t realize that he is depriving his team and church of opportunities. Every time he takes over he is implicitly suggesting that others can’t succeed. Deprived of these opportunities, over time this emaciates his team so that when they need to be relied upon they lack the knowledge or skills necessary to carry the burden.
3. Pastors and ministry leaders need to pursue efficiency.
Even with the proper people in place and a spirit of delegation, organizations need to have the correct systems in place in order to be effective. Systems allow each member of the team to know what is expected of them, when it is expected, and how their work fits into the broader objective of the team. As a leader, I spend considerable time constructing and refining our systems – managing the people and processes of work rather than the work itself.
Poor systems result from being either too restrictive or loose. Leaders need to think critically and be flexible to refine their systems over time if they do not prove effective.
4. Pastors and ministry leaders need to pursue efficiency, or they will burn out.
I understand and empathize with those who see this drive to efficiency in ministry as counter to the gospel. Establishing this hierarchy to pursue efficiency seems corporate, whereas the gospel calls us to serve. After all, didn’t Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? Aren’t we called to do likewise as pastors?
Yes and no. Where non-Christian organizations pursue efficiency in response to sales, revenue, and ultimately profits, churches need to pursue profits in order to protect their pastors. One of the major problems churches and denominations are concerned about right now is the rate of pastoral burnout. This is not to suggest, as some wrongfully have, that pastors are miserable and hate their jobs. Far from it, studies show that pastors overwhelmingly feel privileged to be in ministry (93% strongly agree).
At the same time, pastors suffer from higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and depression than the average American. Beyond this, over half say they are often concerned about their family’s financial security (an indictment of churches who should pay a decent wage but do not in a misguided theology of money) and close to half feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.
This paints a picture of an American pastorate that loves their flock and their calling but needs encouragement, help, and wisdom to avoid hurting themselves and, in turn, their churches. Why? Because pastors want to minister to people. But as leaders we need to view our time as a finite resource that God calls upon us to steward. Every time we spend our time, we must view it as an investment in the kingdom. As we think through priorities, we need to begin thinking exponentially.
5. Pastoral opportunities are incorporated necessities.
As a counterbalance, I will end by recommending that pastors and ministry leaders must still engage in the ground-level ministry work in some capacity. Whether it is hospital visits or leading a Bible study for a season, this is crucial for two reasons.
First, it is a way leaders can remain humble as their organization and responsibilities grow. The tendency for isolation and success to influence our habits and attitude for the worse is real. There are unfortunately many more examples of high-level leaders acting arrogantly than in humility. The willingness to serving occasionally is a reminder of Jesus’ own servant-leadership model.
Second, it feeds that initial impulse that pulled you into ministry in the first place. Most pastors and ministry leaders began out of a call to minister and, through a combination of their leadership skills and God’s blessing, their responsibilities have overtaken that original calling. These opportunities are an important outlet.
For me, I love to spend time encouraging and praying with those in ministry. I unfortunately have to turn down many meeting requests, but if I am stuck in the car for a long time, I will tweet out and ask if anyone wants me to pray for or talk with them. I often find myself on a phone call with someone I don’t know, but it’s an opportunity to serve them in prayer and encouragement.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.