It may be hardest part of ministry, but the local church’s future depends on leaders who understand who—and how—they lead.
Michael Kanai came to the Illinois Leadership Summit excited about recent happenings at his church. “We had a retreat and we made many plans and casted our vision,” the pastor of Orchard Valley Baptist Church in Aurora said. “Now,” he continued, “we need to implement and execute the plans.”
For many pastors and church leaders, that’s the hard part: turning plans into action and leading the congregation to achieve the goals. A stumble or two at this stage can stall the work and cause the people to wonder about the abilities of the leader.
But, don’t be mistaken, this article is not about goals and action plans. It’s about what happens in the heart of the leader who realizes he can’t do the ministry alone. He needs a team, and more important, he needs a team of leaders.
“We are at a point where we are needing to lead leaders,” Kanai said. “It’s really helpful learning the difference between leading followers and leading leaders. The ‘collective’ we just attended just told us there is a steep step between those two types of leadership—it’s a pivotal shift in the way you lead.”
Halfway through the Summit, Kanai was clearly “getting it.”
Setting the (grappling) hook
For two days in January, pastors, staff, and church leaders convened at the Springfield facilities of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Last year at the same time, almost 1,300 leaders from 10 Baptist state conventions across 13 states gathered for the Midwest Leadership Summit at the nearby Crowne Plaza.
Previously called the North Central States Rally, the triennial event schooled ministry leaders in programming and skills to help grow their churches and fulfill their callings in their Upper Midwest mission fields. But this meeting was different: First, it was an Illinois-only event. With the two-year break between conferences, IBSA sought to build on the momentum from the 2015 event by bringing Illinoisans together to address the leadership issues we face here. And second, this event was not so much about skills, but about the heart and character of the leader.
“When most pastors think about leadership in ministry, they view it as administrative duties, supervisory oversight, or managing some new project,” said associate executive director Pat Pajak. “Until a pastor discovers the necessity of leading himself, especially in the areas of spiritual disciplines and character development, he will never be able to lead followers, lead leaders, or lead an organization in the way God intended.”
That’s why this Summit was different.
“IBSA frequently offers ministry skill training, but we made it clear from the outset that the Summit would focus on one’s personal growth as a leader,” said executive director Nate Adams. “That shift appears to have both met a felt need, and also created an itch among leaders that IBSA hopes to help scratch in the days ahead.”
The centerpiece for the event was the new leadership development process that the IBSA team has been crafting for more than a year. The main speaker for the event was Bob Bumgarner, a leadership expert who has contributed to the creative process. He was joined by four Illinois pastors in the main sessions (called “collectives”), and by 28 other pastors and ministry leaders in breakout sessions (called “intensives”).
“I think we would all agree that leadership development is forefront and needed in Southern Baptist life,” Bumgarner said. “And I also think we all would agree that it’s not as easy as it sounds.” Bumgarner (pictured above) headed leadership development for the Florida Baptist Convention and currently serves as executive pastor of Chets Creek Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a large, multi-campus congregation.
Bumgarner sought to dispel the myth that all leadership is alike no matter the group or setting; and that leadership is innate and there’s nothing that can be done to improve it.
IBSA’s four-part plan
Leading self is about growing your capacity to be on Jesus’ mission as a person of influence.
“The hardest person I ever lead is me,” Bumgarner said, as he began to unpack the four phases in IBSA’s leadership process. “We have to understand that before we can lead others well, we have to learn to lead ourselves.”
Bumgarner pointed to the iceberg as a good illustration of the issues in self-leadership. Most of it is under the surface. That’s why character is so important. “You can get so successful that your character can’t support (your ministry)….If you want to be a better self-leader, figure out how you can hunger for God’s wisdom.”
He recommended spending five hours per week developing character and 50-60 hours developing ministry.
“Ministry is a place where you can be completely busy or completely lazy, and people won’t know,” said Heath Tibbetts, pastor of First Baptist Church of Machesney Park. He brought some personal applications for pastors. “I’ve realized strong self-leading means that even if no one else is looking, the Holy Spirit is keeping me accountable.”
Leading followers is about leading individual contributors, people who are not leading others, often serving as a ministry head or teacher in small groups or classes.
There are official followers, such as deacons or committee members, but there are also unofficial followers, the people who like or respect the leader, who have bought into the vision and want to be part of making it happen.
Bumgarner said at this stage, the objective is to identify your followers, inspire them by giving them a leader worth following, initiate followers by casting vision, and invest in their personal development. Make a goal, he advised: “By the end of next year, I want to have invested this amount of time into this number of people.”
“Our church grew when I stopped trying to lead big and started trying to lead through small groups,” said Mark Mohler, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Marion. He described bringing his congregation into a new vision for the church that found its most vital point of connection at the level of Sunday school classes.
Leading leaders is directed toward those who lead others. It requires a different skill set to keep those people who have leadership abilities of their own on your team.
Here is the pivotal point in the four phases of leadership. Adams described an image of stairs. In this case, not all the stairs are of equal height. Some have a short rise, others have a tall rise. The step between leading followers and leading leaders is the biggest jump for most people. And as Kanai described his own discovery at the Summit, it’s the most critical.
A leader who can only lead followers is limited by his own capacity; but a leader who can lead those who lead multiplies his capacity. But leading leaders is challenging and it’s risky. Other leaders have their own ideas, and they may set their own agendas.
“It can be one of the scariest moments of our life,” Bumgarner said, “nurturing your baby and then handing the baby to another person to raise….Regardless of the pain sharing a ministry can cause, something bigger and better can happen as a result.”
At this stage, empowerment of additional leaders must be balanced with clear, ongoing vision-casting: “85% of your success in leading leaders is wrapped up in common purpose and clear communication,” Bumgarner advised. “Do enough (communication) so that downstream from that work, we can see the fruit we’re looking for.”
Leading organizations is about leading leaders who lead other leaders. It’s about having a vision for the whole ministry and communicating that effectively to the whole organization.
In church life, this leader is usually the senior pastor, but not every pastor is actually leading at this level. He may be leading followers, or even leaders, but not effectively guiding the work of the whole ministry.
“Leading organizations requires working on the ministry versus in the ministry,” Bumgarner said. Many listeners in the room seemed to connect with this comment. He described a season when his ministry was consumed by the work of ministry rather than giving adequate attention to the purpose of the ministry, its vision and goals.
Leadership at this level requires strategic planning about how to do the ministry. “Your church needs you to facilitate the things that need to be done in order to share the gospel. If you find time to get the top 20% done, the other 80% will be done right.”
Bumgarner concluded, “The point of organizational functionality is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
– Coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit by Meredith Flynn, Kris Kell, Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, and Eric Reed