It should come as no surprise that if we are going to lead others well, we have to be credible leaders ourselves. Not only is the church watching; other leaders are watching us too. But soon, rather than later, we need to expect others to display and practice biblical leadership. Since seminary, I’ve learned three important lessons that help me to lead other leaders.
1. Identify and Invite Biblical Leaders
I remember asking a well-respected church planter in our area to reflect on his early mistakes and share with me what he would do differently. Without hesitation he said, “I would be slower in bringing new elders on board.” It’s good and healthy to want to share the leadership burden, but too often we are tempted to bring on men who are not qualified or ready.
It’s okay to go slow in identifying leaders (1 Tim. 5:22). It’s better to bring on new leaders slowly than to have to remove leaders who are not qualified, competent, or caring. In fact, unqualified men are most difficult to lead, and they’re the most likely to create trouble.
Be sure to work through healthy biblical processes that help identify godly, biblically qualified leaders. Then invite them to serve alongside you.
At High Pointe, we are constantly on the lookout for men who have godly character and faithfully love the congregation. We expect that they are regularly sharing the gospel with unbelievers and diligently discipling other men. We expect them to be faithfully engaged in congregational life. And we expect they would do all these things whether or not they were officially recognized by the church as leaders. When men like this show up on our radar, we give them opportunities to teach publicly, and we observe and evaluate their teaching competency. During our elders’ meetings, we review a list of such potential men who seem to be on a trajectory to becoming elders, and we pray that God will grant us wisdom in nominating future elders.
Once a brother’s name is on most or all of our lists, we ask him about his interest in serving as an elder. If he shows interest, he fills out a questionnaire that focuses mainly on the biblical qualifications of eldership. The elders review the questionnaires, and if we’re in agreement, we invite him for a thorough interview. If all parties agree to continue, we invite the prospect to sit in our meeting up until the “elders only” time. Then we ask him to choose an elder to mentor him. During our time together, the candidate not only observes how we care for the congregation; he also observes the character, competency, and care of the elders.
You may wonder what all this has to do with leading leaders. Think about it: it is easier to lead brothers who are biblically qualified and united in mind, heart, and voice, than those who aren’t. At High Pointe, the elder nomination process is a means by which we protect the congregation in advance from unbiblical leadership. When we work hard to find faithful men who love Christ, love the gospel, and love the church, we have a better likelihood of having a team of leaders who know when to lead and when to follow for the good of the church. Never assume without evidence that someone is qualified for biblical leadership—you will live to regret it. And don’t imagine biblical leadership will spring up down the road simply because you put someone in a position. Instead, expect biblical leadership to manifest itself from the beginning as you identify and invite brothers to join church leadership.
2. Equip and Empower Biblical Leaders
If you want to frustrate other leaders and create leadership conflicts in the church, invite them to lead but don’t equip them or empower them to lead. Sometimes authoritarian leaders recognize other leaders’ readiness to serve alongside them, but merely as rubber stamps for what the pastor wants to do. These recruits are elders in name only. Real leaders will not last long under such circumstances. But we have to realize that well-meaning pastors sometimes frustrate other leaders this way. It starts with the prideful assumption that the pastor can do things better and faster than those assigned to certain tasks. Rather than taking the time to equip other leaders and empower them for their ministries, we merely do them ourselves. But if we cannot trust other leaders to fulfill their assignments, why do we invite them to lead in the first place?
We need to view leadership with a long-term perspective. We are raising up and equipping leaders for the future, when we’re gone, so let’s equip them and empower them to lead now, while we have the ability to encourage and shape their leadership.
Equipping should happen all the time. At High Pointe, we are constantly reading books together, talking together, praying together, and training together. But you must do more than equip and train leaders; at some point, you have to let them lead and give them the room to fail.
Empowering leaders begins with encouraging their full participation in decision-making conversations and processes. During our conversations, each elder is free and encouraged to contribute, ask questions, and provide suggestions. If consensus is clear, we move forward; if not, we vote. The majority rules, even when I’m in the minority.
We should also encourage our leaders to lead in their areas of strength and gifting. Because of my public preaching ministry, it’s clear to the congregation that I’m the primary leader of the church. So it’s up to me to continually remind the congregation about the plural leadership of our church. It’s up to me to give credit, recognize, and honor other leaders for leading well. It’s up to me to allow other elders to lead privately and publicly. Our elders’ meetings are led by our chairman, not me; our members’ meetings are moderated by our chairman or vice chairman, not me; our pastoral prayer is given by one of our staff pastors, not me; our Sunday evening preaching is done by one of our elders or pastoral staff, not normally me. Good leaders give credit away and take responsibility upon themselves. I’ve learned to equip and empower other leaders to lead according to their gifting and strengths.
3. Evaluate Biblical Leadership
Perhaps the most crucial way I’ve learned to lead others is through evaluation. Proper evaluation requires a culture where constructive criticism and healthy encouragement are given in honest humility and received with honest gratitude. As the primary leader, I am responsible for establishing and cultivating this atmosphere by modeling constructive criticism and healthy encouragement and also allowing myself to be evaluated by other leaders. For our pastoral staff, this evaluation happens at our weekly service review. We normally meet at a local coffee shop on Monday afternoons, and we review the entire Sunday, including my sermon. This process not only helps me to grow as a preacher; it also communicates to the other leaders that it is safe to ask questions of me and criticize me. I cannot overemphasize how valuable this time is for me personally as a leader, and for our leadership team as a whole.
But we also perform evaluations of everything we do as a church. Nothing is off the table, even when it comes to my leadership. Our meeting agenda includes opportunities for the other elders to share things they see at High Pointe that are encouraging and things that are concerning. These conversations allow us to evaluate our ministry together and ask questions of each other, depending on who is leading a particular ministry being evaluated.
There are also times when another elder and I will sit down with members of our pastoral staff for formal evaluations. We evaluate character, competency, and care for the congregation. Having these evaluations is particularly important for our young men pursuing pastoral ministry. It allows them to learn to receive honest criticism and healthy encouragement with humility. If they are unable to receive such criticism and encouragement with humility, it becomes clear to us that they are either not ready for pastoral ministry or perhaps not qualified for the pastorate.
Seminary of the Local Church
I thank God for my time in seminary. Seminary is not designed to teach you everything, and seminary cannot teach you what only the local church must teach you. After thirty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned many things in the “seminary” of the local church. Many of those lessons have come as a result of my youth, impatience, and hardheadedness.
But I am thankful for loving congregations who have cared well for me and my family and who forgave me early on for my youthful missteps. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the church is that leadership matters. If I am to lead others well, then I need to have a biblical understanding of leadership myself, and then I need to work diligently to lay a proper foundation for biblical leadership. But that’s not enough. As some point, I need to expect biblical leadership of those around me.
Content taken from 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Meedited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr., ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.