How to Tell You’re No Leader

Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

Let’s just come right out and say it up front:

Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are no leader.

The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he has been sent to serve.

He comes into a church with a divine mandate. (This is not pious talk. He has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is.) He proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service–those very people–stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.

This was the last thing he expected.

Because he’s human, he begins to wonder many things: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?

I answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course.

Salt is an irritant. We have been sent into this world as its salt (Matthew 5:13).

Light hurts the eyes. We were sent as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). The brighter it shines, the more darkness resists it, resents it, runs from it.

This is as good a place as any to state the obvious: Many in places of leadership inside our churches are not leaders. I’m talking about pastors, staffers, deacons, and other so-called leaders.

They may qualify as counselors, program directors, consensus builders, negotiators, mediators, affirmers, or even teachers. But they are not leaders.

A leader by the very definition stands apart from the crowd, pointing and pushing and urging them onward to a destination that many cannot understand, do not see, and are not sure they want. The more forcibly he or she leads, the greater the reaction against his message and his methods by some.

Thankfully, not all. But there’s always some who will oppose any challenge to the status quo.

Perfectionism is one of the leader’s greatest enemies. If he waits until 100 percent of the team is on board, they will still be sitting there when Jesus returns.

When a leader insists on the enthusiastic support and complete approval of every last member of the team, the work grinds to a halt and all forward progress ends at that point.

The ramifications of this for leaders is enormous.

1. We must jettison our need for and insistence on pleasing everyone.

Somewhere I heard of a pastor who was called to a church by a vote of 98 ‘for’ to 2 ‘against.’ It bothered him so much that two people had opposed him, he spent the first six months in the church finding out who they were, and the next six months winning them over. At the end of his first year, that pastor was fired. The vote was 98 against and 2 for.

Our Lord Jesus said, I always do the things that please the Father (John 8:29). Paul said, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

If I serve well and my congregation is happy and supportive, good. We’re not suggesting otherwise.

However, if a segment of the membership is upset, that does not necessarily mean I’m doing something wrong.

But either way, it’s a matter between them and the Lord. I must work not to take their criticism or rejection personally. God said to Samuel, “It’s not you they have rejected, but me” (I Samuel 8:7).

2. We must accept that some are always going to be unhappy with us, no matter what we do.

On one occasion when some members of my congregation were hard at work trying to end my ministry, I learned that the ringleaders had decided before I ever arrived that they did not like me and would need to replace me. It provided scant comfort to know there was nothing personal about it, that it was all their doing. I was given no chance at all to do the work God sent me there to do. Everything about that was sad.

However, that said, had I let their opposition rob me of my joy in the Lord and divert me from the assignment the Lord had given, it would have been sinful toward God, suicidal toward my calling, and self-defeating toward the work of the church.

3. We must choose whether God’s will or the pleasure of the people is more valuable to us.

The typical pastor is by nature a people pleaser. When members of the congregation rave about his sermons and are excitedly telling the community how well the church is prospering, he feels affirmed. Likewise, when they criticize his sermons and spread their disaffection throughout the community, he tends to lose heart and grow discouraged.

There is no substitute for a pastor being such a man of prayer that he knows beyond a doubt the direction he is plotting for the church is from God. Without that, he will not be able to stand up under the onslaught of the naysayers.

4. In any church that moves forward, some people are always going to be dropping by the wayside, upset that they are not getting their way.

I asked a ministry leader whom I know well and respect highly to comment on my thesis here, that “Unless someone is not constantly mad at you all the time, you are no leader.” He said, You will hack off people if you are NOT leading or if you are. Either way, you are going to upset some. So, just choose which group you want on your team, the winners or the whiners.

5. Some of those who are the angriest and leave the soonest may be your best workers.

That is one of the hardest truths for a new pastor to absorb. He comes in to a church with the enthusiastic endorsement of the pastor search committee and counts on those leaders for their full support and involvement. A year later, if he has been a visionary leader, some of them cannot be found.

A few days ago, over lunch with a friend who had invited me to speak to his congregation, I said, “You came to this church three years ago. How is it different now from then?”

The first words out of his mouth told of members who had grown disaffected with him and had pulled out. Not all of those hurt the church when they left. One woman told him, “I know I got in the flesh there toward the end, but tough!”

The one that hurt the most, my friend said, was a man who had been a member of the search committee that found him and brought him to this church. As he made his exit from the church, the fellow told the pastor, “I know that we told you the church needs to change or it’s going to die. And I know we told you we would support you in making the changes.” He paused and said thoughtfully, “But I never thought those changes would affect me.”

6. The pastor who exercises true leadership is destined to find out all too quickly whether the Lord is sufficient for his needs.

Not every leader of a church, not every staffer or deacon or pastor, is a whole human with great mental health. Some of us are incomplete people, with gaping holes inside us which we seek to fill with significant people who will complete us and affirm us and help us be all we should be for the Lord.

That’s not all bad. In a perfect world, a church would supply those needs and fill those potholes in our psyches and all would be well.

But this is a fallen world.

Every member of every church is completely human. He Himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:14) All have sinned, none are righteous. Okay, we’re clear on that?

This means therefore that the spiritual leader will be standing in front of a group of needy people asking them to follow him in accomplishing God’s purpose on earth. That may mean 25 people forming a church in a poverty-stricken part of town. It may mean 2500 moving out to reach the world for Jesus. Or something in between.

By its very nature, spiritual leadership requires that the “man in front” of the crowd get his bearings from the Lord God. It requires that he know the way and conveys that way to other key leaders. And it requires that he not be dissuaded by those who have their own concept of what the way is or how best to reach it.

Either God calls pastors as leaders or He doesn’t.

How we decide that determines a thousand things about how we will follow his leadership.

10 thoughts on “How to Tell You’re No Leader

  1. I worked 14 years as a track maintenance foreman. Half of it as secular, the other half as a Christian. I found it harder to lead as a Christians. To be salt and a light I had my fair share of being back stabs. I got burnout. I went back to college; graduate, and asked for a letter of reference from my supervisor…I was surprise of the details description he mentions about me. Compliment and praise, almost two page. He described me as a man with vision and purpose. It brought me tears.

    As to be a leader in a congregation, I never had the experience….I spent most of my life seeking the truth. I grow up as a catholic. I blend in local congregation from different denominations. I am not interested to be a leader….tire of confrontation. My ministry…one on one to those of seek the truth. Sad because I lose that vision the excitement of sharing the word because of the constant confrontation. Bible study with friends is the only time I enjoyed. Now the group has broke up since most of them take part of a denomination that took no action toward their minister who commit adultery, left his wife and children and still minister. The members are silence about it. My wife who is a member of the committee of that congregation (she is salt and light) was condemned for speaking out. The world has turn up side down in many churches. She really got hurt. The pain came mostly from realizing who were her true friends in Christ. There was none. She has yet to decided to leave the church. When is it time to leave? Soon I hope.

  2. I heard James Emery White, pastor at Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina say, “Ministry is hazardous. Lead with care.” I think he is right.

  3. I most say, and it is rather sad to be named among those that are in the body of Christ, but the things that are listed are so common in many churches. I have experienced this first hand. I was appointed pastor of a church that I had gotten saved in. Being a younger man, probably younger than most in the congregation. I had a lot of hard battles, but I can truthfully say, that with much prayer, and my commitment to preach the word of God, I saw many victories. I am a witness that if God leads you to it, he will lead you through it. Great post

    • Anthony, thank you. After re-reading the article, I decided to repost it on Facebook, hoping the Lord might have a second use for it. Thanks, friend.

  4. Long ago, when I was a new student teacher, my supervising teacher told me that in the beginning I had to choose to be either my students’ friend or their leader – I could not be both. She also added that, as time passed, they might grow to like me a lot but that was not why I was there. A bit of wise role clarification, and a clear message that not everyone was going to like what I did (or me personally, for that matter) and that I would survive that if I remembered and kept focused on why I was there and what the real goal was. This was an unchanging truth throughout my long career in management and leadership – and one of the most difficult and surprising realizations for me was just how lonely that role could be at times. Rewarding, satisfying, enjoyable – yes, all those things – but by definition I stood alone in that spot. There was a definable boundary that (no matter how good the camaraderie with my group or my team) could not be ignored or crossed. I was the “other” and I could not expect it to be otherwise. Circling back around to your essay, I think the thing that resonated with me – that jumped out – was that a leader will never get the popular vote, will never be universally liked, will not necessarily be seen as a “good guy”… but that’s not the job description, nor is it the goal. I will never be a leader of a church, and my comparison is a very humble one – but in my own small way, I do lead: in my attitudes and words and actions. And I pray regularly that I would see that small leadership for what it is and should be, and that I would have the courage to not waver in what I know to be right – gently, and with love and patience, but unwavering. It’s a tough job, as leadership always is.

    • Thank you, Sharon. Those are profound observations and right on the mark. One line I keep telling pastors and congregations is that “God did not send the preacher to make the congregation happy. He sent him to make you holy and Himself happy. Big, big difference.” Thank you!

  5. I grew up in the church. I am fifth line generation minister in the family. Growing up under the wings of my father as the pastor of the church, I came to realize at a very young age I did not want God to call me as a missionary to some far off land that I would die of starvation, or with an arrow in my heart. I was so afraid that God had a shortage of missionaries and that He would call me to that. As I grew up I also began to see how my father was always having problems in the church. I saw how come in the congregation would not accept his authority as the pastor, how they would talk behind his back, how they mistreated him by not following his leadership. All this brought me to the point that I did not want to follow in his footsteps into the ministry. Was I wrong! I now have many years of experience in the ministry and at the present time am having one of the worst appointments in my entire ministry. Most, if not all, that you mention in your article I would have to give you a hand down because you have nailed it on the head. I pray every day for the return of Jesus Christ but I also realize that if He comes now, many will be lost and that is what I am here for now. To keep them from having an eternal life in hell. I now ask everyday for Wisdom to show His people the right way.
    May God continue to bless your ministry as we all hould be praying for each others as well.

    All this and much more

  6. As I was reading this I could see several churches where my husband had pastored. In fact one we were fired from because he was ministering to the “wrong” people. During our last year at that church 13 people were saved and baptized but only one was white. When we came to the church where we are serving now we had been here for about a year and then grumbling started and we lost quite a few members, large tithers, and Sunday School teachers. One night at a business meeting it all came to a head and on their way out the statement was made “just see how long you will last without our money” our response was we don’t want “your” money we want God’s will for His church and He will provide. We are still struggling in the ministry here but God has never failed to provide. We are still waiting for leaders to step up because most of the teachers are our family but we know that God is preparing people to step up and take ownership and become the leaders God wants them to be. All that to say that discouragement is always at the forefront especially when we are down to 45-50 members and no one is taking the initiative to change anything. They are all comfortable with the status quo. But, we will continue to be salt and light and let God continue to work in the hearts of the members and try to remember it is all in God’s time. Thank you for the article.

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