It was July 25th, 1993. The day after I had been installed at my first congregation in Berea Lutheran Church in Detroit, MI. I remember sitting behind my desk thinking “OK now I am pastor of this congregation. What do I do now?” It was obvious this congregation expected me to lead them back to their former glory days but, how? What does leadership from a 24-year old look like? My previous experiences in different organizations and groups made it clear that I was born with some leadership ability, but this was different. It became obvious quickly I need some additional skills and also some failures and successes. Leadership in my mind has three components.
Understanding my shortcomings as a leader, I spent four-years going through an intensive leadership development process. Learning how to lead with compassion. Developing the skills to manage a school and church staff. Understanding that a good leader identifies where God is leading his congregation and trusting God to get the congregation where He wants it to be in the end. This came with a lot of trial, error, and personal pain. George Barna said this about leadership.
“Leadership is the ability to put the plans into practice and to accomplish the specified objectives through the skillful management of people, time, and tangible resources. A good leader is one who is able to motivate people; one who is capable of making good decisions, even under pressure or in conditions of uncertainty; one who can guide people through actions as well as words.” How to Find Your Church, pp. 104-105.
2. Good Leaders are Developed with Experience.
Pete Seeger said, “Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t. Pete Seeger, folk singer, quoted in Rolling Stone.
A great natural born leader, Jed Clampett of the 1960’s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies once said, “Book learning only goes so fur.” You can read it, study it, and go to workshops, but at some point, you have to put all that learning into practice. And leadership rarely is as easy as it looks in the books. One factor that can mess up all that fancy book learning is, people. Each group of people are different. There is a better than average chance they will not respond as your test groups in the examples used. This is where experience guided by intelligence allows you to adapt. Leadership is about learning from past experiences how to lead your unique group.
3. Great Leaders are born with something that can’t be taught.
For years I believed that leaders where born, not taught. But over time I have softened that stance. I believe some aspects of leadership can be taught and you can raise up effective leaders through training. But leadership at the highest level contains other key components.
There is something deeper that top leaders have, that something extra. For example, I am a huge football fan. I was blessed to spend time in Wisconsin and watch the remarkable play of Brett Farve and then Aaron Rodgers. Then I moved to the Chicago area and got a chance to watch Jay Cutler quarterback the Chicago Bears. All those players named above have the physical ability to play quarterback in the NFL at a very high level. But Farve and Rodgers have that something extra that made them potential Hall of Fame players. Great leaders have that something extra. They have intangibles that can’t be taught, it is just instinctive. Some leaders know just when to take risks others would shy away from. Those leaders know how to say just the right words in the midst of crisis. I would say they are maybe more in tune with God, maybe it is the spiritual gift of discernment. Whatever it is you recognize it when you are around those kinds of leaders.
No matter where you are in life you can be a better leader. You can take the time to get training on leadership skills or find a coach to help develop your God-given skills. And you have experiences that if you take time to process past mistakes and dissect why certain things went well, those events could prove invaluable. I will leave you with this quote, “A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”–M. D. Arnold
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