Throwback – Dr. Timothy Tennent: 4 Tips for Effective Christian Leadership
This article was originally published in the March 2020 edition of the Link. Enjoy!
The call to be a pastor is also the call to be a leader. The pastoral call to leadership has many unique features which are unlike many other positions of leadership. For example, many of you will work extensively with volunteers, as opposed to paid employees. Even a church with a large staff cannot rely upon the formal, paid staff to do the extensive ministries which flow out of a large church. Churches do not produce “widgets” which we sell for a profit. A church is involved in eternal work and many of the rewards are not fully known or seen until the Eschaton.
Let me share a few tips I have learned over the years which some of you may find helpful. When I was a pastor, and even now at Asbury, I use a number of little phrases with my senior leadership team which are easy to remember and which help to remind us how we are to lead. Let me share a few of these with you (if you find any of them helpful, feel free to use them).
Bad News is Good News
The purpose of this saying is to underscore the importance of leaders not becoming insulated from problems in the ministry. If the person overseeing the childcare in your church cannot tell you, “Pastor, things are getting to near disaster with our childcare. Our volunteers don’t show up when they say they will, parents will stay after service and talk with their friends for an hour and not pick their own children up,” etc., then we cannot achieve excellence as a ministry. As a pastor you need to be among the FIRST to hear about any problems. If your staff can only tell you some version of “everything’s wonderful,” then your ministry will suffer. For a leader, any word of bad news is good news, because we now can address the problem or put into place a strategy to turn things around.
Push Back, not Shove Back
When you are in a staff meeting or working with volunteers who are part of a ministry, people will inevitably suggest new ideas or potential ministries the church can be involved in. Churches have to learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” The challenge is that in order to make a good decision, you need people to have the freedom to raise objections and point out the pros and cons of a particular action. However, you need to create an atmosphere where people can lovingly and graciously raise concerns without making the person who suggested the idea feel like they are being personally criticized, shown to be short-sighted, or even made to feel stupid. The first part of the phrase, “push back,” is the standing invitation that in any discussion anyone can push back by raising objections, which play an important role in good decision making. The second part of the phrase, “not shove back,” is the reminder that when we do raise questions or concerns, we must do it with gentleness and respect and never as an act of verbally shoving someone. I had a dear man in one of my churches who didn’t really know how to object to something without shoving someone else emotionally. I had to work with him for years to help him become more sensitive to others. But, the more common danger is a church where no one is allowed to raise objections and whatever idea is mentioned ends up being accepted without proper evaluation.
Autopsy without Blame
Sometimes even well-intentioned initiatives by churches do not go well. There are times when time and resources are invested in a new initiative and the whole thing comes crashing down in flames. When this happens, it is easy to do the Christian version of “I told you so” to Brother Sam or Sister Suzie who first initiated the idea. Many pastors don’t allow any analysis of a failed project for fear of precisely this kind of public shaming. But, if you cannot understand why this or that ministry initiative failed, you will inevitably repeat the failure over and over again. This is where the phrase, “Autopsy without blame,” comes in. It means that we have permission in our church culture to dissect what went wrong—do a spiritual and organizational autopsy—yet not for the purpose of finding someone to blame, but rather to better understand what went wrong. This helps a church continue to improve.
Hitting both Balls
I view decision making through the lens of baseball. If you are a leader, you are, symbolically speaking, standing at the plate with your bat raised, ready to hit the “ball.” The ball here is the decision. You want to hit the ball and hopefully, make a run—even a home run—with the decision. The problem we have in leadership, however, is that we sometimes forget that whenever a decision needs to be made, it is not a single ball which is pitched to us. There are always two balls. The first ball is the decision. Making the right decision is really important. But, the second ball is the process through which you reach that decision, as well as the process by which the decision is disseminated to those in your congregation (or those most affected by the decision). It is just as important to get the process right as it is to get the decision right. Many leaders will hit a grand slam on the decision, but then strike out on how that decision is processed or how the decision was reached in the first place
These are just a few of almost a dozen simple phrases I use in leading. If you found these helpful, let us know, and we can share more of them. May the Lord bless and guide each of you as you seek to lead the flock God has given to you. Know that we are praying for you and thanking God for you every day.