Question: What does it take to survive in today’s church leadership environment as culture moves away from Christianity and into a more pluralistic, post-modern environment?
Answer: More than it used to, and likely more than you think.
The good news is that you easily discover not only what it takes to survive in today’s leadership culture, you can discover what it takes to thrive.
After two decades in church leadership (with a few more to come…I hope!), here are ten things that leaders who are thriving these days almost always have in common and almost always have in abundance.
And, conversely, leaders who are missing most of these generally don’t survive in our changing culture.
The good news is you can thrive—not just survive—in today’s church culture if you pursue the right things.
Here are 10 things that I would put on the post-modern church leader’s survival checklist.
As you’ll see, few of them directly tie into the cultural shift happening before us as Western culture shifts away from Christianity. You can read more about that here or in even greater detail in my new book, Lasting Impact.
Instead, the checklist I offer here is tied to the personal strength and resilience a leader brings to their calling.
Why is the checklist so personally oriented?
When a movement becomes counter-cultural (as is increasingly the case with Christianity), it takes greater leadership skill and resolve to make an impact than it otherwise would.
In some ways, it’s like leading into a head-wind rather having the tail wind your predecessors may have enjoyed.
As a result, seeing results might take longer. Leadership is probably going to be harder. It’s certainly going to be more complex.
But it definitely will be worth it, and the potential for impact is huge.
With that in mind, here are 10 things church leaders need to thrive in our post-modern, post-Christian context:
1. A few great friends with whom you can be 100% honest
Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it much harder.
When you’re transitioning a church (and these days, we’re ALL transitioning churches because change is so rapid), it’s important you have a trustworthy few with whom you can be 100% honest.
You can’t publicly or even privately complain about the situation you’re facing with the people you’re leading. It’s bad leadership.
You do need a few people who understand your situation and who can empathize, pray with you and correct you (you’re not always right and your attitude needs adjusting from time to time).
In this respect, I usually find I connect best with peers who hold a similar position and responsibility in another city. They get what I’m struggling with, and I can play the same role for them.
2. Leaders who are one or two steps ahead
Having a few friends with whom you can be 100% honest is different than finding a few leaders who are one or two steps ahead of you.
The first group functions as friends and colleagues, the second as mentors.
You don’t have to piggy back your leadership on someone famous. Too many leaders hold out for that opportunity to be mentored by Andy Stanley or Perry Noble, and then decide they can’t settle for anything less.
Guess what? That will probably never happen. (It was also one of the reasons I started my leadership podcast, so you could be mentored by leaders like Andy, Perry and Craig Groeschel, even virtually. Best of all, it’s free).
But nothing is stopping you from finding a pastor or church leader who is just one or two steps ahead of you. Maybe you’re trying to break the 200 attendance barrier and he’s got a church of 300. Ask to go for lunch and come with great questions and an open notebook.
Maybe you’re looking to handle more volunteers than you’ve ever handled? Find the ministry leader who’s handling twice the number you are and ask her for lunch. You’ll learn a ton.
Mentors are closer than you think and more accessible than you think.
3. People who give you energy
This group isn’t necessarily people with whom you can be 100% honest. They’re not even mentors. It’s different.
This group is about people you personally find energizing.
I frequently ask ministry leaders, “When was the last time you went out for dinner with a couple who left you feeling completely energized and replenished?”
The blank looks and the looks of shock and disappointment on leaders’ faces tells the story.
We don’t do this nearly enough.
Ministry is giving. And because ministry is giving, it can be draining.
Your leadership is like a bank account. You can only give so much without becoming overdrawn. Be overdrawn long enough and you go bankrupt.
Go find some friends who energize you. Then hang out!
4. A bullet-proof devotional routine
You got into ministry because you love Jesus. But far too many leaders fall out of love with Christ while in ministry.
Why is that?
As Bill Hybels has famously pointed out, too often we let doing the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ within us.
The best way I know how to keep your passion for Christ fresh and alive is to develop a bullet-proof devotional routine.
By bullet-proof I mean it needs to work at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation, when you’re at your most stressed and when you’re at your most relaxed.
I outline mine here.
5. Exceptional clarity around how and when to say no
The enemy of great leadership is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.
The more successful you become, the more opportunity you will have. At first, your temptation is to say yes to everything. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for a crack at some things.
But saying yes to something good means you’ve likely said no to something potentially great.
Doing a few things extremely well always trumps doing many things adequately.
If you’re struggling with how to say no (and most of us are), here are some guidelines I use.
6. Regularly scheduled work-on-it time
The problem with most of our jobs is that they are largely reactive unless you decide they won’t be.
You can spend an entire day answering emails, responding to messages and attending meetings you didn’t call only to hit 6:00 p.m. and realize you didn’t move the mission forward one iota.
Long terms, this will kill your ministry.
Realize that in a post-Christian culture, momentum doesn’t come naturally.
The most effective leaders always budget significant blocks of time to work on their ministry, not just in it.
Here are 7 work-on-it things you should start budgeting more time for starting this week if you want to be effective.
7. A diversified learning menu
The challenge for many of us in church leadership is that we listen to the same voices over and over again.
You become a fan of a certain preacher, a certain theologian and you read and listen to only them.
I find I often learn the most from people who are least like me.
Sometimes the answers to your problem lie outside your discipline, not within it.
8. A great marriage or healthy personal life
It’s hard to lead well at work and at home. Usually one suffers at the expense of the other.
You either use your best energy at work and have none left for home.
Or you use all your energy on your personal life and have little left for work.
As a result, married leaders who excel at work often end up with a less than ideal family life, and single people who pour their heart into their ministry end up with a much reduced personal life. (I wrote about what I’ve learned in my marriage here.)
Neither is a great scenario.
If you pour the level of intentionality into your life that you pour into your leadership, you will have a better life.
9. A hobby that takes your mind off things
One of the challenges of leadership in ministry is that it requires both your mind and your heart. And the great leaders always throw their heart and mind fully into it.
Which means it can be hard to turn things off when it’s time to go home. Keep that up, and the result is burnout, something both Perry Noble and I experienced.
I talk to too many leaders who just can’t seem to turn it off.
Which is why having a hobby or something else that takes your mind off of work is one of the best things you can do.
What works? Anything that will take your mind off of your day job. That can be cycling, cooking, wood working, hiking, art, or watching a movie. Anything that gives your mind a break.
10. Enough financial margin
If there’s one thing the future will require, it’s more sacrifice.
This seems a bit tough in an era in which many church staff are underpaid and many are bi-vocational.
But developing financial margin is critical. Having no margin severely limits how you can respond to the opportunities in front of you.
I think more of this will be required in the future than in the past as church budgets struggle and as governments inevitably take away tax savings from churches and church staff.
The bottom line is this: the more margin you have, the more opportunities you can seize.
The less margin you have (as a person or as a church), the more those opportunities will pass you by.
What Do You See?
What’s becoming essential to you as a leader as times change?
Scroll down and leave a comment!