Top 10 Tips on Being a Leader in Your Congregation

Last spring I took some of the leaders in our church to a conference at a well-known church in the Chicago area to work on our children’s ministry vision and direction. One of the most-attended learning modules was on the subject of leadership. As we sat and watched we learned that one of the speakers had even given advice to P. Diddy, aka Puff Daddy, aka Sean Combs, on how to lead his recording label. A guy with so many names may have needed the leadership advice. The consultant guy even made it into a segment of Diddy’s reality show at the time.

After fifteen years serving in ministry, I know one thing. Diddy wouldn’t stand a chance in a church board meeting. I have a couple boards that would munch his lunch pretty quickly. If you are like me, you have had to stand in front of a board and try to get people to buy in to what you know is a great idea. Everyone has had the experience of working with a “Cleatus Kookem,” the Korean war vet and charter member who thinks it’s his job to stop the youth like he stopped the Communists back in the war. No one seems to know how or why Cleatus became the head of the “Board of Education” either.

We have all faced tough leadership situations. There are a ton of resources on developing visions and developing your leadership style on a large scale, all written by people much greater than me. How about some tips on the small scale? Here are ten suggestions that may help you lead in your congregations.

1. Examine your motives.

The goal of a disciplined spiritual leader is to lead people according to God’s will. It will be impossible for you to seek leadership in any capacity if you are not seeking God’s will in prayer and through the study and meditation of God’s word. On this point there are simply no shortcuts. Walk through any part of the Bible. God blesses those who seek Him. People in the Bible who don’t follow God’s will find themselves dodging God’s wrath rather than finding His blessing.

2. Concentrate on things that are under your control, rather than getting frustrated about things you can’t control.

Recently I visited a rural church close to where I live. The Youth Board was very frustrated with their pastor, that he did not make youth a priority when it came to budgets, the youth gathering or anything else. They opened the meeting with a two hour diatribe on everything that was wrong with the guy. I listened closely, and by all accounts he did seem like a micromanaging knucklehead. I was probably a little too blunt when at the end of the rant I just asked plainly, “Why does it matter what he thinks?” The group had become so concerned over the pastor’s attitude and their perceived value as a ministry that they had forgotten to minister to their kids. They were seeking approval they weren’t going to get.

What they forgot was that any Christian can minister to another at any time. They didn’t need approval from anyone. What they could do was start a small group Bible study and get together for various events. They even went on to do a few fundraisers that helped them get to a youth conference. They concentrated on what they could affect. They started ministry, trusted in God and God provided. They are happier, and kids hear about Jesus and are maturing in the faith. As for that pastor? I talked to him two months ago. He is still a knucklehead.

3. Choose to be positive over negative.

Next time you get fired up about something and have a rant, take notice of a couple things. When you are done, you still have the same problem you started with. You don’t feel any better, maybe you feel worse. Thirdly, fewer people want to hang around you. The plain and simple thing is that people are attracted to a positive vision. If you want to lead a group towards a goal, spend time talking about the strengths of your people and the positive possibilities that exist and less time on the problems you face. We are not talking about being trite and ignoring your problems. But what kind of message and vision can people capture from you if all they ever hear about are the negative things? If you believe and portray that your problems are insurmountable and too big for God to handle, the people you are trying to lead will think so too.

4. Spend time with adults.

Many youth leaders I talk to spend as much time with their kids as possible. I don’t blame them. I didn’t get into the ministry for board meetings; I hate meetings passionately. The fact is, though, that you have to connect with people who can forward the vision and goals of the ministry. To grow in youth ministry, the folks who make the decisions have to know what you’re up to and trust you with their kids. If you want people to spend time helping you with your stuff, then make sure you invest a bit of time helping them with what they think is important. When a board or committee understands that you care about more than just your corner of the ministry, they will spend more time helping you with yours.

5. Wear a tie.

A lesson I learned the hard way. When I have to share a hard truth, or convince a board to hire a new position, or go ask for a big chunk of cash, I can’t do it in the t-shirt I am wearing now (which says “Dork” across it, by the way.) Want to be taken seriously? Out-dress the people you are meeting with. Even if you are in a very relaxed congregation, wear a tie or nice dress or slacks from time to time. To an older generation it says that you care about the church, and they are not throwing away money on your salary or your budget. Those same older folks are the ones donating the biggest chunk of jing to the ministry.

6. Give a nod to the past.

Recently we switched the church vision at my church to a multi-site vision, which means part of our congregation will worship in different venues across the city. As you can imagine, people freaked out at first. The staff got angry letters and emails and people stopped by my office to yell at me. One of the things we did was help different focus groups within our church take a quick walk through the history of our church. Thirty-five years ago our church was started by a group of folks who met in a storefront not far from where we are now. We asked them what gave them the passion to reach out and take a risk and start our church. They realized it was the same motivation our younger generation has for multi-site ministry. It doesn’t hurt to study the history of your church and seek out those charter members and say thank you. You may find they will be thrilled with your new ideas because you care about what they invested the majority of their adult life working on.

7. Sell ideas individually rather than to a group.

When you are trying to get a group to think outside the box, people tend to react to the part of the idea that makes them fearful. Groups of fearful people feed each other when they are together. This is how committee meetings turn into lynch mobs. If you want to increase the chance an idea will pass, meet with each member of a group individually. It is hard work and takes awhile, but two things happen. People feel good about you soliciting their input–it makes them feel valued. You get to deal with people’s fears individually and keep the mood calm. Here is a good rule of thumb: if you don’t know exactly how a committee vote will come out before the meeting starts, then you have not done enough legwork.

8. Do your homework.

You should know the answers to any question that can be asked before a meeting begins for many reasons. Most importantly it saves time. Here is a real life situation. I want to add $500 to my VBS budget. I meet with my board and they ask me what I am going to spend the money on. I am not sure because my volunteer just asked me for it, so I tell them I don’t know. They tell me to go find out and table the agenda item. If they only meet once per month, then I have to wait a month before that question can be answered. I have also left the impression that I don’t know where the money is being spent, which hurts me in the future.

Try role playing with someone who won’t sugar coat things for you. Present your item and tell them to ask you all the questions they can think of. Get all of the answers to those questions and bring them with you to the meeting. The more homework you do, the less questions you will get in the future. When I go into a meeting, I have enough ammo to mow any question down. Doing your homework upfront takes less time than bringing an agenda item back to the same meeting for three months.

9. Deal proactively with CAVE people.

I recently met with the former mayor of a small town in my home state, and he used the term “CAVE” people which stands for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. Our group of DCEs died laughing. We all have our knuckleheads that would vote against having Jesus Himself over for a potluck because it might result in a stain on the new carpet. There are some people who just love to be miserable. Try these things with them.

In the recent past I had an area that I needed to repaint. The truth is that I couldn’t have cared less about the color. Since I knew that there was no way the decision could go the “wrong” way, I asked my CAVE person to make it. He felt valued, and it got him off my case for a few months. He even painted the room for me. Think about your ministry and identify a decision that needs to be made where the outcome doesn’t matter to you. Give the decision to them. Some CAVE people are the way they are because they feel under-utilized.

Some CAVE people are bullies. A bully is disarmed when someone stands up to them. Be civil, be holy, but don’t be afraid to use a feeling statement with them, especially if they took a shot at you in a public forum. Be sure not to zing them back because that is just sinking to their level. Use statements like “Wow, Doug, when you put it that way it makes me think that you don’t care about the amount of time I spent working on this. It frustrates me that you have made your judgment before you have even heard the whole idea.” A statement like this usually is what half the people in the room are thinking, but are afraid to speak up. Ninety percent of the time, people will line up to defend you, and bullies hate it when someone stands up to them. They usually will never do it again. If you cant stand up to your bully, talk to someone who can do it for you. Tell them to attend a meeting you are likely to get shot at, and let them help you.

10. Be ready for the commitment and consequences of leadership.

Three verses any Christian leader should concentrate on are these, all from Jesus Himself:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34

Jesus doesn’t ask for part of your life, He asks for all of it. This goes for volunteer and professional alike.

All men will hate you because of me. Luke 21:17

True biblical leadership that leads people toward the gospel doesn’t lead to popularity. Unfortunately too many people desire leadership for this reason, or because they think it will lead them to fame or power.

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. John 21:18

These are Jesus’ words to Peter essentially promising him that his service to the church would cost him his life.

So why is it worth it in the light of the risks Jesus Himself outlined? How would you like to lay your head on the pillow at night knowing that your actions combined with the power of the Holy Spirit will ripple across the kingdom resulting in people spending an eternity with their Creator? No other job, professional or volunteer, has the same stunningly important eternal purpose. The risks are more than worth the rewards. 

About the author

Scotte is a DCE at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Omaha. Scotte has a passion for his family, and sharing his goofy sense of humor speaking with groups of kids and adults.
View more from Scotte

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