The Position From Which You Lead
Herm Edwards is a former NFL coach. Now, as part of the ESPN analyst team, he makes regular appearances on radio and television to discuss the status of wins, losses, and player performances. However, what I enjoy most about him is the insight he has on coaching. It is apparent by listening to Edwards that leading professional football players is a difficult task but one that he thoroughly enjoyed.
On a recent Mike and Mike appearance, Edwards was describing the current woes of the Miami Dolphins. The last couple of years have been disastrous for the organization so they have made changes in player personnel, coaching staff, and the front office. As always, Edwards had a quick way to summarize the differences in leadership style. He said,
You either lead from your seat or you lead from your feet.
I expected him to make a serious judgment for one against the other. Instead, he simply stated that both can work but he always preferred leading from his feet. The image is clear and I think worthy of consideration for church leaders.
Leading from your seat means using the power of the office. It is allowing the role that defines your place in the church to carry the authority. I think it is real and true. The role of pastor carries positional power to some extent. By virtue of sitting in that seat (or carrying that title), you have authority that is not afforded to others. As the person with a title, people will default to allowing you a spectrum of authority ranging from decision-making or giving you a hearing.
Leading from you feet means using relational influence. It requires that you get up and get out among those you lead. By doing so, you rub shoulders with people in their joys and their sorrows. The influence you have with people is based out of the relationship stock that you build with them. As a proverbial “man of the people,” others will allow you to lead because they feel a kinship with you as one who lives like they do.
In ministry, both are needed. As pastors, we need to understand the power of the office to which we have been called. It is not something to toss aside as an organizational function. It is a real calling that is clearly displayed in the Scriptures. The role of pastor has responsibility that you must take seriously. It has a weight to it that church members recognize and we must treat carefully. If abused, it can be wielded like a dictator demanding a command-and-control environment. When treated with respect, as pastors we freely acknowledge with the church family that filling the role is a serious matter that we joyfully respect.
Leading from our feet carries similar characteristics. Those pastors more comfortable at the proverbial desk must not allow a penchant for study or introversion to become excuses for avoiding the flock. We are called to be a shepherd among the people. But, abuses can happen here as well. It happens when we stop leading forward for the sake of never upsetting those around us. Rubbing shoulders with people carries the temptation to do nothing but maintaining a status quo of mediocrity that keeps everyone marginally happy. Staying on our feet should also position us to see the way ahead and know-how to navigate people toward the mission laid out for them.
It is likely that every leader has a preference and a penchant to one side of the leadership equation. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to know yourself and know your church. If friction exists, it could be due to unmatched styles of leadership and membership. It could also mean that we must master both postures of leadership in order to navigate different seasons of ministry. Regardless of the times, seasons, and people involved, set aside time to pray for God’s wisdom as you lead His church into His mission.