I spend a great deal of time leading, reading about leadership, training people to lead, and looking for ways to improve my own leadership. The majority of all of this is around leadership for the church. The church is filled with people who have experienced grace and intentionally seek to forgive each others’ wrongs.
Because of who we are, we often put up with behavior that should never be tolerated. So, along the way, I’ve picked up on a few ways that church leadership can go horribly wrong. Here are ten ways to be a bad church leader.
1. Use people’s self-deprecating humor against them. When people try to diffuse tension in the modern church, we often turn the ills of the room against ourselves. The bad church leader seizes upon it and ratchets up the guilt. Effective church leaders encourage people to believe in God’s work within them.
2. Adopt every new methodology. Whatever they just read, saw, or heard at a conference is what a bad church leader implements. They do not filter these methodologies through any local missiological grid but assume if it worked for that megachurch pastor/author/speaker then it will work for them. Effective church leaders look to what is effectively being done and learn the principles. As it is needful and effective in their local context, they lead the church to adopt specific methods.
3. Make every ministry activity equal to each other. The quilting club, accountability groups, missions committee, and evangelism training are not equal. Make any list of ministries you wish for your church and it will hold true. Some ministries are more important because of the size of their effect on the eternal destiny of people. Bad leaders, in fear of offending anyone, treat them all the same because they are all done “for the Lord.” It should be true that we do everything for Jesus but not all ministries are created equal. Effective leaders will help believers know where to invest the majority of their efforts.
4. Spin all news to make negative realities appear positive. When the circumstances are dire, bad church leaders fear for their own safety. Rather than helping the church understand the realties of the day, these leaders spin the truth in such a way that they can become the hero. Effective church leaders do not fear the truth. They embrace it, present it, and show the way forward.
5. Speak exclusively from the platform. Bad church leaders exclusively use the “bully pulpit” and refuse to have personal conversations. The behavior is justified with ideas like “I need to lead from the front” and “God sent me here to share His vision with you.” Effective church leaders get relationally connected to the congregation. Chit-chatting and coffee meetings are the norm. Rather than being an evangelical guru living in a cave (pastor’s study), they live as a missionary among the people.
6. Just hit repeat for every worship service template. The worship service should have a predictable outcome: life transformation because of the declaration of the gospel. Bad church leaders get stuck in an order of service that becomes the goal of appeasing people’s preferences for style. Effective church leaders use the theme of God’s Word being presented and build an order of worship that will serve the presentation of that truth.
7. Avoid the broken among the flock. Bad leaders justify their existence by spending time only with the well-adjusted influencers of the church. If you pastor a church, then pastor the church. The whole church. Effective leaders look for the broken-hearted and the jacked-up members of the community. They run after those people so they can be ushered to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb of the Savior.
8. Substitute opinion for the Bible’s infallible truth. The Bible is beautiful and hard. Bad church leaders find it easier to have a message and then prooftext a passage to it. It is part of the Dr. Phil-ization of the modern church. Effective church leaders take the Bible for what it says and apply it to everyone; including themselves.
9. Make decision-making difficult. In order to retain as much power as possible, bad church leaders create convoluted paths for making decisions. Paralyzed by the idea of making a bad decision, they often delay the process until no options are left. Unwittingly, their procedure bolsters every status quo. Effective church leaders tackle opportunities and problems head-on. They have a bent toward acting rather than delay.
10. Operate in fear of a vocal minority. The minority that opposes everything is loud. Bad church leaders give in to their whims. Why? Often because they are trying to stay employed. Effective church leaders learn how both persuade them to come along with the vision for the church and navigate the church body around them when they refuse.
Church leadership is not for the faint of heart and it is not for the unprepared. It takes discipline and desire. As you lead in your church setting, guard your heart against pride and guard your flock against deception. Ultimately, find every way to use every method to show them everything about Jesus.