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Hard Won Lessons on Leadership – Part One

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Here’s my litmus test for a Christian leader; would the people you lead, follow you if they didn’t have to?

And, I’m not just talking about ministry leaders. Would your children, your wife, the people who are under your care, or those under your authority at work, would they follow you even if the Bible didn’t command them to do so, or they weren’t worried about their paycheck?

In the military, soldiers must follow their leaders or they’ll be jailed or shot. In a corporation, it’s called insubordination, an offense that could get you fired. But, what if they didn’t fear you, the law or the loss of a job? Would the people who God has put under your care, follow you even if they didn’t have to? What does it take to be that kind of leader?

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For the next few weeks, my blogs will address the character qualities and best practices of good Christian leaders. But, today let’s examine the one characteristic every leader must possess to be truly admired by both God and man.


A decade ago, the Senior Pastor of my church, Calvary Church, Ed Dobson found out he had a degenerative disease of the nervous system similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease. As time passed his doctors advised him to avoid stressful situations to conserve his strength.

One day, I received a call from Ed. He had a proposition for me. “Clare, I love to preach, do weddings and funerals. They actually energize me. But, the work running of the church and setting the course for the staff, even with an excellent Executive Pastor is stressful to me. So, I’ve asked the elders for permission to ask you to move into my office and take that responsibility off my shoulders. Would you please pray about doing that?”

Obviously, I was honored. But “pastoring” a church of 5,000 people was a huge job – one that required serious prayer and discussion with my wife, but eventually I said, “yes”. However, I was unprepared for the reaction of the staff.

There had always been some tension between the elders, of which I was one at the time and the staff. Some elders and deacons had micro-managed the staff in the past and now their pastor had one of us to officially micro-manage them! Others were very skeptical that a layman could handle the job. Still, others were simply afraid of change. But, within a month, I knew I had a crisis’ of confidence on my hands. So, the first week in July I asked all the staff, then almost 60 people, to assemble in our chapel.

Confidence “I understand many of you have some serious misgivings about this decision. I don’t blame you. I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. And, I’m not asking you to have confidence in me. That would be unfair of me. You can’t will yourself to have confidence in anyone. It’s my job to win your confidence. In fact, the first task of any leader in any organization is to win the confidence of those he, or she leads.

The room was quiet as I let those words sink in.

One brave soul raised his hand and asked, “How do you plan to win our confidence?” “I don’t exactly know yet,” was my honest reply. “But, I know enough about leadership to know that is my number #1 responsibility. But, here’s what I am asking of you. Please give me 90 days. At the end of 90 days, I’ll ask the pastoral staff to take a confidential vote. Unless 75% of them want me to stay on, I’ll resign the next day.”

(On Thursday of this week, I’ll share the first few steps God inspired me to take to begin the process of winning their confidence.)

God blessed our church with an amazing staff and within weeks we were beginning to make progress on substantive changes. At the end of the trial period, I was asked by more than 75% of the pastor/staff to stay on indefinitely. I did so, only until we completely restructured how the Board and Staff worked together and then turned my job over to a man of the staff’s own choosing and one who had both the elders and Pastor’s blessing.

I’ve not always succeeded in winning the confidence of every group I’ve every led, but I do know that without it, no leader can effectively lead. Oh, a leader can also motivate others using fear, greed or hype, but to lead without manipulation requires virtue. People have to trust you and respect you. Where do Christian leaders learn that? They learn it from scripture. They study how Moses, Joshua, David and above all, Jesus led. They study Proverbs to learn what the Bible calls “the wisdom of righteousness”. Luke 1:17

Without faith, no one can please God. But, without godly wisdom that instills confidence, no Christian leader can be effective.

Do your wife and children trust you to lead them? I know the Bible commands them to do so, but godly men or women don’t lead by lording that command over others. Does your family know you love God and them, more than you love yourself? Does your character inspire others to follow, even if they are unsure exactly where you’re leading them? That’s true Christian leadership!

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” I Peter 5:2-3

Question: Can you think of a more important character trait for a leader than inspiring confidence in those he or she leads?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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