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The Indispensable Quality in Church Leadership

If I can pick up one new thought or have one truth reinforced when I read a book or attend a conference, I figure that the effort has been worthwhile.

There was a time when I wanted the entire workshop to be filled with new information but I gave up that dream a long time ago. The older one gets and the more one learns, the less likely he is to learn something completely new.

Now I get excited when I hear something that I already know that is stated in a new or memorable way. I attended such a workshop yesterday. There were two truths that I knew but they were reinforced in a new way.

The workshop was one that I mentioned in a “Heads Up” blog a few weeks ago. It featured Dean Kevin Martin, a consultant with the Episcopal Church in the United States. His whole workshop was excellent but here is the first of the two truths that he shared that gripped me afresh and made the entire workshop a great experience for me.

“The spiritual depth of a church will never exceed the spiritual depth of its leadership.”

I know it isn’t new. You have probably heard it before.

The thing is not that it is new.

It is that it is so vitally important!

The implications are incredible.


Nothing supercedes spiritual depth in a leader

Leaders in churches are chosen for a host of reasons.

Sometimes the choosing of leaders is a popularity contest. People vote for their friends or the most popular person in a congregation.

Sometimes leaders are leaders because they have always been there and no one knows how to get rid of them.

Sometimes people become leaders because they want that position of what they see as power and they campaign for the position.

Sometimes people become leaders because they are leaders in other settings and people think that they will make good leaders in the church.

There are a host of other reasons why people fit into a leadership role but there is one quality that should outweigh all others in choosing someone for a leadership role in the church.

The key question that must be asked is what is the spiritual depth of the person’s life?

Is that person a spiritual person? Is there a depth to that person’s walk with God? Is this person someone who has reached a measure of maturity in her Christian faith?

There are many other strengths that perspective leaders might bring to a position of leadership but none of them should ever supercede the depth of their walk with God.

If the spiritual depth of a church will never exceed the spiritual depth of its leaders, then the spiritual depth of the entire church is at stake in the leaders that are chosen.


Leaders need to make their own growth a priority

When asked who was the most difficult person to lead, John Maxwell said that it was himself. The reason why this is true is that we are often more willing to excuse our own faults than we are the faults of others.

As leaders, when it comes to spiritual growth, we can not let ourselves off the hook. There is too much hanging in the balance.

If the spiritual depth of the whole church depends on my spiritual growth as a leader, then that is a responsibility that I need to take seriously.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I am not saying that individual members of the church aren’t responsible for their own spiritual growth. I’m not saying that there will never be someone in the church who is more spiritually mature than the leaders.

What I am saying is that the spiritual depth of the church as a whole will not exceed the spiritual depth of the leaders.

In that sense the leaders need to take very seriously their own spiritual growth. They are setting the standard for everyone else so that how they live out their Christian example impacts the church as a whole.

Whether leaders are growing in their understanding of scripture, matters to the whole church.

Whether leaders are spending time with God each day, matters to the whole church.

Whether leaders are living out their faith in the work place, matters to the whole church.

Whether leaders are growing in their ability to serve, matters to the whole church.

The spiritual depth of a church will not exceed the spiritual depth of its leaders so the spiritual growth of the leaders may be the most important thing that happens in a church.


Helping each other grow

Our walk with God is personal but it is not meant to be private.

We need to be involved in each others lives if we are going to grow to the depth that God wants us to grow.

If I could live my life over and re-pastor (I’m not sure that that is a word but it conveys my meaning) the churches that I served, I would probably do a lot of things differently but high on my list of changes that I would make would be this.

I would establish an accountability structure in every leadership team with which I worked that would allow the leaders to share in each others spiritual growth.

No one can grow as much on her own as she can as part of a group.

Accountability is an absolute, essential part of spiritual growth into maturity.

We need other people helping us if we are going to become all that God wants us to become.

Therefore if the spiritual depth of the leaders is the most important aspect of church life, it is far too important to be left entirely in the hands of each individual leader.

Leaders need to be committed to the growth of every other member of their leadership team.


Spiritual depth not programs is the key to church health

The market is flooded with programs for every aspect of church life. There are programs for evangelism, for small groups, for worship, for vision setting and for everything else that one might think of in the life of a church.

There can be value in these programs but the danger is that people start to look at these programs as the solution to whatever is presently ailing their churches.

If the leaders decide that the church needs to reach out into the community, they go looking for a program that will show them how to do this effectively.

If the church decides that small groups is what is going to turn their church around, they go looking for a program that will help them develop small groups.

Whatever might be the need, there is a program that is going to solve it for them.

Frankly, there is a trail as long and wide  as a six-lane highway filled with programs that have been tried and failed in churches across Canada.

Programs without changed lives will never accomplished what the church hopes they will accomplish.


The ultimate goal of the church

For the past fifty years we have been told by the experts that numerical growth is the sign of a successful church.

As a friend so colorfully put it: “Hogwash!”

I thought that that was the perfect response to the whole idea that the goal of every church should be to put more seats in the pews.

The commission given by Jesus to his church was that they were to be a group of disciples who were making more disciples so that in turn those disciples could make even more disciples.

Being a disciple is all about growing in one’s walk with God.

Leaders in a church need to be disciples whose number one concern is becoming more of a disciple as they grow into spiritually mature followers of Jesus Christ.

Out of that spiritual depth they can then lead the church into a deeper level of spiritual depth and out of that spiritual depth will come a deeper commitment to worship, evangelism, community, and personal transformation.

The challenge for every individual leader in the church is to grow into maturity in Jesus Christ because no leader can lead a church into a deeper level of maturity than the leaders of that church possess.

If you are a leader in a local church, nothing is more important than your own personal walk with God. Everything else, however important it may seem, is secondary to that.

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