With only a few more days left in this ministry role, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on some leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past 2+ years as a Church Planting Catalyst. Denominational work in Baptist life is unique. Southern Baptists are not hierarchical—we are a cooperating fellowship of fully autonomous churches. I like to say that one of the reasons we’re Baptists is we just don’t like people telling us what to do. Add to that the fiercely independent nature of West Virginians (our state motto is Montani Semper Liberi—Mountaineers are Always Free), and you can see that cat herding might be an easier calling than leading West Virginia Southern Baptists! Being a CPC has been one of the most challenging and rewarding ministry roles I’ve ever had. It has stretched me and developed me as a leader in ways that I could not have anticipated. That being said, here are the top ten leadership lessons I have learned:
You don’t have to have positional authority to lead
Within the hierarchy of a non-hierarchical organization, CPCs rank somewhere between pond scum and really likeable pond scum—in other words, it isn’t a title that automatically engenders awe and deference. But real leadership doesn’t depend on position and titles. Real leadership is influence, and influence can only happen in the course of developing real relationships.
Ministry—no matter the position—is difficult
Ministry is about dealing with people. Sometimes it’s about dealing with hurting people and sometimes it’s about dealing with hurtful people. In my dealings with West Virginia churches, pastors and ministry leaders, I have worked with many hurting people and a few hurtful people. Some churches hurt pastors, some pastors hurt churches. They all need the same thing that I do—the hope that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Viewing everybody through that lens helps.
Calling is essential
One of my primary jobs as a CPC was to help potential church planters discern their calling from God. As part of that process, I made a habit of asking them if they could possibly do anything else besides plant a church. If they said they could, I told them to do it. Because if you can do anything else, you’re probably not called by God to plant a church. The ministry—whether pastor, missionary, church planter or CPC—is not simply a job. It must be a calling from God, for it is the assurance of that calling that will allow you to persevere even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Leading up is challenging, but necessary
Nobody worth their salt likes a yes-man. Yes-men are terribly toxic for any organization, but it takes tact and thoughtfulness to disagree agreeably. In order for an opinion to be valued, it has to be valuable. To be valuable, it must be competent. And as was stated in Lesson #1, influence can only happen where there is real relationship. Relationships are built on trust and leaders will be influenced by competent, trustworthy followers.
Discernment is vital
Being perceived as having something somebody wants can be a precarious position. If an unscrupulous potential planter sees you as the key to “his” funding, he can be tempted to say anything to win you over. Fortunately, God gave the discernment to immediately recognize those guys and send them on their way. The same kind of thing can happen in the local church with what I like to call "Klingons". Klingons are those folks who "cling on" to the pastor to "warn" him of what all the "other" people are saying and doing. One of my regular prayers is for God to bless me with wisdom and discernment. The Lord answering that prayer is the filter that is required to be a good leader.
It is possible to build an airplane while it is in the air
When I became a CPC, it was a brand new position. Church planting in West Virginia was certainly not a new thing, but those positions were. With very little guidance, our team had to figure out how we were going to relate to the churches and the associations. We had to develop training programs for planters and churches from the ground up. We literally started from scratch—here’s your car and your cell phone, go forth and multiply church plants. I learned very quickly that you can’t wait until the process is perfect before you get started accomplishing the mission. Part of the faith aspect of ministry is stepping out of the boat without really knowing what the next step is. Just continually look to Jesus and keep stepping.
Even your harshest critics can be likeable over a piece of pie
Have you ever noticed how many times the Gospels tell us that Jesus ate with people? I added some more extra weight as a CPC, but it has been worth it—no matter what the doctor says. It is really difficult for people to have adversarial attitudes toward each other when pie and ice cream is involved. It all goes back to relationships. You may not ever agree with each other, but the stories shared over desert somehow cut through the tension and give you something to build on.
It’s easy to miss blind spots.
A long ministry in one place is a wonderful ideal to strive for. I would love to have the blessing of shepherding generations of people in the same place. But, as with any blessing, there is a potential pitfall to being in one place for an extended period of time. My grandparents lived by the train tracks most of their adult life. They never even heard or felt the train when it went past. In the same way, our senses can become numb to deterioration in our ministries. Whether it’s poor signage in the parking lot or clutter in the hallway—or something far more serious and detrimental—it’s easy to overlook the obvious when we’re numb to it. The only way to open your eyes to it is to look at things through someone else’s eyes. Be open to those around you and don’t be threatened by their new ideas and suggestions. That’s one of the reasons I love working with millennials. They keep me fresh and open up my eyes to my blind spots.
It’s easier to use reins than spurs
Another reason I love working with church planters is that they are continually running wide-open. I often describe them like a fighter jet with tons of thrust but little vector. But isn't that so much better than the alternative? I know I'm mixing metaphors here, but any football coach knows you can’t coach speed. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to disciple a person out of their apathy. But when a person is energetic and excited, he is easy and fun to disciple and train. I would rather somebody make a mistake or two going full-throttle than miss a dozen opportunities because he refused to get out off the runway.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31)
I am a strategic thinker. To me, the only thing wrong with a 5-year plan is that it isn’t a 10-year plan. I love to look at things from 30,000 feet and strategize and develop plans and cast vision. In many ways, I think that’s what God built me to do. But in the end, it’s not my meticulous planning or bold visioning that will accomplish anything for the Kingdom. Because the victory belongs to the Lord. Yes, we are called to plan and strategize—we’re just not supposed to trust in it. No matter what happens, no matter where we go or what we’re allowed to see accomplished, we trust in the Lord. And that’s the greatest leadership lesson of all.