We are all called to be leaders. Be it in the private sphere, professional sphere, academic sphere, or religious sphere, we have all at some point been required to step up and lead.For pastors, being a leader can be a tricky role to understand and apply. The grandeur of working for the kingdom, the external and internal pressures of being a religious leader, and the need to pass it on to the next generation can be overwhelming. In this episode of ANN InDepth, Pastor Ivan Williams, the Director of the Ministerial Association for the North American Division of the Adventist Church, and Benjamin Lundquist, a motivational speaker and leadership consultant, come together to discuss how to be a great leader.
When asked the best ways to support leaders, Williams answers ”by providing resources for them by encouraging them and making them multipliers, encouraging them to be coaches and mentors themselves. I think that's the whole discipleship process of passing it on. Leaders who keep leadership to themselves for themselves and by themselves hinder the process of mission.” Here exposes the heart of leadership. Leadership is ever evolving and cannot be confined to a singular formulaic approach. It requires constant learning and growth; when leaders become stagnant, they cease to be effective. Both Williams and Lundquist confirm that “the best leaders are lifelong students”.
Being a “lifelong student” not only benefits the community, but has personal benefits. Indeed, leadership starts on a personal level. Lundquist elaborates, “if we want our churches to become centers of influence who develop disciples and develop leaders, we have to have that vision for us personally, that we are always going to be growing and developing so we can challenge the people we work with.” In his statement, Lundquist reveals another necessary tool in combating stagnation as a leader. Leadership requires confronting the fear of being challenged. Surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us to grow, also means embracing the desire to challenge the status quo. If we fear rocking the boat, upsetting those who are attached to tradition, then we are not serving them as leaders. As Christian leaders, it is our responsibility to redirect attention to Christ. When tradition and comfortable structures are revered more than the God they claim to celebrate, then adjustments must be made. Having trustworthy people who will help challenge, guide, and lovingly correct are crucial.
Yet when it comes to finding these individuals, they must be chosen with the awareness of our own failings. Leadership must come with self awareness. When leaders are aware of their own leadership journey, flaws and all, they can move forward with clarity as well as surrendering faith. It is the missionaries, the pastors, the elders, the believers in their personal sphere who must set the tone for the environment they lead. Taking responsibility for growth is a major step in how to become, not just an effective leader, but a great one. Therefore, having people who will love, care, and correct us in our blindspots, protects from the belief that we are without need for growing guidance.
A discussion on leadership inevitably involves the empowerment of the younger generation. How did Jesus develop leaders? By providing clarity and guidance. Regardless of age, people often will substitute leadership with a title, when in reality, said title is never backed by actual action or responsibility. This is a problem being repeated in the church. When it comes to placing young people in leadership roles we place their leadership over the cognitive horizon, preparing them for future leadership rather than recognizing that they are leaders in the here and now. Williams confirms, “one of the things that I have seen that hinders the transmission of next-gen leadership and one of the things that hinders the multiplying or the discipleship process is including young people, but the place or space not being safe for them.” Rather than giving young people theoretical authority, but no control or leadership, provide clarity and genuine responsibility that show them their voices are heard and entrusted in the present.
When thinking of leadership, it may seem like a natural facet of character that is either there, or it's not. This could not be further from the truth. Both Williams and Lundquist recognize that leadership is learned. Through trial and error, we learn how leadership is meant to exist for the individual and unlearn secular standards. Get outside of the belief that identity is found in perfect leadership and recognize that our identity is found and sustained in Christ alone. Leaders at the end of the day are flawed people, trying their best to bring the collective to where they need to be. In this way, rather than laying judgement on them, be the support and answer they need to thrive. If you are unwilling to be the leader, be the community around her or him that allows for growth to be done and to solve whatever need that is present.