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Imagine sitting in the shambles of a church’s leadership team. At one time they were excited about the potential future of their church. Most of them were basically new to church leadership, but they had found it exhilarating and rewarding serving alongside their pastor. But now they are spearing each other with sharp words and hoping the ‘other side’ will fold their tents and leave. Most are destined to walk out of the door and leave this fellowship of believers in the dust of their past.

I have met with too many leadership teams at such moments. Ever wonder what brings leaders to the point of spewing venom and going home? Of being willing to walk away from those with whom they have ministered shoulder to shoulder? The answer is that this all too common problem in churches starts long before the cracks in the camaraderie even begin to form. This is the main reason, you have to think carefully about your expectations when developing your leadership system.

Why expectations? Aside from agenda harmony issues, in which members were recruited without concern whether or not they wanted to pursue the same vision as all the rest, expectations proactively address the landmines that can blow the tires of any leadership team over time. Three key landmines show up in almost every leadership split:

  1. Failing to notice that individual leaders, including the pastor, have stopped growing either spiritually or in leadership ability is the first landmine. Sometimes this is ignorance on purpose. It is possible to see when people are neglecting their walk with God and when they stop developing as leaders. Both of these failings can and do influence their ongoing effectiveness on the team. Lack of personal growth can operate as a conduit for envy, misunderstanding and anger towards other leaders displaying better skills or deeper spiritual insight. Satan exploits this lack of growth in a leader’s life at critical time of spiritual stress in the life of a church.
  2. Leaders setting out mandates for the congregation that they do not apply to themselves. They ask attenders to engage in evangelism, to give generously, to disciple new believers, or be at worship services regularly. But then they do not do stretch themselves to participate in these activities, suggesting that they view their role as the decision makers for the others but not integrated members of the congregation themselves. This creates disconnect between the leaders and those they believe they are serving. If others on the leadership team are participating, it either causes resentment or wonder at the spiritual health of those not joining in.
  3. The desire to be right over being reconciled. When conflict begins to creep into the team this landmine can show up. This landmine has implications well beyond team meetings. Leaders who do not decide to obey Jesus in loving one another put on display to the younger believers that what Jesus taught does not really work. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter. I have watched churches blow apart because of such blatant disobedience to Jesus.

As you might have noticed, these landmines follow a downward progression—the first can feed the second, leading to the third. So how do churches create healthy leadership culture and navigate around these landmines? Here are four key guidelines:

  • Live before God. God reigns! This should be obvious, but if you think about it, many leaders live as if the church is their personal sandbox. Maybe you do too. So schedule a regular check up on your leaders’ attitudes on God’s right to lead His church over our personal preferences. Ask: “Are we personally exhibiting growth in the fruit of the Spirit—and who sees it besides ourselves?” “Are people growing in faith under our leadership—and how do we know?” “Are people leaving the church feeling spiritually abused—and why?” How the leaders live before God always filters down to the rest of the congregation.
  • Set out clear expectations. What are leaders to do weekly, monthly, yearly to grow in their faith and leadership ability? Clarity happens when you define what is expected. Avoid unwritten rules. If you expect leaders to act in certain ways, say so plainly. This is a critical issue because it shapes the leadership culture. Do not hold back naming your expectations because if you do not put those expectations out up front, people will not know what they are being asked to sacrifice in order to lead. They need not only to be clear, but also respectful. Most leaders are not on staff and have families and full time jobs outside the church. Make sure your leadership expectations respect people’s family time and need for rest. Burnout is not just a result of spiritual or emotional neglect. It can be caused by expectations that guilt people into violating their appropriate time boundaries on a regular basis.
  • Be accountable to the expectations. The fastest way to undermine a potential leadership culture is to create a set of expectations that no one is planning to follow. Put loving accountability in place. Who will be the accountability point-person? How long will an out-of-step leader be given to comply with the expectations? Accountability includes gentle, but firm out-counseling for those leaders who consistently do not live out the leadership culture you are seeking to establish.
  • Pay attention. This is more than expecting people to be accountable. Paying attention means watching out for each other, shouldering each other’s burdens and catching another before he or she slips into spiritual indifference or drowns by being over their head in a leadership role. Failing to pay attention indicates spiritual sickness is at work among the leaders and will be tolerated. More damage has been done to leadership teams by indifference to what one sees in others and does not lovingly address than any other issue.

As you can see, developing a leadership system is more about people than positions. It includes how leaders continue to grow, how they relate together and support each other in love while leading the church to accomplish its calling in the community. Expectations are an integral part of developing a healthy team. Make sure to address this area of your system if you lack clear expectations. In doing so, you strengthen your church.