“Congratulations, you have been given a conditional green light to plant a church.”
These were the words coming from the mouth of a church planting assessor who was giving me the conclusion of a three day church planting assessment that my wife and I had just taken. “Why ‘conditional’?” I asked. “Well, some of the assessors felt like you needed to demonstrate stronger leadership traits,” was the response.
This assessment of my leadership was primarily based on a training exercise where a team of four church planters were tasked with planting a fictional church in a city. During this exercise, I had taken leadership of the team by providing guidance and vision to unite the team, identified the primary gifting of each planter, and guided them to work together to plant this fictional church.
During an early portion of the meeting, one of the planters in my team came up to me and took the dry erase marker from my hand which I had been using to draw out our plans on the whiteboard. Unbeknownst to me, one of the assessors saw this, and concluded that I was not really a leader because I allowed this man to take a pen from my hand. Based on this observation, I was given a conditional green light.
As I mulled over what the Director had told me, I wondered, “Does being a leader mean that you have to lead all the time, in every circumstance, otherwise you risk not being seen as a leader?” I was not quite sure what to make of this assessment.
Well, six years and two church plants later (with a third on the way), I can say that I still have work to do in becoming a better leader. But I disagree that I have to be the point leader at every place and circumstance. Here are some reasons why.
1.Being a leader can be dependent on follower readiness.
Leadership is affected by the condition and readiness of a group. If people feel stagnant, they may need an activist leader for a season. If people are tired, they may need a comforting leader that can care for, refresh, and restore them. If people need to be mobilized, they may need a strategist leader. The point I am trying to make is that there are seasons in an organization where a certain kind of leadership is needed, and you personally may not have the gift set to lead that charge.
2. Being a leader can be dependent on context.
Just because I am a good leader in one context, does not mean I will necessarily be a good leader in another. A great leader in the classroom does not necessarily guarantee great leadership of a sports team. A great sports coach does not mean they will do well on the battlefield of war. A great leader on the battlefield may not be a great leader in diplomacy. Different contexts require different types of leaders.
3. Being a leader can be dependent on culture.
I have spent a great amount of time in Hispanic, African American, and Anglo churches. In all three, I have noticed significant differences in how those leaders lead. Some cultures lean toward authoritarian leadership. Others lean toward hierarchical or egalitarian leadership. If you plan on leading a multi-cultural church, you will most likely need to consider the types of leadership that these cultures are used to and plan accordingly. Leadership style matters.
4. Being a leader can be dependent on the times.
Leading a multi-generational church, I find that some of the older generations want a leader who knows all the answers to their questions – an Alpha type leader. Younger generations tend to want team-based leadership. Still even younger generations want a leader who is one of them and works collaboratively with them to accomplish tasks. The wise leader assesses the needs of each group and leads accordingly.
Being a leader is not an easy task. Leadership is complex, and how a person exercises leadership will vary depending on the type of group, place, time, and the emotional make up of those we lead.
When that leader came and took the pen away from my hand, I don’t believe I was demonstrating a lack of leadership. I had simply recognized that that leader was better suited to lead this portion of the meeting, which resulted in a great plan and imaginary execution of an amazing church plant.
Knowing my strengths, how I am wired, and being able to recruit others to make up what is lacking in my leadership has relieved me of tremendous pressure to be all things to all people. I believe the same will be true for you.
In my next post, I will talk about some common elements of leadership, and one way to build a strong leadership team.