It seems these days I have become a professional observer. For years as a full time pastor, I was totally engrossed with my own church. I was aware of other great ministries and admired many great pastors, but I never had the opportunity to study them and find out what made them effective. When I came to Samford all of that changed. I now, through the day-to-day obligations of my job, have the opportunity to see healthy churches and effective leaders up close. Yes, I am a professional observer. When I find a church that seems to be doing effective ministry, I ask a lot of questions of the leadership. I want to know what it is that is working and the qualities possessed by the pastor and leadership that bring it all together. Based on hours of observation and tons of conversations with the top church leaders of my denomination I have noticed a pattern. Five distinct qualities have emerged:
- Passion– I am not talking about a manipulative enthusiasm that works church members into a frizzy. These leaders are so passionate about their faith, calling, ministries, and future opportunities. It is an authentic passion that comes across through normal conversation and everyday activity. They are generally positive, optimistic and excited about God’s work in the churches they serve. When I speak with other people about these church leaders I consistently hear, “I love their passion.” People are naturally attracted to leaders like this because they feed off the passion these leaders project. So many of our churches do not have passion because the pastor and church leaders are simply going through the weekly grind, marking off spiritual check lists. Passion in the pulpit, passion in prayer, passion for disciple making and a passion to see Jesus Christ do a work in their midst each week. These are a few of the marks of effective leaders.
- Dedicated learners– Almost all of the effective church leaders I know are voracious learners. They read copious amounts of books, frequently listen to podcasts, regularly attend seminars or workshops, visit websites and blogs and are dedicated to knowledge. They might not always agree with the authors or follow the latest ideas, but they certainly want to hear about them. I recently spoke with one church leader who makes it his goal to read 2 books a month. As director of the Ministry Training Institute at Samford I am always amazed at pastors who have terminal degrees that enroll in our online courses. They don’t register because they need more credentials, they do it because they have an intense hunger to learn. I am convinced that when church leaders stop learning they stop growing. If they stop growing the church they lead suffers.
- Fresh Vision– These leaders are never satisfied with the mundane or content with the status quo. They are continually striving for freshness in their preaching and leading. Many of them have impressive pastoral tenures, yet they have managed to not grow stale or fall into a rut. They annually hit the reboot button and cast a new exciting vision for the future of the church. Their souls are ever before the perpetual spring of living water asking God to replenish and refresh them with a new passion and vision from heaven. They rarely use old sermons because they have such a freshness and excitement about what God is doing among their membership. Contentment is the enemy of freshness and vision. You will never see these leaders in a state of contentment.
- Investing in Relationships– They genuinely love being with their congregation. There is a joy in the relationships they have established in the church. Most of these leaders regularly meet with a small group just to have the chance to equip and invest. Being with church members is not a chore, it is a joy. They also heavily invest in relationships with other church leaders. Effective leaders regularly network and share ideas with other church leaders. Nothing thrills them more than investing in another minister or mentoring a younger leader. There is an underlying belief that Jesus Christ invested in relationships and unless they are doing the same, there is something lacking in their ministry. However, without a doubt the number one relationship they invest in is their family. Every effective leader I know takes off days and time away to be with kids and spouse. They have fun vacations, movie nights, golf outings or just evening walks with their spouse.
- Vibrant Spiritual Walk– These effective leaders feed their church members from the overflow of a vibrant walk with Christ. Accountability is always evident with other believers and they spend much time in quiet places with the Lord. Every effective church leader I know inspires me through their genuine walk with Christ. Acts 4:13 tells us how the Sanhedrin recognized the Apostles as “men who had been with Jesus.” I could say the same about these church leaders. It is obvious that they have spent much time with Christ. They take Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10 as a call to arms, “I want to know him and power of his resurrection.” The vibrancy of any church is usually connected to the vibrant faith of the leaders that spend hours in communion with the Lord.