Leading in the Construction of Christ’s Church

Blue Construction

As one who has benefited from reading Jim Collins, John Kotter, Stephen Covey, and several other leadership gurus from the business world, I found this quote from Tony Morgan‘s Developing a Theology of Leadership  to be a very helpful reminder and convicting corrective:

It is true that we church leaders can learn from business leaders, but the corporate world should not set the foundation from which we lead. We can also learn from fellow church leaders, but they are also human and don’t provide a perfect model for Biblical leadership. When we look to other leaders, we are essentially holding on to our traditions rather than embracing the truth about leadership found in God’s Word. The Bible needs to become our filter for truth in every area of our life and ministry just because we see others doing it doesn’t mean that’s how God designed it.

Like Morgan, I still believe there is much to be learned from those who are effective in business, government, coaching, and other spheres. But as a pastor of a church – an under-Shepherd of part of the Church that Jesus is building – it is essential that I not fall for the notion that I will or can gain the most wisdom from these sources. I must never neglect or assume what the bible has to say about Leadership. Instead I must constantly submit all ideas of leadership, from whatever sources, to the scrutiny of the Scripture.

Matthew 16.18 reminds me that I am but a foreman, and that it is Jesus who is the architect, developer, and contractor. My job is to follow his design, and his lead.

10 Differences Between Leaders & Cheerleaders

Leadership Word Puzzle

Philip Nation distinguishes the difference between genuine leaders and cheerleaders, or what he calls the difference between those in leadership positions who use buzzwords and those who actually lead.  Think for a moment about this vital distinction:

I think that a key facet of leadership is knowing the difference between a strategy and a collection of buzzwords.

So what are some of the differences Nation notes between leaders and cheerleaders ?

1. Buzzwords begin as a rallying cry and end as words to broadly applied. / Leadership constantly looks for fresh ways to keep the movement alive.

2. Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content. / Leadership offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialogue.

3. Buzzwords give a false sense of momentum when stagnation is the reality. / Leadership identifies stagnation and tackles it.

4. Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you need to hear something. / Leadership shows the willingness to have the difficult conversations.

5. Buzzwords kill the meaning of a movement. / Leadership continues to give life to a movement.

6. Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared. / Leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person in the movement.

7. Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable. / Leadership actually learns.

8. Buzzwords give false hope of a possible future. / Leadership tells a beautiful and detailed story of what can be.

9. Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought. / Leadership offers everyone a way to access the big ideas and bring understanding to them.

10. Buzzwords make important words eventually seem disposable. / Leadership redeems the important meaning of words and phrases.

To read Nation’s full article: Buzzwords & Leaders

8 Questions to Diagnose Your Leadership

King & Queen

In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:

  1. Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
  2. Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
  3. Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
  4. Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
  5. Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
  6. Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
  7. Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
  8. Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?

H.T. > Justin Taylor

Who Do You Listen To?

I am blessed to have some great friends. While I always enjoy making new friends, there is nothing like an old friend. Someone who has known you long, and known you well. These are the friends who can see right through the veneer we sometimes try to hide beneath. And because they can see through it they won’t let you hide.  These are the ones who ask penetrating questions. I have to come clean because they will know if I am skirting the issue by giving some vague reply.  These are the folks I go to for counsel. These are the folks I always listen to.

In a post not long ago, Perry Noble asked the question: Who Should You Listen To?  He then proceeds to make a list of 8 qualifications.

If you are in leadership (and especially if you are in church leadership) then you have probably discovered the reality that God loves you…and everyone else has an incredible plan for your life!

One of the struggles that we all MUST wrestle with is who to listen to when it comes to making decisions.  The Bible tells us that we unwise to be Lone Rangers (Proverbs 15:22) and the Bible has several stories of people who made bad decisions because they listened to the wrong people (see I Kings 12:1-16.)

However, it is IMPOSSIBLE to listen to everyone. With the barrage of information and opinions coming our way via Facebook, email, twitter and other media, anyone who tries to focus on the opinions of everyone will simply lose his mind, and most likely any leadership effectiveness, if his obsession becomes making everyone happy.

So, who do we listen to?  Who is it that should ALWAYS have access to us…and we should ALWAYS desire their thoughts and insights? Here is Perry Noble’s list:

#1 – Those who know me, who have spent time with me and understand that there is a person behind the personality.

#2 – Those who have seen me at my best and worst…and love me anyway.

#3 – Those who do not automatically assume the worse about me and always give me the benefit of the doubt.  (ALWAYS beware of the person who seeks to pounce on you as soon as they hear something bad!)

#4 – Those who are willing to stand with me in a tough time–THOSE WHO BLEED WITH ME CAN LEAD WITH ME!!!

#5 – Those who offer correction for the purpose of building up rather than tearing down (people who always seek to tear you down should be ignored!  If they do not correct/confront in love then they are nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal – see I Corinthians 13:1)

#6 – Those who are willing to take a confrontation straight to the person rather to an online audience.

#7 – Those who are not always looking for a reason to attack/hate you.

#8 – Those who have the goal of restoring you when you mess up and not wounding you!

10 Signs of Approaching Meltdown

Perry Noble reveals and responds to a stunning statistic:

My counselor shared a statistic with me two years ago that floored me – 90% of the people entering ministry do not retire from ministry. They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.

Jesus did not call us to this or wants this for our lives. Yet so many of us church leaders struggle in this area (usually inwardly because if we said out loud that we are dying inside, people might perceive us as weak).

While I am stunned by these stats, I am not surprised.  I’ve seen too many friends flee the frenzy of ministry.  And I myself have peeked over the edge on a few occasions, only to be pulled back onto solid ground  by good friends and gracious church members.  But I concur with Noble: This is not what Jesus wants for those in ministry – whether pastors or church leaders, or volunteers in other areas of the Church.

One reason we know this is not what Jesus wants is because Peter tells us as much:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…  ~ 1 Peter 5.2

But the interesting thing about this verse is that Peter tells us both that God wants leading the church to be enjoyable and that it is going to be emotionally taxing.   On the one hand, lead and shepherd because the joy set before us makes you want to do it.  On the other hand, by acknowledging that ministry will sometimes seem like a chore, a duty,  a mere responsibility, Peter implies that there will likely be times when something will rob the leader of the delight.

In his post Noble lists 10 Signs you are on the verge of a meltdown or burnout:

  1. You are beginning to despise people and your compassion for them is continually decreasing rather than increasing.
  2. You often think about doing something other than ministry and your biggest desire isn’t to honor God and reach people, but to simply find relief from the pressure that seems to be building daily inside you.
  3. You cannot remember the last time you simply had fun with family and friends, and joy is something you talk about but are not experiencing for yourself.
  4. You are disconnected at home and when you get there, you do not want to engage with your spouse or your children; you cannot enjoy being around them. You spend more time online than you do with your family and you find yourself wanting to sleep all of the time.
  5. You continually tell yourself and those you love that “this is just a really busy season and that you will slow down soon.” However, the truth is that you have been most likely “singing that same song” for years!
  6. You are continually becoming obsessed with what others say about you and one negative comment from someone who does not like you can put you in an incredibly deep valley and cause you to feel hopeless.
  7. You begin to make easy decisions rather than the right ones, because the right ones take too much work.
  8. There is no hope in you and you actually despair of life. You have thought of death and have even entertained suicidal thoughts.
  9. You are experiencing unexplained depression and/or anxiety. You are having panic attacks and can’t explain it.
  10. You are increasingly becoming withdrawn from family and friends.

While I cannot say that I have experienced all of the above symptoms, I am familiar with most. Apparently so is Noble.  He says he drafted this list from his own life. (See: Meltdown)

Continue reading


Steve Childers is Founder and President of Global Church Advancement. He is also professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando.  In a former life Steve was an effective pastor and church planter.  A  number of years ago I had the privilege of taking a doctoral class in church planting under Steve’s tutelage.  I have appreciated him ever since.

Now Steve has done us the favor of, not only sharing his great insights about ministry and church planting but, chronicling his biggest ministry mistakes.  These mistakes are obviously beneficial for fellow pastors to aviod.  But I think that these short, insightful confessions can also profit others in church leadership, be it those holding official office or those with unofficial influence. In fact, some of Steve’s insights translate to the values we hold that shape our lives and congregations.

In no particular order:

  1. Failure to Understand the Importance of How I Define Ministry Success
  2. Managing My Time and NOT Managing My Life
  3. Not Understanding the Difference Between My Goals and My Desires
  4. Not Understanding the Difference Between Pursuing the Grace of God and the God of Grace
  5. Failure to Understand the Way Up is the Way Down
  6. Failure to Understand the Priority of People Over Programs
  7. Not Understanding Product Living vs. Process Living
  8. Failure to Initiate Supportive Relationships

Mistaken Identity

Like many churches throughout the land, our church is entering into a season of officer nominations. As a presbyterian congregation, specifically, we are inviting the members of our congregation to submit the names of fellow church members who they believe fit the Biblical requirements, found in Titus & 1 Timothy 3, for the offices of Elder and Deacon. 

Also, like many in other congregations, some of the members of our church are not quite sure what exactly these offices mean, nor what those who serve them are responsible to do. 

In a post on Coram Deo, Bob Thune offers a brief but helpful explanation, dispelling one of the more common misconceptions about Elders…

Click: Elder vs. Board Member

Leading Lasting Changes

At Walnut Hill Church we are blessed with a strong tradition and a membership with a high level of satisfaction.  Like most ministries and organizations we have our share of folks who express varying degrees of dissatisfaction – some because we are experiencing growth & change, and others because we have not changed & grown quickly enough.

Change is inevitable but it is also uncomfortable.

For one thing, not all change is good. Degeneration is a change of condition, but it is not something I want to experience in my health or my church.

But even good changes can make some people uncomfortable.  Change marks the passing of something familiar.  It is a constant reminder that nothing remains the same, and we cannot always go back. So when change occurs, even good change, it disturbs our nostalgia.

The key words for the leader concerning change are: effective, positive, and lasting.

Harvard professor John Kotter outlines 8 stages of effective change:

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

  • Examine market and competitive realities
  • Identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities

2. Developing the Guiding Coalition

  • Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort
  • Encourage the group to work as a team

3. Developing a Vision & Strategy

  • Create a vision to help direct the change effort
  • Develop strategies for achieving that vision

4. Communicating the Change Vision

  • Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
  • Teach new behaviors by the example of the Guiding Coalition

 5. Empowering Broad-based Action

  • Remove obstacles to change
  • Change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
  • Encourage the risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions

6. Generating Short-term Wins

  • Plan for visible performance improvements
  • Create those improvements
  • Recognize and reward employees involved in the improvements

7. Don’t Let Up: Consolidating Gains & Produce More Change

  • Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the vision
  • Hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision
  • Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

8. Make Change Stick: Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

  • Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success
  • Develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession

These steps come from the business world, but church & ministry leaders would be wise to consider and apply these principles to our own situations.

Lutheran leader Steve Goodwin, in a 2005 interview, said:

 “I see so many pastors making the mistakes John Kotter wrote about 20 years ago.”

In an article for Leadership Journal, titled Before You Introduce Change, Bruce Boria observes that most pastors make the mistake of beginning at stage 4.

Boria explains:

I’ve found [Kotter’s] process has substantial implications for guiding change in my church.

In Kotter’s opinion the first three steps are necessary to defrost a hardened status quo. Steps four to seven introduce a number of new practices. And the last step grounds the changes into the organization’s culture.

As pastor of Walnut Hill Church I have intentionally embraced a slow approach to change.  This church was not ailing when I came in, so I wanted to affirm the positives that already existed and pre-dated my arrival.

At the same time, because nothing remains the same, and because there are issues that require strategic attention, change is a necessity. With Kotter’s principles in mind, the questions I am asking are these:

  • How do we cultivate a sense of need and urgency in a congregation widely satisfied with the way things have, for the most part, always been?
  • How do we create a hunger for a better future?

Until we get a handle on these questions no pithy mission or vision statements will produce positive lasting changes.  Instead, I suspect, we will find ourselves reminded of the poetic words of the Bard of Ayrshire: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

Right People, Right Direction

There are two common maxims offered to pastors when entering a new ministry.  Both are wise and true. But they are mutually exlusive:

  • “Don’t change anything in the first year.”
  • “If you don’t change anything in the first year, you will never be able to change anything later.”

One way to resolve the tension is to realize that not all churches are the same. And not all churches are in the same condition when a pastor, or others, assumes leadership. Therefore wisdom dictates applying the proper suggestion to the present state of the church. 

For instance,

The first established church I pastored was a total mess.  The church had existed for nearly 50 years, and had fired every pastor. The longest tenure, prior to my arrival, had been 5 years.  Presbytery was sick and tired of the church’s shenanigans, and threatened to remove them from the denomination if they persisted.  The church averaged about 25 people on Sunday morning, and had only two children under age 18.  Obviously change was needed. Equally obvious was that change needed to happen immediately.

The second church I pastored had enjoyed solid numerical growth in the years prior to my arrival. Much of this growth was not healthy, however, but that was not particularly apparent to most people.  There were a lot of good things going on, but still areas that needed attention and revision.  Wisdom would have been to learn the landscape and go slower with initial changes.

The present church I pastor, Walnut Hill Church, was in many ways healthy when I came on board.  My predecessor had enjoyed 16 years of relatively effective ministry, and the Interim Pastor between us was (and is) a gem. The church leadership had come to a conclusion that this church, while in many ways good, was not functioning on all cylinders, and therefore needed to take the opportunity afforded by a transition to reevaluate the ministry.  Change is needed, and even desired, but what is the best approach: quick or slow?

Change is always needed. My college football coach, Johnny Majors, frequently reminded us that we never stay the same. Each day we either get better or we decline.  And, at least in this way, what is true of football teams, and athletes, is also true of churches and organizations. 

But one of the problems resulting from change, perhaps especially in a church, is disenfranchisement.  People have invested themselves in a church long before changes are even on the radar. In fact, people are often part of a particular church, even with it’s warts and weaknesses, because they like that church the way it is. When change starts taking place, whether systematic or unintentional, fear often accompanies it.  And fear keeps whispering in the ear: Am I sure I will still like this place if it changes?   

This is an important dynamic working against change, and against leaders who bring change.  And the problem is enhanced when the leader is focused more on bringing the change, and the anticipated positive results, than they are on the people in the church.  Not only is this recipe un-pastoral, it is ultimately ineffective.

I am not suggesting that the leader is responsible to appease all the people.  That is not possible – and it is not our job.  I am suggesting that sometime, as pastors, we have been so exhorted by the experts and the know-it-all books to make necessary changes for the sake of the ultimate “potential” good, that we may lose perspective.  We are anxious for success but forget what our success really looks like.

While it is true that to lead any necessary change, to chart any specific vision, risks losing some people, I wonder what place among our priorities  Jesus’ instruction to “count the cost” holds. I wonder if we tally everything up correctly, or if sometimes we cook our books like ENRON did – counting only the gains, ignoring the losses. 

The fact is sometimes some people need to go. This is especially true in an unhealthy church. (How else did it become unhealthy unless the stakeholders allowed it to become unhealthy and unfaithful?)   This is a sometimes painful reality. (At other times it is really not so painful. It may even feel blissful. But, as pastors, we’re not supposed to say that.) The questions are: How many losses are necessary? How many are appropriate? How many could have been averted, yet still allow the church to be faithful to the new (or renewed) vision and purpose? 

Tomorrow I plan to post the insights of leadership expert, John Kotter, about the stages of effective change. That post will apply Kotter’s insights to the mission of bringing appropriate, and necessary, change to the local church; and the ways pastors and churches  commonly act unwisely. Chief among them is moving too quickly to implement a new vision. But that will be for tomorrow.  At present, however, I want to ask the question: How many people might we keep if we were wiser about the change process?  What if we  moved a little slower, in cases that allow for it?  Of course, we will never know the real answer. But one thing I am convinced of: More harm than good is done in many churches because of unwise implementation of change.

In a post last week I introduced the following quote by Jim Collins, from his best-selling book Good to Great

The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.

I am convinced what Collins observed should be an important element for consideration in the early stages of all church vision and mission planning.  Clearly his approach does not eliminate the loss of some – maybe even many – people. But his approach does guard against the loss of good people who avoidably become disenfranchised due to  premature implementation of new direction. 

One last observation. Collins is not stating that the leader does not have any idea about where he/she might like to take the “bus”.  He is saying that the effective leader places a priority on the right people, and does not see himself as the sole navigator.  I suspect that the effective leader may well have a good idea of where the bus should go, but in genuine humility he is willing to consider the God-given insights of others.  What Collins is suggesting, as applied to the church, is that we lead to where God would have us go, and be less concerned about whether the destination is primarily according to the leader’s preconceived atlas.

Putting a Bus Stop at Our Church

A generation ago it was not uncommon for a churches to have bus ministries. Volunteers would drive a bus to pick people up from around the community and shuttle them to and from the church.  Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good to Great, seems to suggest churches still need to get people on and off the “bus”.  But Collins, if we apply what he writes to ministry, has a more allegorical idea about the Church Bus:

The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.

Collins’ insight offers great wisdom to those leading churches and minstries.  Thom Rainer picks up and develops this idea, in his book Breakout Churches, calling it the Who/What Simultrack. I am certainly giving it serious consideration as the church I have the privilege to pastor, Walnut Hill Presbyterian Church, gives thought to our mission and vision. 

First, I think Collins’ observation is consistent with Solomon’s counsel of Proverbs 15.22:

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Anyone can offer a two-bit opinion. But to gain wise counsel we need the insights of the right people.

Second, it reminds me that people are at the very heart of God, not necessarily success.  To be  successful a church must focus on people. People are our mission, not programs.

Third, it inclines me toward humility. If Collins is right (and I believe he is) then I cannot do this alone.  I need the people God will bring into the picture, or will put on the bus, in order for us to be what God intends us to be and do what he has purposed for us to do. We have already seen examples of that, as God has brought certain people, and their gifts, to add to those who were already aboard. 

Fourth, it promotes patience. There are people who we need to get on our bus, but they won’t get on until we get to their stop.  It is foolishness, and counter-productive, to assume that the people  already with us will do all we need done; that they will do what God has not desgined them to do.  We must patiently depend upon God to introduce us to the people he wants to use.  As Rainer points out: Better to leave a postion unfulled for a long time than to rush to fill it with the wrong person.

Under the Spell of the Wizard of Westwood


He was known as a wizard – the Wizard of Westwood.  I am not sure how that moniker came to be attached to him, except that this pithy alliteration well described his mastery of the the basketball court as coach of the UCLA Bruins.  But that nickname seems to have rung true for another reason. By all accounts the influence of Coach John Wooden‘s ‘spell’  left his former players, and others around him, better for having had him around.

An era has passed. In a way it is odd to say this, since the John Wooden era of coaching ended more than 35 years ago.  But the era ended completely with the passing of Coach Wooden, who went to be with his Lord, and his long-departed wife, Friday evening. 

Still, even in his parting, Wooden influence will continue to live in those he coached, and through those whose lives have been enhanced through the life & leadership lessons Wooden took a lifetime to craft, and which he devoted to sharing in his retirement years: Wooden’s  Pyramid of Success.  

Despite his nickname, there is nothing ‘magical’ about the Wooden Way.  His success formula is rooted in integrity, discipline, loyalty, and hard work. And unlike many of the self-help principes on the market, Wooden’s philosophy was woven in his Faith. 

In summary: Wooden was more than just a coach.  He was a godly man who was on a mission to bless those around him.

As a father of a son, entering college, who aspires to be a coach, I can think of no example I would rather have influence him, in that endeavor, than that which John Wooden embodied. 

John Wooden’s legend will be long remembered.  John Wooden’s character & principles will continue to speak for generattion to come.

Reflecting Jesus in Christ’s Church


If, as most Christians profess, Jesus is indeed the only Head of the Church, it seems reasonable that Christ’s Church should reflect His personality in it’s ministries and structure. 

One way that Jesus is reflected in the ministry of faithful churches has been the recovery of a balanced Word & Deed holistic ministry. By balanced I am in no way suggesting a compromise. Instead I am referring to churches that are uncompromising BOTH in their pursuit of sound Biblical and theological instruction AND in thier practice of meeting the real – spiritual and tangible – needs of their neighbors. 

This only makes sense, since Jesus is himself the Word Incarnated and the one who “came to serve, not to be served”. (See Mark 10.45)  Jesus’ service was expressed through miraculous practical, provision and help. And Jesus is the one who said to his disciples: “Just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (See John 20.21)  Traditionally churches have structured their leadership into the offices of Elder and Deacon, in accord with Biblical directive, to reflect Word & Deed. (Elders = Word; Deacons = Deed)

But I am increasingly becoming convinced that there is another, an additional, way that the personality of Jesus should be expressed in the Church.  This additional way, often referrred to as Tri-Perspectivalism or Multi-Perspectivalism, should be expressed in the Leadership Structure and in the ministry of the church. In fact, I am convinced that it needs to be the guage by which we evaluate the faithfulness of our congregations.

The Bible teaches that Jesus exercised three distinct offices:

  • Prophet
  • Priest
  • King

Each of these offices carry a significance.  In exercising these three offices Jesus also reveals aspects of his personality.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes for us how Jesus exercised each of these offices:

Q. 24. As a Prophet, Christ reveals the Will of God to us for our salvation by His Word and Spirit.

Q. 25. As a Priest, Christ offered himself up once as a sacrifice for us to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God; and He continually intercedes for us.

Q. 26. As a King, Christ brings us under His power, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all his and our enemies.

Another way of looking at these distinct roles is:

Prophet is concerned with understanding and communicating God’s Truth, and applying it to every aspect of life.

Priest is concerned with the Spiritual Renewal and Transformation of all Christ’s People. The Priest is concerned not only for the conversion and intial reconcilation of the Believer to God, but also that all our lives be increasingly lived out in the joy and freedom that the Gospel secures and applies to us.

King is concerned with the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom, with both the Future fulfillment and Present Realities in mind.  In that sense, the King is concerned about both the mission and the structures of his Church.

What I have discovered is that each of these offices offers a unique perspective for leadership and ministry.  Each is equally important. Each must be equally considered. If all three are not equally considered the ministry of the church is unbalanced. In fact, if all three aspects, or perspectives, are not equally considered the ministry is not only unbalanced it is unfaithful.  It is not faithful to reflect the whole person of Christ, who is not only the Head but also the Model. Continue reading

Core Values of Walnut Hill Church

Walnut Hill Logo

I recently finished a series unveiling the Core Values of Walnut Hill Presbyterian Church.   The Elders of our church worked on these for several months, as we tried to discern the characteristics that define and drive our church.

Leadership expert Aubrey Malphurs calls Core Values “the qualities that make up and establish an organizations character, and that character determines how the organization conducts its ministry or business…” 

In short you might say that the Core Values reflect the DNA of a church or organization.  While other things my change, such as worship style, ministries, etc, the Core Values should remain pretty much intact.  In the fae of a changing surrounding culture, or the addition of new members, the Core Values themselves do not change. Only the ways that the values are expressed should change.

So what are those Core Values that make Walnut Hill unique?

God’s Global Glory 

Authentic Spirituality

Gospel Transformation

Kingdom Advancement

Relational Vitality

Contagious Joy

Overcoming Evil Leadership


Reggie McNeal, in his book Practicing Greatness, makes this audacious statement:

“Bad leaders are a form of evil.”

When I first read that statement I thought “Woe! That’s a bit strong.”  But as I read further I came to understand his thinking… and agreed. 

Consider his whole point:

Bad leaders are a form of evil. They curse people by diminishing their life. They rob people  of hope. They reduce people’s dreams and expectations for their lives. They discourage and disparage people.  They leave people worse off than when they found them. Bad leadership is not always the result of bad character or intentional malevolence. It can result from simple incompetence.

While McNeal’s assertion is strong, I think it has strong merits.  Consider the results he associates with bad leadership: lost hope, diminished dreams that lead to settling, demoralization and discouragement.  All of these things are bad, even evil really.  And while poor leadership is not the only cause of such attitudes, bad leadership is a frequent incubator of them. 

As a pastor, which is the primary target McNeal is aiming at, this perspective hits home. It also hits deep.  My very job, my calling, is to remind people of the hope they have in Christ and to help them to function in line with that hope according to their God-given purpose.  When, by God’s grace, I am effective, I get to see God change peoples lives for the better.  When that happens it is exciting and exhilerating.  But when I fail… well it can get pretty ugly.  And I do fail. Sometimes because of matters beyond my influence. But at other times I fail because I am not up to the challenge – which is a gentle way of admitting my incompetence.

I have become keenly aware of the influence of bad leadership, not only by my own failures, but as I have watched my son’s athletic career.  I have seen good coaches make a positive impact that extends far beyond the playing fields.  And I have seen my son demoralized, I have seen his dreams and aspiarations diminished, and I have seen the sense of purposelessness that accompanies hopelessness, not because of an innate lack of talent but as a result of bad coaching – or bad leadership from a coach.  McNeal’s perception is all the more pertinent as I  watched this take place, because the coach who was primarily responsible for this is not a bad guy. Quite the contrary. He is likeable. He seems to have his priorities in exemplary order.  He was never unpleasant. He was simply not competent in the job he held. And that incompetence negatively influenced scores of young men, including my son.  So, as McNeal says, while the man is good, the effects of his bad leadership are evil.  

It is sobering to realize I can have that same negative effect on people when I fail them as a pastor, or as a father, or in any other leadership role I may assume.

A few applications come to mind as I think through this.

1. This truth applies to every person in a position of leadership, professional or volunteer, formal or informal, organizational or recreational.  The purpose of leadership is always to guide and ultimately enhance.

I say “ultimately” because sometimes leadership requires breaking down or taking steps backward before moving forward.  It depends upon the inherited situation. At such times what may temporarily appear to be failure, is in reality a necessity. Not everyone will always see this, but then again, that’s why not everyone was called to be the leader.

This is humbling, and a bit frightening.  But the words of the Lord to Joshua come to mind: “Be strong and corageous…” (Joshua 1.6) And paraphrasing the rest of that passage: “Be strong and very courageous, being careful to do everything God has called you to do, and to do it in the manner he wants you to do it.”

This command applies to all of us who assume leadership roles. In the church, as Elders, youth leaders, etc; In the community as coaches, civic leaders, elected officials, etc; or in the business world as supervisors, foremen, or executives.  All of these roles can be catalysts for the advancement of God’s Kingdom, done for his glory, and can benefit  those God has called us to lead. (1 Corinthians 10.31)

2. We must live in line with the Gospel, or with the Gospel always in mind. 

Now, of course, this is always a truth. But I think it is pertinent to say again here for a simple reason. We will all fail at some point in our leadership. Only God is omni-competent.  Some of our failures will be situational, and are not reflective of our leadership abilities. But at other times the Peter Principle comes into play – we are in over our heads, not up to the challenge, not competent for the job.  At those times we embody the “good guy, bad leader = evil” eqation.

Knowing this ahead of times makes leadership rather daunting. Many would rather foresake the risk of leadership altogether – if they could. But this need not be our attitude if we understand the gospel.  God does not, and will not, reject us on the basis of our failure and incompetence, even when that spells evil.  Quite the contrary, God called us who are evil, failures, and incapable in the first place.  He redeemed such people through the blood of Christ. And He is in the process of shaping us and growing us.  So we can own up to our “evil” in leadership, and be grateful for God’s provision in Christ. 

In fact, we should even be grateful for the reminder of our inability.  Because the one whom God is angered with and rejects is not the one who humbly recognizes failure and incompetence, and consequently turns to Jesus. Instead the Lord rejects the one who is confident in his/her own leadership abilities and, at best, simply pays lip service to God.

3. I need to pursue greatness in leadership. It is not so that I become the object of admiration. And it is not only so I can avoid being a contributor to evil.  It is so that I can bless others through serving them as a leader. Or put a better way, so that God can bless people through me and my simple competent leadership.