I used to enjoy sparring online with people in different debate forums. A response I received once jolted me a bit: "Experience has to count for something." Over time, my perspective has changed some. I still think there are pastorates out there for guys who have never done it before. At the same time, I definitely see the value of experience. So - wait a minute - the headline of this post is "How Leaders Grow," but the opening paragraph is all about experience. Yep. You guessed it. As a plant needs exposure to sunlight, water, and rich soil - it also needs time. And it is not true that experience is the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher.
This post goes a bit deeper than the basic reminder that, as leaders, we need to communicate our expectations and communicate them clearly. You probably have that part down. I find, though, that it is easy to stop there -- and that's not enough. Not only must we communicate what we do want; we must communicate what we don't want.
With the diverse backgrounds of our followers along with different educational attainment, hearing ability, predisposition toward cooperation or not, and so much more, twenty people can hear the exact same presentation and draw at least twenty different conclusions. In fairness, we cannot anticipate every ditch people may stumble into, but investing a few moments to consider this can save you time and headaches down the road.
Consider an example. Our church recently added a staff member. We wanted to give that staff member purchasing power, so we asked the bank to generate a credit card for him with "the same information" as the card that I carry as pastor - same billing address, same credit limit, same fact pattern. Months later, we learned that the bank had generated a credit card sharing the credit limit with the card I carry (which is typical procedure we now know). We thought we had clearly communicated that we wanted an additional amount, raising the overall organizational credit limit to accommodate, but the term "same" led all of us into a ditch.
Trust me - I could share dozens of other examples, but for a variety of professional reasons, it would be unethical for me to do so. Bottom line: Think through a couple of possible corruptions of your message, and kindly communicate that those corruptions are not what you are after.
An angle that few if any seem to take is to examine the issue from the perspective of overall church unity. It just so happens that I am guiding my church through 1 Corinthians in this modern situational context; so church unity is obviously on the brain. Two questions emerge: (1) Can you have spiritual unity without political unity? and (2) What does preserving spiritual unity look like in such a politically divisive age?
In one of those chats where you sit and talk with your wife about your day, my wife and I were discussing a common phenomenon in every church - namely, that people vote with their checkbook, their money. You and I would readily agree that legalism hurts and kills a church. But something that had never before occurred to me was this particular connection between legalism and the church's cash flow and what that connection means for leading a church.
It has taken some time, but I'm at a place now where I can admit that I made some mistakes in my first five years of ministry. I definitely learned from them, and I want to share some of them with you. Maybe you can avoid them. One of them does have to do with growing my hair out way too long, so if you want to see that picture and have a good laugh -- you'll have to click "Read More."
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.