I recently told our staff, “We are now at a place where I have never been. I have no experience in leading beyond where we currently are. We have surpassed where I believe my education, skills, abilities, and experience can take us. So where do we go from here? How are we going to get to the next level in our ministry and go where God wants us to go?”
I paused, not for dramatic effect, but because I wasn’t sure what to say next! So much for leaders having all the right words to say at all the right times. But that’s part of our problem as leaders, isn’t it? We feel we should have all the answers, know all the right things to say, and be ready at a moment’s notice to dispense our great wisdom and insight.
There are times for all of us, though, when we get stuck. In fact, this probably happens to most of us far more often than we care to admit. When we’re stuck and don’t know what to do next, we feel the pressure rising, because we’re the “leader” and we’re supposed to be in control! (Or so we think.)
Over the past few years, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:10 have taken on greater meaning in my life: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In light of these words, here are a few lessons God has been teaching our staff and me in leading beyond our ability.
Lesson 1: This Is the Best Place We Could Be
When we come to the end of our abilities, we become far more receptive to the abilities of others, and most importantly, we become more dependent on God.
I had lunch yesterday with a man in our church who asked me what I’ve learned since I’ve been serving in my current role. I told him I’ve been learning how truly dependent I am on God more than my abilities.
Abilities are great, especially when they’re used in appropriate ways. But our abilities don’t grow the church, at least not in a biblical way (1 Corinthians 3:6). Our abilities can help foster environments for growth, but when our abilities become the primary vehicle for growth, we’d better watch out. Our abilities should always be combined with a commitment to lay a solid foundation in discipleship and equipping others for long-term, sustained growth as the body of Christ.
I’m convinced leadership is not about having all the right answers. In fact, if we pretend to have all the right answers, people won’t follow us—at least not for long. People already know we don’t have all the answers, and when we pretend we do, it smacks of arrogance, and many folks will simply turn and walk the other way.
I’m also convinced that leadership is not about having the greatest abilities. This doesn’t provide us an excuse for not honing and developing the abilities, talents, and gifts God has given us. It simply recognizes that we are limited; we are finite; and in order for us—and our leadership—to move forward, we have to go beyond our abilities. In Christian leadership, this means we drop to our knees, return to the source, and become men and women of deep prayer, faith, and dependence on God.
Lesson 2: We Need Each Other
I often miss the obvious. When my wife gets her hair colored (not that she needs it), two days later someone will ask me how I like her hair, and only then do I realize that, indeed, it is different. A friend of mine recently made sure I knew his wife painted their living room so that on my next visit I could tell her what a great job she did. And why did he ask me to do this? Because he hadn’t noticed until his wife, in a rather miffed tone, pointed out her wonderful paint job.
It’s like that with some passages in the Bible. One that stands out to me is 1 Corinthians 12:21. It says the eye can’t say to the hand that it’s not needed, and the head can’t say to the feet that it can make it on its own. There are many parts, but one body. What’s true for a church body as a whole is true for smaller units within the body—units like staff, volunteers, and elders.
I see some pastors who hire people just like them. Why? Because they know what they’re getting, and usually they can get along. Sure, there’s something to be said for a common vision and chemistry, but if all of the staff members, elders, and volunteers look just like you (or me), then, well, that’s not very attractive.
We need diversity, because those who don’t always think the same way we do can often come up with just the right idea to get the train moving again. Among people who have common vision and values, diversity opens the door to complement our strengths and help us and our ministries grow beyond our abilities.
Lesson 3: We Need Outside Help
I’m one of those guys who has a hard time asking for help. If I go into Lowe’s or Home Depot, I’ll walk around for 30 minutes trying to find something before asking for assistance. When my wife and I are looking for a particular restaurant, it drives her crazy that I won’t stop to ask for directions or even use the GPS! My typical response is, “I can handle it! No problem!”
As it goes in life, so it goes in ministry. Too often it seems easier to do it myself than to ask for help. But there are two major problems with this.
First, I’m robbing others who are gifted in the body of Christ to use those gifts to serve others. I remember something John Wesley is quoted as saying: “I’d rather have 50 men do the work than attempt to do the work of 50 men.”
Second, I’m not as good as I sometimes think I am. It’s arrogant to think I have all the gifts and can handle every situation. I need to humble myself and ask others who have expertise in certain fields for their help.
Sometimes in church leadership, we need outside help, whether it be a consultant, another pastor, or even another group of elders. This isn’t about authority. This is about going to people who’ve been through what you may be facing now and who have the wisdom, experience, and skill set that you and others might not currently possess.
Lesson 4: We Need to Trust One Another
Simply put, without trust we will fail. We will fail in our leadership, our personal relationships, and in our influence. Stephen Covey writes, “Trust is the ultimate root and source of our influence.”1 Without trust our staffs, elders, and volunteers are looking for hidden agendas, rivalries, and politics; and they easily become defensive and guarded.
We faced a significant amount of low trust, and we’ve had to rebuild this trust one block at a time. It’s not been an easy process; it requires great diligence and patience (two qualities I don’t always possess).
If there’s a breach of trust between staff members or between congregation and elders, those in leadership must commit to a rebuilding process that includes improved systems of communication, honesty, transparency, and accountability. We found we needed to get back to the basics of discipleship even among leaders. When we did, I discovered a renewed passion for practicing the spiritual disciplines, and I found greater spiritual strength to withstand the great obstacles that lay ahead.
There is no such thing as a perfect team or a perfect church. All of us face those moments in life, marriage, and ministry where we are faced with challenges that go beyond our ability. But we mustn’t give up hope! For in those moments we can either dream of the perfect church (or staff or spouse or eldership) and believe we would be so much more effective if we were out of our current challenge and in that perfect place, or we can acknowledge our limitations and work through the challenges as a team who trusts one another.
We all dream at times that the grass is greener somewhere else, but maybe God is calling us to lead beyond our ability by helping the grass get greener right where we are.
1The Speed of Trust (Free Press: NY, 2006), xxiv.
Rick Grover is lead pastor at Owensboro (Kentucky) Christian Church.