Leadership Lessons from Four Churches

I have been unspeakably honored and blessed to pastor four churches in my short (don't laugh) lifetime. Along the way, I've learned a few--very few--things. Each church taught me a lot, immeasurably more than I taught them. So I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on the main leadership lesson I learned in each of those churches.

Lesson #1 (Lancaster, Ohio): YOU'RE NOT ALONE

The lovely Robin and I had been corps officers (pastors) of the Lancaster Ohio Corps for no more than a week or two when heavy rains came and the entire lower level of the corps building stood in three or four feet of water. Not quite the welcome we had anticipated. But in the course of wading, bailing, praying, pumping, airing out, cleaning out, hauling, and more, advisory board member Mike Riley dropped in to the office...and saw me scrubbing down walls or something. Alone. He immediately got on the phone, marshaled forces, and had the place filled with volunteers (some of them business owners and city officials) in no time. I was having trouble expressing my gratitude, when Mike fixed a sharp gaze on me: and said, "You are not alone. Never forget that." I still do from time to time, but the lesson has stuck with me.

Lesson #2 (Cincinnati, Ohio): ACTIVITY ≠ ACCOMPLISHMENT

The lovely Robin and I nearly killed ourselves as the corps officers (pastors) of the (then) Cincinnati Temple Corps in Finneytown, a suburb of Cincinnati (a pattern that has repeated itself many times in our lives and ministries). We worked hard, added numerous programs and activities, and grew the church until the place was packed on Sundays and the calendar was packed throughout the week, with ministry happening Sunday through Saturday in one way or another. There was so much going on, and we were in the thick of it all. But looking back, I think those four years taught me that activity ≠ accomplishment. If I had it to do over again, I would have settled for less motion and strived for more direction.

Lesson #3 (Youngstown, Ohio): LET LEADERS LEAD

We were blessed at Youngstown to work with some of the finest leaders on the face of the earth. We learned from them. And in our short tenure there, we enjoyed a fine partnership together. The best thing we did in Youngstown (and wish we had done more) was to let leaders lead. As in all our other churches, we made plenty of mistakes there, but failing to recognize and empower good leaders was not one of them.

Lesson #4 (Oxford, Ohio): BE WISE AS A SERPENT

You would think, my time as founding pastor at Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio, being the longest of my tenures as a pastor, that it would also have taught me the most lessons. And that is DEFINITELY the case. But I've promised to pick one. And it's this: "Don't be naive; be wise as a serpent." In other words, Jesus knew what he was talking about when he sent out the Twelve into ministry and told them to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). As I've written elsewhere on this blog, I learned through the course of my pastoral ministry at Cobblestone that one of my great leadership and ministry weaknesses is my tendency to expect people to be truthful and gracious. I have too often ignored mean, petty, vindictive, fickle, back-biting, lying, and proud people, stubbornly and stupidly believing that "they can't really be that way." Turns out they can! And a leader (such as me) can damage a church or organization with such a faulty and naive theology....and it's a POSITIVE thing to confront such behavior before it can damage and destroy people and churches.

These are far from the only lessons I learned in each ministry. I could just as easily have listed "leadership can be learned, but vision must be God-given," "to serve is to lead," "leadership can be just as clearly shown in strategic retreats as in bold advances," and more. But those will have to suffice for now.

What about you? What lessons have you learned in your various posts and opportunities?

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