5 Common Mistakes That Wreck Your Leadership Culture
by Garrett Higbee

April 17, 2020

Healthy Plurality

5 Common Mistakes That Wreck Your Leadership Culture

By Garrett Higbee

April 17, 2020

In consulting with church leaders around the world over the last several years and working in churches for more than 20 some years, I’ve noticed some areas where pastors and elders continually fail.

I’ve been under excellent Bible teaching all through my life in church, but I’ve not always been under excellent leadership. Unfortunately, there is often a gap between Bible teaching and biblical leadership. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

There are five mistakes leaders continue to repeat in churches.

1. Choose the wrong leaders.

Instead of taking time to choose the right person, church leaders are often in a hurry and they simply grab leaders based on the candidate’s competence in their workplace, their capacity to serve, or even the church’s desperation to find someone. 

If you recruit and evaluate leadership based on worldly standards, you’re going to get the wrong person. Once that happens, get ready for a dangerous rollercoaster ride.

When Paul is talking about the qualifications for deacons, he tells Timothy they must be tested first (1 Tim. 3:10). You should vet potential leaders thoroughly. You don’t simply want competency; you want character.

Get to know their marriage, family, and personal life. Let them serve as an apprentice to someone who is already a quality leader. You’ll see if they’re teachable, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and know how they respond under pressure. 

Hopefully after that experience, you’ve seen them love God and serve His people well. They’re not perfect, but you’ll know if you have someone with the needed character who can be a servant leader.

2. Succumb to unrealistic expectations.

If you want to tank your health as a leader, be at the beck and call of anyone and everyone that has a preference in your church. You cannot be a healthy leader and a people pleaser.

In my 20 years of ministry, God has taught me that I don’t need to say “yes” all the time. Healthy leadership means learning how to say “no” to make room for the better “yes.”

It’s similar to Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Essentially Mary told Martha, “No, I’m not going to help you set the table right now because the Main Dish just came in the room.” When a better “yes” presents itself, don’t be afraid to tell someone “no.”

Pastors and church leaders often feel as if they have to be available 24/7. They’re worried about not meeting every need and responding to every request. But it’s impossible for you or your church to sustain that style of leadership.

You have to learn to turn off your phone sometimes. You have to give away responsibility to others, so you keep your identity in the gospel, not in your job.

3. Ignore unresolved issues in your relationships.

Point to a denomination or major church planting network and this is a problem with them. We have conflict issues and they’re not being resolved biblically—particularly at home in our marriage and families. 

Leaders are too busy or too distracted to nurture their own marriage and family. That needs to be intentionally and immediately addressed.

Twenty years ago, someone challenged me to see conflict as an inevitable assignment. It’s going to happen. Our job is to respond biblically when it does. 

Part of this comes from pastors and leaders discovering how they typically handle conflict. Are you a peace-faker, a peace-breaker, or a peace-maker?

Peace-fakers don’t like conflict, so they avoid it and sweep it under the rug. Peace-breakers are constantly looking to argue. Anytime someone questions them, they respond aggressively. But God’s method for conflict resolution is peace-making. 

The peace-maker doesn’t avoid conflict, and they certainly don’t create it. But they know it’s coming. They prepare themselves for it and seek to handle it biblically.

4. Avoid feedback.

Church leaders often feel as if they get enough criticism, so they isolate themselves from all feedback. Yet, we will never understand how we are doing as a leader if we don’t take the time to listen to others.

Leaders in the church often sacrifice self-awareness for speed. Instead, slow down a little. How self-aware are you? Go a fellow church leader and ask, “How am I doing? How are we doing? Where do you think we could grow? Where do you see gaps?” 

And as you seek feedback, listen to it. You don’t have to make every suggested change, but take note of what they say. Not all feedback is not going to be as helpful as others. But give credence to the words of people who love you, who are life-giving, and who care about your church.

Too many pastors don’t have a confidant. They may have some allies. But a confidant knows everything. You are doing life with them with transparency and true accountability. When pastors and church leaders lack this, they will miss areas of their life and ministry that need correction.

5. Expect leadership development to happen organically.

Leaders desperately need ongoing training, care, counsel and accountability. But we tend to think we can sprinkle magic dust on people and they’re going to be an awesome leader. That’s not happening. Leaders need a development plan and path, including you.

Even if someone has all the leadership potential in the world, but we must coach them and help them harness it. We tell someone that God has His hand on them, send them out, and then never follow up. 

When we do that, those potential leaders often burn out, rust out, and step out of ministry. Then we say to ourselves, “That guy was an awesome volunteer, but now he doesn’t want to do anything.” It was because we didn’t do anything with him to develop the leadership potential. Instead, take time from chasing after the crazy sheep in your congregation to pour into those who can grow into the best leaders.

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