Being a leader is tiring. When I was pastoring in Buffalo in the early ’90s, I was responsible for EVERYTHING. You name it, I did it:
Make the bulletins. Check.
Visit the hospitals and sick. Check.
Preach the message. Check.
Lead worship. Check. (I am still apologizing to Jack Hayford for my rendition of Majesty.)
Looking back, I am reminded that effective leadership is not in all the responsibilities or tasks we have, but rather in how well we develop the processes needed to accomplish them with excellence. We often lose sight of the fact that leadership, at its most basic level, involves the leading of people.
This means that we need to develop priorities in our leadership aimed at being efficient and effective with our time and energy.
I want to outline five ways that pastors, ministry leaders and Christians as a whole can start to think through their leadership priorities.
1. Assemble a high quality team and empower them to excel.
Quality seeks quality.
The first step in leadership priorities is making sure that you have a quality team and that they know that you believe in them. Too often, leaders let their insecurity push them to surround themselves with less talent, concerned only that their star is the brightest. Leadership priorities begin with constructing a team that is talented, skilled, creative and that buys into the vision of the organization.
As Sydney Finkelstein notes in his new book, Superbosses, “If you look around the room and you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
2. Delegation is critical to success and healthy for your team.
Having talented and capable people on your team means that you can then trust delegating responsibility and authority. At its core, delegation is the act of giving someone under your charge responsibility and authority in your place, freeing you to focus on higher priority objectives.
A guiding principle that I adopt in terms of delegation is: I only do what I can do. In other words, if there is something that others on my team are capable of handling, I delegate that responsibility to them and empower them with the authority to pursue it with excellence. Methodically going through and cutting out those things I am doing but that others can do eventually leaves you with a focused list of core responsibilities that are central to your effective leadership.
While I can do the research I assign to my intern (and probably quicker), it’s better to invest that time into other responsibilities that she could not do. Delegation is not a question of worth before God, but rather stewardship of our resources in service to the kingdom.
For example, only I can parent my children. Delegating this responsibility is a mistake likely to do untold damage and provoke hundreds of hours of therapy. So while I delegate the responsibility of driving people around to those on my team, I make a point of driving my daughters around because it is an opportunity to be present.
At the same time, delegation is an important tool in training your staff to grow in their own leadership and other gifts. The micromanaging pastor who has a ‘do-it-myself’ mentality doesn’t realize that he is depriving his team and church of opportunities. Every time he takes over he is implicitly suggesting that others can’t succeed. Deprived of these opportunities, over time this emaciates his team so that when they need to be relied upon they lack the knowledge or skills necessary to carry the burden.
3. Pastors and ministry leaders need to pursue efficiency.
Even with the proper people in place and a spirit of delegation, organizations need to have the correct systems in place in order to be effective. Systems allow each member of the team to know what is expected of them, when it is expected, and how their work fits into the broader objective of the team. As a leader, I spend considerable time constructing and refining our systems—managing the people and processes of work rather than the work itself.
Poor systems result from being either too restrictive or loose. Leaders need to think critically and be flexible to refine their systems over time if they do not prove effective.
4. Pastors and ministry leaders need to pursue efficiency, or they will burn out.
I understand and empathize with those who see this drive to efficiency in ministry as counter to the gospel. Establishing this hierarchy to pursue efficiency seems corporate, whereas the gospel calls us to serve. After all, didn’t Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? Aren’t we called to do likewise as pastors?
Yes and no. Where non-Christian organizations pursue efficiency in response to sales, revenue and ultimately profits, churches need to pursue profits in order to protect their pastors. One of the major problems churches and denominations are concerned about right now is the rate of pastoral burnout. This is not to suggest, as some wrongfully have, that pastors are miserable and hate their jobs. Far from it, studies show that pastors overwhelmingly feel privileged to be in ministry (93 percent strongly agree).