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Leadership Realities

Slogans are captivating. We live in a slogan-driven society. The world of advertising is totally dependent upon them. It employs catchy slogans to call us to reach for Coke, “the real thing”, or to heed Nike’s challenge to “just do it!” Slogans inspires. Slogans focus energy. Slogans sells.

But slogans are over-simplifications. They beg the fundamental questions. Questions like “in what way is Coke the real thing?” or “Just do what? Why?” In the midst of life’s complexities, simplistic slogans can often be misleading. 

Not Everyone Is A Leader

One such misleading slogan is advanced in leadership courses. It is the positive message that “everyone is a leader”. Simplistically, I can understand its foundational premise. I even champion it. After all, leadership is often defined as influence. Thus, since everyone has some form of influence, it stands to reason that “everyone is a leader”. 

Granted. Up to a point. 

But then again, such over-simplification can be misleading. It begs fundamental questions such as: “what exactly are we influencing towards?” Or put another way, “by what influence are we leading whom for what and why and how?” 

Reality check. Not everyone is a leader. True, everyone has some influence. However, not everyone can grasp the “for what purpose”, or the “to what endor thehow exactly do we get from where we are to where we want to be! 

Leadership is a calling, a gift and a responsibility. Those gifted in leadership grasp these leadership challenges and positively respond to them almost intuitively. I call these the intuitive leaders (as opposed to the inculcated leaders). Intuitive leaders are gifted visionary leaders.

Others grow in leadership through inculcated leadership skills. I call these the inculcated leaders. Thus, here’s the real good news. While not everyone is a leader by gifting, many can be trained in leadership. They can cultivate leadership skills to thereby fulfill their leadership responsibilities with competence.

My point here is simple. Rather than propagate the over-simplistic slogan that “everyone is a leader”, it is better to say that while NOT EVERYONE is a leader, all can be mentored with leadership skills to fulfill their leadership responsibilities more effectively.

Leading A Ministry Is Difficult

I detest the “three simple steps to leadership effectiveness or money back guarantee” mentality. Of course we don’t say such things. But we think it. It’s a mentality. Or more accurately, a naïve sentimentality, used as a comforting placebo which ultimately merely gives false hope to those who believe it. There are NO simple steps to leadership. It is hard work.

Leadership is anything but easy!

At the forum hosted by Rick Warren, a dialogue was generated to share the challenges of leadership. One of the threads was on the mistakes leaders made in church-planting efforts. Pastor Bob Crane of Suburban Community Church, Aurora, IL indicated how difficult leadership is in his open candor.  

Pastor Bob had come to Aurora to a dying church. He tried to figure out how to transition it to a “purpose-driven church”. Here’s Pastor Bob’s honest tale:

Trainwreck 1

Read Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren and said “Hey, I can do that!” Put out a 15k piece mailer of a new church launching in Aurora. Launched on Easter with no team. “I really didn’t read the book too well,” Bobby said in retrospect. 40 showed up to first service, 2 showed up the next week, 1 the week after that. 

Trainwreck 2

Took 1 of the people that came back and used them to put together a “team” for his next attempt. Decided the building was hurting so he moved the entire traditional church into a school so they could be hip. The team was incredibly unhealthy (husband and wife with problems, widow with an attitude, one gal who wanted our focus to be no one in particular, and a control freak who never lasted more than six months in a church). Things started going bad, people were gossiping and Bobby called the control freak to smooth things out but was chewed up one side and down the other on the phone. Left him in a three month struggle.

Trainwreck 3

Took that same one person (“yeah, I’m stupid!,” Bobby said half in jest) and had her get another group together. The widow was still on board as was the one person and their spouse. Next we added a new couple with SERIOUS issues, and a couple that was local and never lasted more than a year in a church. And Pastor Bobby poured everything into these people trying to help them get it. They painted the church (woo hoo!) cleaned, and even helped on an egg hunt outreach.

One husband ended up having an affair with a friend in another town. The couples ended up swapping spouses and – you guessed it – they asked Pastor Bobby to do the wedding! Of course, he turned it down.

Next, Pastor Bobby bought a big screen at a garage sale for 100 bucks to use for powerpoint. He immediately received an email from one of the two couples left saying that they didn’t think the church should throw money they don’t have around. Bobby called him on a Thursday to see if they could talk and he could tell the other couple was there. He said they would definitely meet and that he would call Bobby back. Obviously, Bobby was upset and his wife Carla was crying. They set a date for Friday evening. A local churchplanter took Bobby to lunch on Friday and that REALLY HELPED. Basically he helped Bobby to see if he is looking in desperation he’ll get desperate people and they will seek unhealthy control.

Friday evening came along. They all sat down with an agenda. One guy said “we’re out of here.” Bobby looked around. Everyone nodded. So he stood up, said OK, and began shutting the lights off in the room. The guy looked really confused and said “It wasn’t supposed to work this way.” Thus the new church came to an abrupt end. And they lived unhappily ever after.

Leadership is anything but easy!

Leadership Doesn’t Get Easier

It is a common misconception. Many would think that leadership gets easier “once you get the hang of it”. Does it? Sure a leader does grow in leadership experience. Sure a leader would know more about “what to do” and “how to lead”. But do all these really make it easier? Of course not! Here’s my reason why – 

True leaders don’t rest on their laurels; they find new challenges!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t just cruise along; they pioneer into uncharted territories!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t settle with the status quo; they challenge the status quo!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t merely go through the motion, they go for brokes!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t major on the minor; they major on the major!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t settle for the short-term, they go for the long haul!
It doesn’t get easier.

True leaders don’t just pass the baton; they make the baton that they want to pass on as they are running along!
It doesn’t get easier.

It’s lonely at the top. Sure, good leaders are often surrounded by good people. However, there are certain things that leaders must do alone. And leadership gets lonelier. It doesn’t get easier. 

Notice, by the way, that I did not say that leaders are lonely people. What I am saying is that leadership is a lonely task. And it doesn’t get easier. True leaders are learning new skills, engaging in new tasks and responding to new challenges all the time. It doesn’t get easier.

This erroneous mindset – that leadership would eventually get easier – has kept a good number of leaders from finishing well. Many have been sidelined. Disillusionment and detachment have come to rob leaders of their leadership mantle. 

Disillusionment stems primarily from false expectations. Expecting that things would be easier on the leadership front, these leaders are discouraged at how arduous the leadership journey is as they progress along. Instead of things becoming easier, it actually becomes harder! And the disillusioned leaders become lonelier. 

One of the chief virtues of leadership is courageous perseverance. However, disillusioned leaders no longer have the will (nor courage!) to persevere. Eventually, many either give up or simply go through the motion of leadership! When this happens, a sense of detachment swarms in.  The disillusioned leaders have become detached and are no longer deeply passionate about their once-compelling vision or of leading the way forward. 

They started well but fail to finish well. Simply because they have not given due consideration to these leadership realities. Not everyone is a leader. Leading a ministry is difficult. Leadership doesn’t get easier.

Yet God calls ordinary people to extraordinary leadership. 

How then do we answer God’s leadership call? How do we overcome these leadership realities? What’s the key to effective leadership? 

You wouldn’t like my answer. But I would give it to you anyway – even though I know it is a frustrating answer. But first, stop relying on slogans! Slogans are good in advertising but poor in offering any real help in the face of these difficult leadership realities. Slogans mislead and disillusion us. Face the reality.

In reality, the key is that there is no key.
Frustrating, isn’t it?