Category Archives: Pastoral Leadership

The Narcissistic Christian Leader

narcissism

By Thom Rainer

Narcissism should not be said in the same breath as Christian. The former is love of self; the latter is love of God in Jesus Christ.

But the sad reality is that narcissism can and often does creep into the lives of many Christian leaders. And narcissists are selfish and inconsiderate. They demand excessive attention. They feel entitled. And they often pursue power and prestige without regard for others.

The world of narcissistic Christian leaders is complicated by the fact that these leaders rarely recognize their problem. And the disorder may not be readily apparent to those who see them from a distance. They can appear, at least on the surface, to be brilliant and charismatic.

In fact some of those leaders may be reading this article thinking it’s about someone else. They have trouble recognizing their own malady. Let me be more personal. On too many occasions I have struggled with prideful and narcissistic behavior myself. And it took a confrontation from a friend or confidant to open my eyes.

Any person in leadership, even Christian leadership, can be tempted to love self and move into narcissism. So what can we who are Christian leaders do to avoid this trap? What can we do proactively? Allow me to offer five suggestions.

  1. Pray that God will open our eyes. A person of prayer is already demonstrating humility. He or she is admitting a dependency on God instead of self. Let those prayers include a request for God to remove the scales from our eyes, to let us see ourselves as we really are.
  2. Get a trusted advisor. Leaders need someone who can speak truth into their lives. Unfortunately, many leaders surround themselves with sycophants who only tell them what they want to hear.
  3. Get the true picture from those who serve under us. Narcissistic leaders might fool those who don’t see us up close.  But a true, clear, and often painful picture may be available from those who are and were closest to us. They really know us. But they may not have the fortitude to speak truth into our lives. It can be very helpful for a trusted advisor or coach to interview these current and former co-workers with a promise of anonymity.
  4. Repent. Narcissism is a sin. Once we have an awareness of this sin, we must confess it to God.
  5. Seek to restore relationships. A few years ago a trusted friend confronted me with my narcissistic behavior. He let me know that I was hurting others and harming my leadership. I never knew who shared with him about my sin. But I thought it was critical to let my leadership team know of my awareness, my apologies, and my desire to change in God’s power. The entire process was very painful for me, but very necessary for me personally and for my leadership.

Christians who are leaders can be prone to think we have achieved our leadership status because of our intellect and keen skills.  And that type of thinking is the first step toward narcissism. The godly Christian leader will realize that he or she is a recipient and conduit of grace, not a dispenser of wisdom and strategic insights.

And when we have that awareness, there is no way we can see ourselves as anything but a sinner who needs the grace and strength of our Lord every day and every minute.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders

leadership

By Dan Reiland

A good place to start is a set of working definitions for good leaders and great leaders. Let me offer one assumption, that both good leaders and great leaders are Godly individuals with integrity of character. With that stated . . .

Good leaders lead what is seen and known, while maintaining healthy relationships, stay inside the budget, and get the job done. This is good! Any church would be delighted to have a pastor like that. This leader focuses on the mission in context of present reality. He or she cultivates great relationships, raises money and hits budget targets. They realize salvations, transformed lives and numeric growth for the church.

Great leaders lead toward what is yet unseen and not fully known, often increasing revenues, while developing new and entrepreneurial relationships, and exceed expectations. This is great! Any church would be thrilled to have a pastor like this! This leader sees what is not yet seen, communicates it in a compelling way, and leads the church toward that vision. This often results in momentum. He or she is able to continually attract and develop new relationships of high capacity people, often realizing revenue above budget and the results exceed expectations (salvation, transformed lives and numeric growth for the church).

You might be quick to dismiss this whole idea by saying: “The great leader simply has more talent than the good leader.” It is true that innate ability makes a big difference. The parable of the talents in Mathew 25, verse 15, confirms that God gives to each according to his own ability. But I have met hundreds of leaders who seem to settle for “good enough” after assessing themselves as a “two talent” leader. Over time, this kind of thinking can lead to “one talent” behavior and thereby resulting in “one talent” performance. Instead, if a “two talent” leader seeks to leverage what has been given for maximum Kingdom stewardship — that can be the beginning of the transition from good to great.

With that in mind, let me offer 7 characteristics of great leaders that I believe are within the grasp of any leader who will stretch and reach.

• Great leaders have great faith.

Faith is a big deal for spiritual leaders. Jesus got frustrated with His disciples when they exercised less faith than He thought they should. Jesus often used the phrase “little faith” when addressing them. This has caused me to consider the level of my faith. What do I really believe God can and will do? Do I live out my faith in such a way that inspires others? How about you, what do you believe? The best leaders I know have great faith. They aren’t always right, and they don’t have all the answers but they believe God will come through on His promises!

• Great leaders create.

There is no denial that a good percentage of local church ministry is managing stuff and simply getting routine things done. This consistency provides the much needed stability for any church. But many of the critical priorities for a great leader involve new, improved, and innovative ideas in order to take new territory. This is the process that leads to the coveted momentum we all desire. This creativity may not take the majority of your time, but it should get some of your best time. What is the last best idea you’ve had? What have you done with it?

• Great leaders insist on healthy relationships that are productive.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone, but he also guides us to make our deeper investments into a selected few. He modeled this with His twelve disciples. Jesus was honest with His disciples. He confronted them, made expectations clear, and spoke the truth in love. He challenged them to bear fruit!

In order to have healthy relationships you must first be healthy as the leader. Not perfect, but self-aware, authentic, and willing to give more than you get. Healthy relationships are honest, embrace mutual voluntary submission, and serve for the greater good. Great leaders don’t settle for friendships that get stuck or stagnant. They pursue growth and an iron sharpens iron kind of love that results in Kingdom fruit!

• Great leaders practice fierce focus.

Most leaders can name their real priorities, but surprisingly few stay focused on them to the point of accomplishment. Distraction is lethal to leaders. There are so many things that demand your time and attention, but only a few things really matter. Philosopher William James said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” In other words, the real genius is in knowing what not to do! You can’t do everything, but if you do the most important things first, you will gain your greatest results. It’s amazing how many of the less important things don’t need to be done.

• Great leaders know when to push and when to back off.

No one likes an intense leader, but all leaders must exert leadership intensity. Anyone who is intense all the time is too much to take. People end up not liking them and resisting their leadership. A wise leader knows how to kick in the intensity at the right times and when to back off to let the people breath. It’s like a race car driver. If they mashed the accelerator to the floor all the time, they would end up in the wall. Great drivers know when to let up as well as when and how to feather the brakes.

• Great leaders are willing to tolerate “messy” if it means progress.

Leadership is not a tidy process, it’s not for the faint of heart and if you are a perfectionist you may struggle. People are messy, that’s okay. Part of a leader’s job is to help people live better through Christ. This is not an excuse for unorganized chaos or making it up as you go. It’s a recognition that life is messy and that we need to embrace whatever it takes as long as it leads toward progress. The goal is progress for people individually and progress for the church overall as an organization.

• Great leaders have settled their call.

One of my personal blessings from local church leadership through the years has been conversation with thousands of pastors. One of the significant observations from these conversations is the difference between those who have settled their call to full time ministry and those who have not. For those who have settled their call, it’s not about success or failure, though we all want success. It’s about commitment. When your call is settled, it’s settled! There is a rest and peace in your soul, you know who you are and to whom you belong. You know your purpose and though you may not always be satisfied, you are always content. This is the foundation for great local church leadership. This gives you and God freedom to realize your fullest potential.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at www.INJOY.com.”

The Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas

By Thom Rainer

I am tempted to say that my ministry would be incomplete without my wife, Nellie Jo. It is more accurate, however, to say I likely wouldn’t have a ministry without her. She not only has been supportive; she has been a vital partner in my ministry.

Pastors and church staff members across the nation have shared with me the importance of their spouses in ministry. I was again reminded of this reality when I read a recent article in Harvard Business Review. The article was based on an incredibly impressive research project interviewing almost 4,000 business executives over a five-year period.

There were many parallels in this study and the anecdotal information I have heard from pastors and church staff members. To be clear, the HBR study looked at business executives, not those serving in churches. And they broadened the survey from “spouses” to “spouses and partners.” For those reasons, we can certainly expect divergence in the results compared to those serving churches vocationally.

Still, look at each of these key five areas and see for yourself if you can identify in your own ministry. The numbers may differ, but I think the sentiments will be similar.

  1. The importance of a spouse for emotional support (34% of the men and 29% of the women). A pastor recently shared with me his frustration with his church and his temptation to quit ministry. I asked him what has kept him going thus far. He told me: “The call of God and the support of my wife.” Many of us in ministry have similar stories.
  2. The importance of a spouse to accept career demands (16% of the men and 17% of the women). Someone who serves on a church staff is typically on call 24/7. Though pastors and church staff should do everything they can to give their families time, emergencies happen. Many needs are time sensitive. It takes a special spouse to handle that reality.
  3. The importance of a spouse to provide practical help (26% of the men and 13% of the women). In the HBR article, this practical help specifically addressed child raising and housekeeping and similar functions. I know a man whose wife serves as children’s minister in a church. It is very important for him to be home on weekends, particularly Sundays, because that’s his wife’s workday. He needs to be available to take care of the kids.
  4. Career advice (19% of the men and 13% of the women). I have looked to my wife every time I sensed God leading me to another place of ministry. She not only has been supportive, she has offered me wise and timely counsel. I was talking to a pastor just yesterday about a possible ministry change. He shared with me how important his wife is in providing counsel and advice.
  5. Willingness to relocate (10% of the men and 8% of the women). I feel confident that these percentages would be much higher among those in vocational ministry. The ministry is more often than not a very noble and mobile calling.

Keep in mind that the percentages noted in each of the five areas were for business executives. I believe, for the most part, the numbers would be much higher for those in ministry. And though the numbers are not mutually exclusive, there are hardly any leaders in businesses or churches who do not lean on their spouses greatly. Frankly, I can’t see how any pastor or any church staff person can make it in ministry without a supportive spouse.

How do you view these five areas? Are there some areas you would add to the five? Do you have a specific story of a supportive spouse in ministry? I would love to hear from you.

And by the way, Nellie Jo, thank you. I couldn’t make it in ministry or life without you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Ten Areas Where Pastors Need to Be Trained for the 21st Century

By Thom Rainer

Any pastor or other church staff member should be prepared in biblical truths. Theology is a key discipline as well. Indeed none of the classical disciplines should be forsaken, nor any of the practical disciplines, such as missions, evangelism, or church planting.

But the American culture has shifted dramatically in a relatively short period. The United States is becoming more like an international mission field. As a result, ministry training, whether formal or informal, should reflect this reality. Missionaries are typically required to receive intensive cultural and language training before they go overseas. Frankly, a similar need exists today for those in American congregations, or those planning to go to these churches.

So where are the greatest needs? My list is certainly not exhaustive, nor is it in any particular order. But I do see all of these areas as key to reaching our new and challenging culture.

  1. A new language. If a pastor or church staff member does not “speak” social media, he or she is neglecting one of the fastest growing trends in our nation, indeed in our world. It is no longer a fad; it is a primary means of communication.
  2. A non-Christian culture. Our nation is fast becoming a non-Christian nation. While we lament the relative decline in the numbers who follow Christ, we must also accept the reality that those in our community cannot be assumed to be like us, or to hold our values.
  3. The decline of cultural Christians in churches. The Pew Research project confirmed the dramatic increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. For our churches, this development means that most people do not feel cultural pressure to attend churches. More and more, those who are there are convicted Christians and not Christians in name only.
  4. A new work/life balance. Pastors and church staff members have always been on call 24/7. But now they are connected 24/7 as well with computers, smart phones, and other technological advances. For better or worse, the world of work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred.
  5. Unregenerate church members. Cultural Christians are those who really know they are not believers, but are affiliated with churches for cultural reasons. But another group includes those who may cognitively assert a belief in Christ, but have really not had a conversion. For certain, this development is not new. But we are seeing the cumulative cost of weak discipleship and false conversions in our churches. How will we respond to the issue of numbers of members who are not truly believers?
  6. The community as a mission field. Can we change our mindsets and be better prepared? Our communities are not just changing because there are fewer Christians. They are changing with an influx of new ethnic groups and people of other religious beliefs.
  7. Less automatic cultural respect of church leaders. In past years, those who held the title of “pastor” or some similar nomenclature were revered in the community just by the position they held. Such is not the case today. Respect must be earned one day at a time.
  8. A more critical world. Many pastors and church staff members do not deal well with the more transparent and critical world in which we live. Some retreat to a form of passivity or paths of least resistance. And some quit altogether.
  9. A greater need for leadership skills. The world in which we live is complex. We may long for simpler times, but that won’t change our realities. Church leaders must be better leaders in more challenging times.
  10. More churches in need of revitalization. This last item may be last on the list, but the need is huge. As many as nine out of ten of our churches are in need of some level of major revitalization. There are tens of thousands of these churches, and the implications for equipping leaders for them are vast.

This list may be discouraging to you as you read the cumulative implications. I see it, however, from a different perspective. I see this new reality and this new mission field as a great opportunity. No, it’s not your father or mother’s church. It’s a new and challenging reality requiring a missional mindset. It requires total dependence on the One who sends us to the mission field. And that is exactly where God wants us.

What do you think about this mission field called America?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

10 Reasons NOT to Quit Abruptly, Pastor

Don't Quit

By Pastor Joe McKeever at www.joemckeever.com (used by permission)

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)

From time to time I receive notes like this:

“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”

Nothing about that feels right. I want to call to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or or a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your everloving mind?!”

I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.

I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.

Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….

1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.

You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.

So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?

I have something to say to you, my friend.

Grow up.

No one said it was going to be easy, least of all the Lord who called you in the first place. Go back to Matthew 10 and read what He said to the early disciples, from verse 16 through the end of the chapter. Compare your situation with what they were facing, then apologize to Him for your belly-aching.

2) The church needs you to see them through this crisis.

There are good people in your congregation who need a shepherd. If you walk away, you are abandoning them to the bullies who have been making your life miserable and ruling that church with a heavy hand.

If the bullies remain in place, the church will continue to be sick and stunted in its growth and ministries. Read Acts 20:28ff and notice that from the very beginning of the Lord’s church, it has been this way. Your church is not unusual. It may be sick, but if so, it needs a physician and that’s why you were sent. Stay with the patient.

3) If you walk away, the bullies win, they are empowered, and they will try to control the next pastor.

The pastor who follows you will wish for all the world that you had cleaned out that nest of vipers before leaving. As it was, he will feel you took the easy way out, turned over the keys to the trouble-makers, and made sure the next preacher will have to deal with them all over again.

I know, I know–it doesn’t feel that way. You are at your wit’s end and feel you cannot take it any more. But you can. Stay with the assignment the Lord gave you. Love those bullies and minister to them as faithfully as you do the precious saints. Follow the blueprint of Luke 6:27-35. You will puzzle the troublemakers, frustrate the devil, and honor your Lord. Furthermore, you will strengthen your church and give your people a picture of a blessed servant of the Lord for all time.

4) You have a family to support.

As the head of your household, you are charged with providing for your own, a serious assignment from the Lord. To walk away from a steady paycheck because you “couldn’t take it any more” reflects poorly on you and puts your loved ones in a difficult situation.

Now, it’s possible to go too far in the other extreme. I’ve seen pastors cave in to the bullies and not challenge them on anything–”I go along to get along,” one called it–in order to keep their job. Do that and you soon lose the respect of everyone including those nearest and dearest to you, and will become the lapdog of the church-rulers.

Each extreme is unwise–caving in or abruptly walking away.

Stay close to the Lord for His guidance, His wisdom and the kind of self-control only He gives.

5) If you walk away, your ministry will be changed forever–and possibly diminished.

What do you suppose a pastor search committee is going to think when they look at your resume? May I answer that for you?

–”If this guy is so good, why is he without a job now?”

–”If he could not get along with the strong leaders in his last church, he’d have trouble in our church, too.”

–”Let’s not take the chance. Let’s see who else is available without all this baggage.”

And you are history. Believe me, pastor, I have been on the receiving end of this stuff and have the scars to prove it.

You are seriously handicapping your future service to the Lord by quitting and walking away.

In the Southern Baptist Convention–always my frame of reference–if you walk away from your present church, it will take from six months to a year before you get another church and that one will be a third to one-half the size of the present one. You will regress in your ministry in a hundred ways if you walk away.

6) If you walk away and find yourself unemployed, you may lose confidence in yourself and possibly in the Lord.

Say what you like about the ministry being different from other jobs, but the simple fact is in our culture most of us get our identity from our work. When you have no work to go to in the morning, you begin to wonder “who am I?” and then “am I a failure?”

I cannot count the heart-breaking emails I have received from unemployed pastors who wonder why God doesn’t hear their prayers, why search committees do not appreciate their resumes, and why friends do not recommend them to other churches or invite them to fill the pulpit in their absence.

You do not want to be in that position if you can help it, preacher.

7) God can use this testing time in your life, in your family, in your church, and even in the lives of the trouble-makers.

In the weight room, you build a muscle by putting stress on it. In God’s kingdom, He builds believers by allowing us to undergo trials and burdens and oppositions. If we walk away from the work before quitting time, we miss the blessings and often add to the problems of the very people we were sent to encourage and bless.

Did you enter the ministry idealistically? Were you expecting the churches to be filled with saints and every day to be sweeter than the day before? If so, it’s clear you have never read your Bible. Look at the ministry of God’s shepherds in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc) and in the New Testament (Paul, Peter, James, John, etc). They all had a tough time of it. Did you think you were better than they?

I don’t mean to be unkind here, but only to provoke you to be tough with yourself and not jump ship when the going gets rough.

8) Think of how you will feel about this a million years from now.

Which is to say, take the long view and not the short-term view.

9) The bullies need you to act courageously and faithfully. Whether they know it or not.

It will be good for the Diotrephes in your congregation (those who “love to have the pre-eminence”) to see someone acting like God truly is in this place, that the Lord really did send him here, and that he actually expects to have to stand before the Lord some day and give account for this flock (see Hebrews 13:17). It will be eye-opening for the bullies to see you able to take a licking, then get up and love them again in the power of the Holy Spirit.

You are going to win them by the power of humility, love and service, and not by playing the game the way they want it conducted (by sheer force, big numbers, and power).

10) Your family needs to see you acting maturely, speaking firmly, and confidently dealing with this matter in quietness and strength.

Over the years, I have encountered adult children of ministers who quit going to church years ago “after seeing how the church people treated my daddy.” They grew bitter at the church and marked them all off as unChristian and hypocritical. To the extent their preacher-fathers allowed them to be hurt, they did them no favors.

Protect your children, parents. As much as you can, pastor dad, shield your wife from the trouble. She’ll need to be in on some of it, but not all. But shield your children from as much of it as you possibly can. They are so vulnerable. They do not have the spiritual resources with which to deal with hateful members or cruel leaders. So, try to shield them.

The ministry can be the most rewarding life in the world. But it can also be the cruelest. In either case, it is the Lord Christ whom you serve. And let me assure you, He does not take lightly the wonderful service you render in His name nor the treatment you receive from those who would hinder you. (Hebrews 6:10 has your name all over it.)

Find out and then help your family to see what Scripture means in calling the Lord “our Shield and Defender.” It’s all good.

Now, get up off the ground and get back into the ring, preacher. The worst thing they can do is kill you and all that does is send you to Heaven.

1 4 5 6