Four Habits that Make Me a Better Ministry Leader

Four Habits that Make Me a Better Ministry Leader

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Pressure. That’s the word that captures what it’s like to be a leader.

So many people are counting on us to know what to do, how to solve that, what to say, where to go, and how to navigate the challenges of life and ministry.

Our people want answers.

At a foundational level, leadership is bringing clarity out of complexity. It’s the ability to engage the toughest of questions and provide clear and actionable answers. Is anyone else more than a little intimidated by this? Perhaps, like me, you’ve been in that terrifying position of everyone looking at you for the answer and realizing that what you say next will become the marching orders for everyone looking at you. Gulp.

I’ve come to believe that the long-term quality of our leadership is dependent on four ongoing conversations.

The fruit of these four conversations will supply us with what we need to continue answering the toughest of questions with truthful and compelling answers. Without these four conversations, we will, over time, begin to answer the toughest of questions with stale, selfish, outdated, and wrong answers. We can’t have that. The mission of the Church is simply too important.

So, what are these four conversations? I’m glad you asked.

1) Conversations with Jesus

The times when I am at my worst as a leader are the times when I think that what makes me a great leader are my skills, expertise, and intelligence. Sure these are important assets to my leadership but when I rely on my own abilities I forget to ask important questions like:

  • What is God doing?
  • What is God calling us to do?
  • What has God already revealed about this question?

If there is one lesson that my senior pastor has pounded into our staff, it’s that the most important thing we bring to the table as leaders is NOT our skills, expertise and intelligence. It’s a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus.

Regular and meaningful conversations with Jesus are crucial for a great ministry leader. This is a constant challenge for me because so much of my work feels spiritual. But, sermon prep is not a relational pursuit. I think you get my point.

If, as a leader, you want the right answers, the process begins with prioritizing and pursuing regular conversations with Jesus.

2) Conversations with Dissidents

I’ve noticed a trend. There is often a correlation between churches that have become irrelevant to people outside their own aging congregation and a "we know everything" attitude.

When we have it all figured out, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we slide increasingly toward irrelevance with culture. What I’m talking about here is a lack of humility.

To keep our answers to the toughest of questions from growing stale and outdated, we must stay humble. One of the best ways to stay humble is to regularly listen to those who disagree. The voice of dissidents can lead to new and important approaches to ministry.

Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about theology. Stop freaking out. I’m talking about our practices. Here’s of a list of how the voice of dissidents have affected the American church over the last few decades:

  1. Worship music that reflects the tastes of society
  2. Small group ministries
  3. Student and children’s ministry that focuses on partnering with parents
  4. Seeker friendly worship services
  5. Chairs instead of pews
  6. Topical sermons
  7. Social justice as a priority in the church

Now, you might not like everything on this list but I’m guessing you like at least a few.

My point is that at some point someone stood up and said, “I think God is calling us to change” and a wise leader listened. When we stop listening to the dissidents, we shut down an important conversation that is necessary to wise and forward-thinking leadership.

So, that dissident who is waving the flag of change in your church. Sure, I know he or she is annoying but are you listening? Take them out to lunch and hear them out. You might just discover something important.

3) Conversations with Myself

Can I confess something weird? All my good ideas happen in the shower. Hey, I warned you that it was weird.

Seriously, it happens so often that I started to ask why. Is it the water? The heat?

Then it dawned on me that the shower is one of the few spaces in my life where my brain is free to think. In the car, I listen to books. When I run, I listen to music. When I’m home, I listen to my TV.

I realized, the shower was one of the only places where I was thinking deeply. That’s when I realized that I needed to create more thinking space.

The questions that arrive on the desk of the leader are not simple. If they were, someone would have already answered them. No, they are complex. They are often a choice between multiple good ideas, or sadly, a choice between multiple bad ideas. They are deep questions and deep questions require deep thinking. They require a long conversation with yourself.

Where, in your life do you have space for thinking deeply? If you don’t have any, or not enough, there is a good chance that your answers to the deep and complex questions facing you as a leader will be shallow and simplistic.

This is dangerous. We won’t see all the possible outcomes. We won’t see the hidden potholes. We could inadvertently lead our people and our congregations into dangerous waters.

A few suggestions here:

  • Schedule walks in which your purpose is to simply think.
  • Turn off the radio on your commute and let your brain process and create.
  • Sit for thirty minutes in a peaceful environment and mull over the tough questions.

This might feel like a waste of time but I would challenge you. What will cost you more? A few hours during your week to think, or the time it will take to backtrack on a poor decision?

4) Conversations with Friends

I would suggest that even when I carve out time for conversations with Jesus, dissidents and myself, there are times that I simply do not see reality. We all have blind spots because of our temperaments, prejudices and passions.

I have found that I need conversations with friends to help me see what I’m missing.

The wise counsel of friends and mentors has protected me and my ministry from all sorts of pain that I would have unintentionally inflicted. There is immense wisdom in one simple question:

“Does this sound right to you?”

Who are you processing with? Who do you trust to tell you the truth and reveal your blind spots? I would encourage you to set up regular conversations with these people.

Taking Action

Let’s wrap this up. Our people need our answers to the toughest of questions. This is what great leaders do. I believe that our ability to consistently provide wise answers is dependent on four ongoing conversations: With Jesus, with dissidents, with ourselves and with friends.

Are one of these conversations missing in your life on a regular basis? If so, I'd encourage you to take a step this week to fill that void.

The mission of the Church is simply too important for us to ignore this reality. Please don’t rely on your own skills, expertise and intelligence. Pursue these conversations.

And if you've been in the habit of having conversations like these and have any advice to share with other ministry leaders, we'd love to hear it in the comments below.

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