What kind of leader are you? Perhaps the best way to understand your own leadership style and capacity is to look at those who are following you. What do you see in their eyes? Are their hearts coming alive, or is the life being sucked out of them? If you run a ministry at church, are your volunteers passionate and enthusiastic? When a ministry cycle or initiative ends, are they already looking forward to the next one? Or are they hesitant about getting involved again? The primary indicator of the success of a ministry event or initiative is not how much money was raised, or meals cooked, or even people saved(!). The primary indicator of success is the condition of the hearts of those involved in making the event happen.
I believe there is a spectrum of leadership that runs from life-giving leaders on one end to death-dealing leaders on the other. Life-giving leaders die to themselves that others might live. A life-giving leader guards his tongue carefully. He empowers others. He trusts. He praises loudly and criticizes gently. Most of all, he dies to himself. A life-giving leader restrains himself and his need for validation through the success of the ministries and events in his charge. He instead gives others real power to succeed or fail–he trusts his people. He lets go of control. When tempted to change course midstream, a life-giving leader takes into consideration the work that has been done thus far, and consults with his team as one of them. In short, he puts others before himself.
Are you a life-giving leader? Do you fall on this side of the spectrum? I believe that this is the type of leadership Jesus had in mind when he said, “The greatest among you must be the servant of all.” Our job as church leaders is not to put on great events. Rather, it’s to see the hearts of those with whom we serve come alive.
So. How do you do that? It starts with trust. As a leader, you have got to trust your people. Notice I didn’t say “you’ve got to be able to trust your people.” That implies that your people must prove themselves trustworthy before you trust them. Not so in the kingdom. We trust first. The foundation must be trust, not results. Any ministry built on a foundation of results will soon crumble; but one built on a foundation of trust will weather any storm.
You’ve got to trust your people. And when they come through, and do so in ways that far exceeded your expectations, you trust them more. And when they fail, you work through it, but you still must trust them. (Granted that trust ebbs and flows with our own faithful- and faithlessness.) When you trust your people, and they know that you trust them, a remarkable thing happens. They trust you, and do so strongly! So you see how mutual trust among a ministry leader and his team forms a strong bond that will survive even the most difficult seasons. (This is also, I believe, how a pastor can have deep and lasting friendships with people in his congregation.)
How can you build this foundation of trust on your ministry team? When somebody has an idea that’s almost as good as yours, go with theirs. When someone is thinking out of the box, try to go there with them. Notice what they do well and casually bring it up in front of the whole team. Protect them from harsh criticism and unrealistic expectations, while at the same time push them to maximize their gifts and skills. Believe in them. Be their biggest fan.
Trust is the first lesson of being a life-giving leader. I hope that this helps you to be the kind of leader who sees the hearts of others come alive.