Top 10 Leadership Principles From One Pastor's 60-Year-Long Ministry

Be careful not to water down your message for the sake of numbers. (Pexels/robbins flores)

Whether you're talking about your business or a church or the Beta club in your high school, the principles for making it successful and effective are similar. Here is my short list, based on nearly 60 years in serving the Lord's churches.

1. Be selective on who joins your organization. Go for big numbers only and you will end up diluting the wine.

You wouldn't employ a slob, a bum or a disruptive person for your company. Nor should a church receive as members those who show no indication of being Christ-followers. Churches might set up some kind of probationary period. Receive people as members but without full privileges for the first year. What privileges? Serving on committees, voting on motions, teaching classes. Then, at the end of the year, they and others who joined near the same time are received in a ceremony of some kind.

When someone asked for a Scripture on this, I responded, "You don't need one. Some things are no-brainers."  Lessons learned by long, sad experience. Receive anyone and everyone as members, and you end up bringing the enemy into the inner works.

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At the very least, a church should have a short interview with each person joining immediately after they present themselves. Also, church leaders could prepare a booklet spelling out the blessings and expectations of membership in this church.

2. Choosing leaders is the most important thing any group will ever do.

Every group says volumes about itself by the character of the leadership it chooses. That, incidentally, applies to the United States just as it does to the local 4-H club or your Sunday school class.

Read I Timothy 3 and see how the qualifications for pastors and deacons matter. Read Acts 6:1-7 and see the same for deacons.

A drunken senator was once nominated to the Supreme Court. When confronted with his problem, he said, "If confirmed, I promise to quit drinking." No one bought that flimsy line, nor should a church choose as leader a person with a record of tearing up churches or breaking his marital vows. Forgiving someone is one thing, but trusting them with your valuables is another.

Scripture is filled with leadership lessons. You'll find three from our Lord in Luke 16:10-12.

3. Empower those you choose as leaders to do their work well, yet hold them accountable at the same time.

I've known churches that required the pastor to get a church vote for anything costing over $5. And other churches that required him to get a committee approval for anything over $100.

Some churches need to learn that when they call someone as a pastor or staffer, they should give him/her room (and the means) to do their work and not erect obstacles, too many regulations or heavy burdens. I once brought a man onto our staff as business administrator. The first thing he did was propose that everyone fill out a form in triplicate to buy the first thing for our work. I said, "John, please make it easier to do our work, not harder." That was the end of the triplicate form.

Every pastor should meet with church leaders from time to time to discuss his work, hear his heart and advise him. Ideally, it should be a standing committee of a half-dozen solid men and women. Call it "pastor support team" as one of my pastorates did, or something else entirely. But a pastor who is answerable to no one in the church is asking for trouble.

Likewise, every staff member should be answerable to the pastor. I had one tell me, "You're not my boss. The church called me to this staff." I was patient with him and said quietly, "They did because I asked them to. And if I ask them to send you packing, they'll do that too." She shaped up quickly.

4. Always be on the alert for people with potential and constantly be training new leaders.  Never quit. Otherwise, when present leaders die, retire or move away, a vacuum in the leadership ranks will bring the work crashing to a halt.

Begin training leaders by delegating. Give people tasks to do. It'll multiply your effectiveness, train leadership and bless everyone involved.

From time to time, conduct classes on leadership for selected people with potential. Invite them personally and make the teaching the best you have ever done. You are, after all, setting the gold standard by which most will live and work for the rest of their lives.

In delegating work, you don't necessarily tell people you are prepping them for future leadership. Just give them small tasks and help them do well, then gradually increase their assignments as they serve faithfully. My wife used to work for a manager of a bookstore who said, "The reward for a job well done is a bigger job."

5. Unless you are in the military or a football coach, do not command anyone to do anything.  Lead by example and servanthood (see 1 Pet. 5:3). Otherwise, you are asking for all the trouble you are going to get.

Be a worker yourself. Set the example. Show people how to do the job. Stay with them until they get it. Encourage and appreciate them. And reward them from time to time.

When a church chooses you as their pastor, they're not ready to follow you yet. You must earn their trust by faithfulness, love, and exemplary service.

The husband who demands that his wife and children obey him because "God made me the head of the home" is brother to the pastor who demands the congregation follow him unquestioningly because "God made me the head of this church."  I'm biting my tongue but close to calling both that husband and that pastor blockheads. The Bible does not make them dictators. Far from it. It makes them servants. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it."  That's Ephesians 5. Love her that way and she'll do anything for you, husband.

6. Serve people. Serve the young and the old. Serve the sick and elderly and serve the healthy and the strong.

Your role model is the Lord who washed the feet of His disciples (John 13). He came not to be ministered unto, but to serve. And to give His life a ransom.

A servant works to make others successful, does not need recognition or approval, and is constantly on the lookout for jobs that need doing.

When you finish serving, say to yourself the words of Luke 17:10, "I am only an unworthy servant; I'm just doing my duty."  Do that constantly, and you will drive a stake through the heart of the ego with its never-satiated lust for recognition and appreciation.

7. When you delegate a task to a colleague, do so gently and kindly. And then do not abandon them.

"John, could you help me?  I need you to chair this committee on parking lot greeters. We're trying to set this up right so we can help people find their way in our church and to feel at home. Finding the right leader is so crucial, and I think you're just the person. What do you say?"

Do not say "The Lord told me you are the person for this."  Doing that paints them into a corner. To reject it sounds like they're saying the Lord misled you. Just be kind and ask them to do it.

Then, follow up. See No. 8.

8. A good leader always follows up an assignment.

I had a staff member who went through a number of assistants rather quickly. Finally I decided to debrief one who was leaving. "He's a wonderful person," she said, "but he throws us into this office to do a hundred jobs and never shows us how. It's so frustrating, and we hate to disappoint him."

There are two ways to do follow-up: formally or informally. The first is to set up a meeting in the office and ask for a full report. "Hey Bob, could we get together tomorrow morning?  I'd like to see how your assignment is coming along?"  By giving advance notice, you give Bob time to get his act together. The second is to call on the phone (or stop in the hallway) and ask, "How's that project coming?" "Anything I can do to help?"

If you appoint someone to a task but never follow up, you are almost guaranteeing either they will not do it or they'll do it poorly. And it'll be your fault.

9. When you find yourself with a person who has achieved success, pick their brains on lessons of leadership they learned along the way.

We never arrive. Leadership is an ongoing subject, with specific lessons and requirements for every field.

When the deacon's wife was in surgery, he and I shared the hospital waiting room for several hours. Since he was a high administrator in a Washington D.C. agency and formerly president of the American Bankers Association, he had a great deal to teach his young pastor. I picked his brain and carry valuable lessons to this day.

10. Once your team has finished a project, thank the members.

There are a hundred ways to do this, some more appropriate than others. A huge project might require a public celebration of thanksgiving and recognition. Something lesser might require only a hand-written note in the mail.

"When the leaders in Israel lead, when the people freely volunteer, bless the Lord! —Deborah (Judg. 5:2). That's the ideal–leaders doing their job and the people stepping up and volunteering and serving well.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.

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