Leadership in ministry matters. This sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s amazing how little thought is given to this. Who we partner with, who is hosting us in ministry, is everything. Ministry is a top-down thing. If the leadership is weak, the best funding, planning, or organization in the world won’t help. An organization will never be better than its leader.
This week I encountered several situations where leadership, or lack of leadership, is affecting the ministry. Yes, God can move in any situation, and yes, God uses broken people. But God can only use those broken people if they admit they’re broken and work towards change.
Recently, a friend came to me, asking for input after a relatively disastrous short-term mission trip. They organized the trip and spent the money to travel halfway around the world to find their contact person was both unprepared and unwilling to host them. Their American missionary contact was not ready to lead them into the projects that had been lined up. The small team pushed forward to do their best in a difficult situation. In a meeting with other local ministry leaders from that country, they came to find out that the American missionary who was to be their host is not only ineffective, his local reputation was not good. This missionary was not trusted and was doing real harm to churches in the area. This is not the type of person with whom you want to be partnering. The team did their best but by the time they built some basic contacts in the area, their time in that country was over. Poor leadership on the ground had been a very real hindrance to service.
In our town, there is a large home that has been used off and on for about fifteen years as a men’s rehabilitation center. It’s gone through a few administrative changes, but it’s never really had the right people in charge. They’ve struggled to survive and be effective, but they never really seemed to grow or have any positive success with the men in the program. This week it reopened once again, but for the first time, there is real hope for success. The new leadership team is already doing everything right. They invited every ministry leader in the surrounding area for a dedication and ribbon-cutting. They’re seeking out strategic partnerships with other ministries and leaders in the community. Everyone on their board and every person involved has a long history of healthy ministry. The new director has an excellent reputation and is respected as a man of God. There is little doubt that they’re going to do great work.
As part of our work in orphan care, we are frequently asked to give opinions on other orphanages in our area. Some are great; many are OK, a few I actively steer people away from to avoid problems. The ONLY way to judge an orphanage is the quality of leadership. If the leadership is solid and working for the right reason and in the right direction, It will be a quality home. The children will be well cared for, and the resources will be used effectively. If the leadership is weak or serving for the wrong reasons, the orphanage will suffer. The children will be underserved, and resources will be wasted. There is no way around this. Funding and volunteer hours, if it’s used to back weak leadership, is wasted time and funding.
I write a lot about missions and orphan care, but let’s bring this closer to home for most people. In a church, the pastor sets the tone. You can tell almost immediately when walking into a church what kind of pastor leads the ministry. Are they tired? Are they just going through the motions? Or are they passionate about service, ministry, and changing lives? We all know pastors who should have stepped down years ago but are still in the pulpit for the wrong reasons. They like the position of honor. It’s a good job, and they don’t know how to do anything else. These are not the right reasons to be in ministry. A pastor leading from the wrong motivation can not point in the right direction. Being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and a pastor with vision, anointing, and a fire burning for the Gospel is a powerful thing. Every pastor has good days and bad, maybe a long dry season, pastoring a church is enormously challenging. But if the heart is right, the dry seasons are just that, a season, it is not a way of life.
Leadership matters. After 30 years in ministry, I’m much choosier with who I partner. I’ve been blessed to work with some outstanding people in the last few years. I’m also actively choosing not to work with certain leaders. Years ago, I was in a church where there was an odd saying: “Move with the movers and shake with the shakers.” This is deeper than it sounds. With whom will you partner? Who will you follow? Choose wisely.
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