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Leading Healthy Change Part 6

We’re talking about leading healthy change.

In Part One we discussed discerning “good change” and “bad change”—we essentially discovered that spiritual growth is change, and if you resist change, you’re resisting the work of what the power of the gospel actually does!

In Part Two we discussed the starting point of appreciating “what is” and managing the tension between “what is” and “what could be”—the tension between reality and the vision. Mismanaging that tension will dramatically affect your attitude as a leader—which dramatically impacts everything else. This section was really about learning to operate with a contented heart and a biblical vision simultaneously.

In Part Three we began discussing the first two of six steps in the process—building healthy relationships and communicating effectively.

In Part Four we revisited and developed the ideas of building strong relationships—especially as it relates to authenticity, trust, and the application of authority in leadership.

In Part Five we dug a bit deeper into effective communication and examined why it is so vital.

The next massive priority in leading healthy change is to develop leaders who dream with you, lead with you, and sincerely share a God-given vision. Let’s dive in…

Enlist Leaders to Your Team with Shared Vision

No one can lead in a vacuum or from a vacuum. Leadership is absolutely a team thing. Merely having a title and an office doesn’t make you a leader. This is especially true if you are attempting to bring about renewing, reviving kinds of change. You, alone, might be all revved up and passionate about the change (and that’s a good start), but ultimately you must have others sharing your vision, and leading with you.

If you are a “leader” but you look around and there isn’t a team passionate about your vision, then you aren’t leading yet. Another way to say it is this: you aren’t leading if no one is following. There are no more critical team members to enlist than other leaders. A key leader cannot lead forward without having other leaders and influencers that share his vision and help to realize it in the sphere of their own influence.

Change can’t happen in a broader group until a smaller team of leaders is engaged—which goes back to point one, relationships.

Why is team important?

First, because God invented it. God’s greatest leaders had teams. They developed others around them who shared God’s vision. Consider Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, Jesus, Paul, and others. They all worked with teams. They all led other leaders. They all labored together with others who shared the same vision.

Second, team is important because the right team lends credibility to the vision and the leader. If God stirs the hearts of others to own the same vision He has placed in your heart, you can be pretty sure it’s His vision. If God isn’t stirring those hearts, perhaps you’re attempting to implement a personal agenda for God? When God moves in a leader’s heart, He moves in the hearts of others around that leader as well. This is both humbling and exciting. It’s one way that God validates His vision.

Whenever a leader has to drive or coerce people to embrace his vision, there’s a problem. God doesn’t operate this way, and His people intuitively know it. Coercive leadership is never God’s doing—even if it’s for a good cause. Driving a vision (in place of God) always takes an organization “off track.” What begins as a “good idea” gradually becomes a burdensome, oppressive weight. Rather than feeling inspired to God’s call, the team begins to feel obligated to a “production-schedule” or “production-level” that is ultimately unsustainable.

This journey is a gradually constricting strangle-hold on the soul—stifling healthy devotion, and sucking the life-oxygen out of a heart that loves Jesus and longs to be compelled by that love.

It’s ironic, but even the thought of compelling people to “embrace the vision because they are constrained by the love of Jesus” can itself become antithetical. If I turn the “love of Jesus” into a club to beat people into action, then they won’t really be constrained by His love so much as they will be constrained by my coercive use of His love. This is when “love-driven” motivation can actually become “debt-driven motivation.” The two are very different.

Let’s be honest—if Jesus love is truly constraining and compelling people, then that will be self-evident. Those people don’t need to be prodded into action, they merely need direction for the passion God is growing in their hearts. Love-led ministry will flow organically from God’s Spirit within. Hearts will purely engage and thoroughly own authentic ministry in the gospel. The moment I have to use “the love of Christ” as a stick to prod people with, I’m merely exposing the fact that His love isn’t actually constraining us. Subtle isn’t it!?

The only way to truly help people “fall in love with Jesus” is to continually expose them to His love for them—to continually let the gospel grow bigger and more beautiful to their hearts. There is something very powerful and very credible about a team of godly leaders who have fallen in love with Jesus and who labor together in unity and humility for the preaching of the gospel.

Thirdly, team is important because it protects the leader from leading alone, leading unwisely, leading too fast, or leading narcissistically. When growing Christians see a team of competent, godly leaders with a cohesive vision and unified spirit, they have far greater confidence to follow that vision and that team. A team has greater credibility than an individual. A team is a much safer leadership model than a lone-ranger leader. The New Testament Church was clearly led by key leaders, but those leaders didn’t lead alone—they led with the help and encouragement of godly teams.

Insecure leaders do not want this kind of team. They surround themselves with other insecure people who will either be passive or silent. This is not the kind of team I’m talking about. Secure leaders seek out godly hearts and minds—other leaders who will think deeply, pray fervently, and examine closely every major decision the team faces. Secure leaders surround themselves with wisdom, and then subject themselves to that wisdom. Secure leaders want a solid decision more than they want their own way—they want what’s best for the whole church or organization, and they don’t always presume to know exactly what that looks like. They are willing to confront their own blind-spots and hear the mature, godly perspective of wise leaders.

Where these teams exist, a church family finds great confidence in the pastor and the leadership structure; and they find great delight in participating in the vision. God’s people thrive under cohesive leadership teams, and they always respect the leaders more for their wise desire to seek and follow God together.

Fourthly, team is important because it gives the leader accountability and support. To build on the last point, a wise leader desires a godly team to validate a good decision and caution against bad ones. No leader should ever have to make a major organizational decision alone. No man should have to go it “alone.”

Beyond that, every leader needs friends—a support group of faithful co-laborers, prayer partners, and encouragers. Every pastor needs a group of godly deacons “watching his back” and laboring with him in prayer and partnership. Every pastor is responsible to build this team with God’s direction.

I meet often with pastors who have a strained relationship with deacons or other leaders in the church. It’s sad that this is common, as it’s always evidence of an unhealthy ministry spirit. Healthy ministry environments are led by teams of humble, others-focused leaders who love and reverence each other with godly humility and deference.

The good change that God has unfolded at EBC these past three years is due in large part to a really great team of godly men. Their friendship and faithful advice has meant more than my brief words can say. They have shared the vision, which has made it far easier for our church family to embrace the same. Truly our vision is a shared vision, and that makes the journey far less stressful and far more enjoyable.

Can I share with you transparently in regards to our team?

First, these leaders are my best friends and encouragers. They are prayer-partners and co-warriors in spiritual battle.

Second, they are very godly, wise, and seasoned—they bring much more knowledge and experience to the room than I do.

Third, they are brilliant—and every time we meet I’m reminded that I’m not the smartest guy in the room, by a long shot.

Fourth, I don’t go into those meetings expecting to “get my way” and neither do they expect to get theirs. We all come together to seek God’s way. In fact, in nearly five years, we have been unanimous on every major decision, and if not then we have waited on that decision until God gives greater clarity or peace.

Fifth, often their faith is greater than mine. I can tell you two specific ways, recently, that they unanimously agreed to reach farther in faith than I expected. They continually challenge me to trust God more and to take greater steps of faith/risk.

All of this is so healthy and stabilizing to our whole church.

I close with a short story: This past summer one of the faithful men on our deacon team was in the car with me. We were waiting on our wives. Out of the blue he handed me his phone and said, “Pastor I want you to see something.”

As I looked, there was a spreadsheet opened on the phone—which required some zooming effort to actually read. Over several moments I read a document that outlined in detail a “restoration strategy” for Emmanuel Baptist Church. It was dated January 2012—which was eight months before we arrived at Emmanuel. I read column after column that addressed cash-flow, outreach, campus repair, staffing, school renewal, etc. Priorities were listed, leaders where described, and great thought had obviously been placed into this document.

I was puzzled. “Steve, we’ve addressed everything on this document in the last four years—I don’t understand. What is this?”

He said, “I know we have, that’s why I wanted you to see it. I’ve been waiting to show it to you. One night in late December of 2011 I couldn’t sleep. I got up and created this document, feeling certain that God had placed it upon my heart. But then, for various reasons, God made me wait. I was very discouraged that I couldn’t implement this plan. Then God showed me that He was going to make this plan happen in a completely different way than I could imagine. God took this plan and exceeded it, but none of us can take credit. All we can say is, ‘Look what God did!’”

He was right. That moment served as an awesome reminder that we, as leaders, are but small players in God’s very big plan—we truly are laborers together with God—and God is the operative part of the equation!

Suffice to say, a huge part of God’s restoring work at Emmanuel is credited to the large heart of a team of godly leaders—both pastoral staff and lay-leaders. Their shared vision and unity is something I would fight hard to retain.

If you are called to lead healthy change, who is on your team? Who is leading with you? If it is God’s vision, I promise you, He will bring co-laborers to your team. See them, love them, develop them, and lead together in a way that honors Jesus and cares better for His people!

“And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me…” (Nehemiah 2:12)

Stay tuned for part seven!

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