Category Archives: Pastoral Leadership

It’s Who You Are, Not Just What You Do

This is the second posting in a series on Spirit-filled pastoral leadership.

When you walk in the doors of the church on Sunday morning, what are you most hoping to communicate and accomplish? What is your message? I’m not talking about just the topic of the sermon, but also the intention of your heart and mind toward everyone you encounter throughout the day.

Spirit-led leaders seek to be conduits of the Holy Spirit, so that they can show others as well as tell others about God. They are authentic, transparent, humble leaders, who are willing to share their own weaknesses and struggles, while simultaneously expressing confidence in God. They are concerned with developing who they are as well as with improving the quality of what they do, and they also care about how they do whatever it is they are doing for Christ.

As you well know, people come to church for many reasons other than their own spiritual revitalization and growth, and many have expectations (even, demands) that are not necessarily realistic or aligned with the purposes of the church. Some believers will mistreat you, misjudge you, annoy you or frustrate you. It’s not easy to be a pastor or spiritual leader, even in the best of circumstances.

However, being the best leader, the best example, the best pastor you can be is still your calling. It’s up to you to help others know what the church is, why believers gather together on Sundays, and what their purpose in life is. If you don’t help them to get a picture of the ultimate goal of discipleship—to become more and more like Christ in their heads, hearts, and behavior—who will?

For example, on Sundays (or whenever you gather for worship and fellowship), you can:

• Signal the congregation that you are a follower of Christ (not yourself, not some other guru or celebrity), seeking to be transformed by God over time (not by your own effort alone, or in some once and for all quick fix program) in ways that fit with God’s will for your life as best you can discern it. (You are seeking to fulfill God’s purposes not your own.)

• Go to church to meet God and to help others meet God themselves.

• Check your ego and personal agenda at the door.

• Work to resolve whatever conflicts exist before you arrive on Sunday morning, or else make a plan to resolve them peacefully and constructively as soon as possible. Forgive, if need be. Get help when you cannot forgive.

• Consciously seek to connect with God, honor Christ, and listen for the Spirit as the guiding priorities in all that you do—especially in worship.

• When leading worship, forget the theatrics and quit making stupid jokes that have nothing to do with the purpose of the morning. Humor can add a lot, providing you are not trying to draw attention to yourself and you are not distracting the congregation from God.

• Be yourself, be real, care, and let your words express the thoughts and feelings you have for the congregation (the ones that come from the Spirit, that is). Let them flow out of your own prayer life, your study of Scripture, your desire to bless the congregation.

No matter what the size of your building, budget, staff or congregation, every pastor or Christian leader can aspire to model authentic faith and spiritual maturity. You can’t be perfect, but you can make choices every day that model sincere faith and commitment to Christ. You can set your intention on living a spiritually vital life, and you can take action to live authentically.

What helps you to be your best, Spirit-led self on Sunday mornings?

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, NIV)

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It’s the Spirit Stupid!

This is the first in a series on Spirit-filled pastoral leadership.

2 different churches within two days—one that has over 17,000 members and one that has 75 on Sunday mornings. Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has satellite churches and tentacles throughout the world. Faith Baptist Church at Mill Creek has been declining for 15 years, but is now excited about moving into a new building in three weeks.  The former just hosted 7500 pastors and church leaders on site for its annual Leadership Summit, with tens of thousands more viewing via satellite both domestically and (soon) internationally. The latter church hosted just me.

Both events were inspirational and electric, but very different. At Willow, some of the most articulate and capable leaders shared insights and wisdom with us, and we were led in worship by phenomenally talented musicians. The Leadership Summit provided a unique, mountain top type of experience that encouraged me to keep my vision big, my heart open, my will surrendered to God, and my efforts focused and dedicated. I left on a high, more motivated than ever to develop Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries (see

In contrast, the little church, also in the western suburbs of Chicago, could not begin to compete with the quality of speakers, music or leadership. Yet, the funny thing is, I felt just as motivated to worship and serve God after my time there as I did at Willow! How could that be? Yes, I was the speaker, and I did like what the speaker had to say! But the energy, the power, the joy, the quality of conversation and fellowship for me came from something else, or rather, Someone else.

Ah yes. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the difference in morning worship—and in every other aspect of our life. What was your church experience like on Sunday morning? How about on Monday morning?

It’s so easy to look at a church like Willow Creek or Saddleback, or at leaders like Bill Hybels or Rick Warren, and feel awed, intimidated or even discouraged (if you try to compare yourself or your ministry to theirs). We look at our little churches (over 50% host fewer than 100 people on Sunday morning) and even medium sized churches (100-499 people, representing another 40% or so of all Protestant churches according to 1998 statistics) and wonder how we can compete with the mega-churches or superstar pastors. Or, if we’re not into competing, we may just feel discouraged by our limited resources or feel the weight of trying to lead people who don’t be to be led or who don’t want to change. Sure it helps to have a multi-million dollar budget, topnotch staff members, superb facilities, and sensational music, but are these the most important characteristics of a truly thriving church?

What I witnessed again a couple of Sundays ago is the same thing I experience when I speak at chapel at HEAL Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo to women waiting for fistula reparative surgery and their doctors and nurses. When Jill and I are sharing our testimony with the 50 member Chemin Neuf community in Chartres, France, or simply participate in their praise and prayer service, we can feel the vitality “in the air”. When we preach to 50 or 75 people in small churches in our own country, or teach seminarians in Myanmar, lead workshops or continuing education classes, or facilitate prayer experiences on the labyrinth, what makes the difference is not the size of the group, the drama, the technology. It’s something else.

The quality of the experience is rarely about how many people are present. It’s about the Holy Spirit’s activity in our midst. It’s about the authenticity of those who share. It’s about the love that is offered and felt. It’s about how well God is genuinely honored, and the leaders humbly use their gifts rather than stroke their own egos or otherwise serve their own agendas from their position of leadership.

One of the speakers at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit talked about the churches that have “it”. He couldn’t define what the it was, but he seemed to know if a church had it or didn’t. He didn’t want to identify “it” with the Holy Spirit, and deny that churches that don’t have “it” have the Holy Spirit. Yet, from a biblical perspective, how can explain the “it” without referring to the power, filling, and flow of the Holy Spirit?

I am not into judging who has “it” and who doesn’t. Rather, I want to hold up hope for every Christian leader, pastor and minister for their ministries. I have been in seeming dead worship services, and have led a few myself. Yet, I also know the experience of a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministry—from worship services to using my gifts in public settings to individual encounters on a daily basis, some planned and some entirely spontaneous. I know the difference.

I believe God intends to work in us and through each of us in more powerful ways that we can imagine—and the key is not church size, budget, technology, and superstar staff—as helpful as each of these things can be. The biggest factor by far is the Spirit. I pray that I can remember that every day.

What do you think is the key to making your life and leadership more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led?

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