ESPN has a special on the quarterbacks who were selected ahead of Tom Brady in the 1999 NFL draft. As a 7th round pick, he was seen as a developmental project who might at best one day be a legitimate backup, maybe. Instead, he’s on his way to being on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. What contributed to all this? Right guy, right place, right setting, right opportunity. Brady was a legit starter for a major college team, highly recruited and with all the tangible skills an NFL team would want in a quarterback. Obviously, this is not the same as if I received an NFL training camp invite and became a starter. He has talent, training, experience, and the competitive drive (also doesn’t hurt to be 6’4” and close to 230 pounds). We cannot dismiss that many times we are the results of our circumstances. Had Brady gone to the Browns, without Belichick as his coach, and an injury to a starter on a loaded team, he might be yet another story of guys who find a cut slip in their locker.
Ministry is often a balance of circumstances and personality as well. We can have the best of training, all the preparation, the necessary experience, the right personality, and be in a healthy church and it still go downhill. How do you determine the right fit? What goes into discerning if this is the best place to serve? I want to put forth four ideas that might help offer some clarity to this. The chart below helps illustrate them. I put them on two axis: Personal/Public and Identity/Action. Between each of these four variables operate three lines of either concert on conflict in the minister’s leadership.
*Disclaimer: I am not in any way dismissing the leading of the Holy Spirit or the most sincere impression of a particular calling (like Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were specifically given tasks that would never be viewed as ‘good fits’). All I’m doing is putting out some ideas to help think critically and deeply about where to invest your time, effort, and life as a pastor/leader.*
A quick word about the two axis – the horizontal axis (Identity/Action) is to illustrate the distinction between internal/character/personality traits and active/visible/doable traits. The vertical axis (Personal/Public) is meant to demonstrate that the ministry leader has both an individual and corporate sense of function.
So often our sense of understanding calling is private, someone feels like God is calling them to do something and then we are to accept that without really examining the person to determine if God is calling them or if they ate Taco Bell the night before. Yes there is a private, personal, internal call of God in the heart of a leader. But calling extends far beyond that to a public, corporate, church-wide sense. Do those who know you, work alongside you, and have watched you grow sense the leadership of God in your life to ministry? Until others began to point out to be ministry giftings and potential, I was very silent about what I was beginning to understand my calling to be. Are you seen as someone who is reliable, who is faithful to the Scripture, and who models the qualities of an elder? In 1 Timothy and Titus the qualifications for an elder are public issues – sure they are typically personality or character issues – in the sense that it should be obvious publicly that this candidate is worthy of the calling to be held to a higher accountability (see James 3).
This is so crucial for ministry leadership because it shows that not only do you sense within your heart or soul that God is calling you to ministry, but that a church recognizes it as well and is willing to endorse your calling. Is this true for you? Has a church, whether your current or a previous one, been able to endorse your calling? If you’re seeking out whether or not you are called, then get into dialogue with your lead pastor and a group of godly men/women who can begin the process of discernment. I remember fondly my licensure to the ministry and the affirmation of the church to the calling. For years I had labored alongside them cultivating gifts of teaching, administration, and leadership. And in that moment, along with my ordination, a church was willing to forever put their name to that.
Too often we remove the corporate side of things and only focus on the individual who says that “God has called me” without working through the implications of that. Many times I have been told that only to ultimately refuse to endorse the person or to push them towards patience and increased emphasis on their discipleship. If others are unwilling to acknowledge your understanding of calling, that is a red flag for your leadership. This does not mean finished products only can be called, but instead we should be more cautious in how we affirm ministry leadership candidates.
What can you do? I love the idea of competencies for ministry leadership, it’s part of my doctoral research because there’s something about being able to identify particular things that are important for ministry. Just as we’d like for our pilots to know how to read maps and our surgeons to remember their basic anatomy, we should expect ministry leaders to hold to some skills.
Scripture points largely in this area to the ability to teach as a competency for ministry leaders (1 Timothy 3), which assumes that the primary task of the ministry leader is to be a teacher (c.f. Ephesians 4, 2 Timothy 2). So, that begs the basic question: can you teach? Are you any good? At this point it needs to be made clear that teaching > information-dumping. Anyone can dump information, that’s easy. Teaching requires engagement, time, preparation, and application. When I work with people who are working through a ministry calling, there are two things I look for: 1) Work ethic and 2) Teachability. I stunk as a green Sunday School teacher. Some might even still say I stink as a teacher. That’s ok. Not everyone on their first lesson is going to be John Piper or Al Mohler. I don’t think they were when they first taught. But are you willing to work and are you willing to learn? Whenever I have a guest teacher we sit down afterwards and work through usually a page of handwritten notes I took during their lesson. We look at content, delivery, approach, transitions, and their outline. After each I always ask “what is one thing you can work on for next time?” That approach is what I do still, after every sermon I do in church I watch the tape and try to figure out something I can improve on for next time.
For those in current ministry settings – do you have skills that complement and bring out the best in your team? Are you serving where you are able to do what you’re able to do? In other words, if you are a phenomenal social media wizard and have the great ability to design and implement a Web presence, you probably shouldn’t be at a church still using Powerpoint. Does your church use what you’re able to do to its fullest? Are you doing a job someone else on your staff could do? My encouragement to you is to have a real team assessment of ministry skills and find out what everyone on your team can do. You might have people doing jobs they shouldn’t or have people who could do more that they aren’t. The idea of a single-ministry focus (you’re the ‘youth guy’ or the ‘music guy’) is ancient, antiquated, and needs to be shot for the dead horse that it is. If you’re serving in a setting that doesn’t fully use your skills or there is conflict of abilities, might be worth looking into a transition. Remember, right people, right time, right setting.
Who are you? No really, who are you? One of the worst things we do in leadership is cuss. Not those words, one just as bad but you’ll never hear it bleeped. The word is “fine.” Public leadership often causes people to mask their private struggles and inner conflicts, whether out of ego or a desire to protect people. In either case, it’s selfish idolatry. Remember, you are not irreplaceable. God can and will work to bring glory to Christ with or without you. When we make ourselves indispensable and invincible, we are placing ourselves as the god to worship.
Are you serving in a setting where the leadership is transparent? Do you hold one another accountable? Do you look for a proven track record of strong Christian character? As a leader, do you allow other people into your life – not your public persona, but the person behind the mask? Are you the same person in rush hour traffic, the golf course, the Internet, and the pulpit? If not, this is the plea: seek godly counsel and make things right.
The importance of character is this: it doesn’t matter what your sense of calling is, what you’re able to do, and if your team has great chemistry – if you’re a fraud, it all becomes a house of cards. I’ve never served on a staff that experienced a moral failure, but I know many who have. They speak about the devastating effects of the character failure of the leader, both within the leadership and among the congregation. The conflict comes because who we are is of fundamental importance to God, more so than what great gifts or abilities we have.
Have you ever watched an awkward TV news pairing? I mean, train wreck awkward. One where they don’t even do that half-hearted media laugh. We love TODAY and there have been more than a few times where we’ve wondered if they’re going to fight on camera. Perhaps you’ve seen it in sports, where the team cannot stand each other and there is no sense of cohesion or community. Today is March 29, 2013 and in the state of Kentucky all that matters is college basketball for about 8 months out of the year. This year’s UK team fell apart despite having an overwhelming talent advantage because of a lack of chemistry. On the other hard, Louisville is having a phenomenal season with lesser talent because of a strong sense of team chemistry.
Here is the main thrust: does your team get along outside of the office and away from Sunday? Can you look at your leadership team and see a sense of chemistry, camaraderie, and true partnership? I’ve seen ministry team members be able to finish each other’s sentences and others where pockets of the staff were secretly plotting to have the leader fired. Chemistry is often the overlooked part when it comes to recruiting and placing a leader. We love to look at giftings, skills, calling, and who they really are (the other three factors), but we rarely look at how this person will fit into the existing structure, system, and personalities. This is surprising, but just because two people love Jesus doesn’t mean they can get along. I want to give a lot of credit to my friend Josh Remy on this, he’s the one who really got me thinking about this after he shared about his church would always have informal interactions with a ministry leadership candidate to determine how he’d fit in with the team. His most striking comment was “you can learn a whole lot about someone by playing golf with them.”
Do you have chemistry with your current team? If not, it might be time to retreat and develop a sense of teamwork. Do more than awkward trust falls, but really develop team accomplishments. Work towards a common goal: getting everyone across an imaginary river may be the first time your team has ever worked together. Do it. It’s worth it. We cannot continue to assume that just because a group of people pose for a directory picture in matching polo shirts (who thought that was a good idea!) that they are a united and cohesive team.
I love doing this with students – I like to look to see who takes on which role on a team: who steps up with the plan, who is the encourager, who is the trustworthy person to do any job, and who displays a lazy or selfish attitude. I’ll let you guess which one of those doesn’t get very many opportunities to serve and have leadership positions.
Whether you are a ministry leader or someone struggling with understanding if this is God’s direction for you, let me encourage you to look at your own life and situation through these four lenses. Are you growing in your character as a disciple? Is who you are really who you are? Do you have a particular set of skills and abilities, or are you working on developing new ones? Are you in a position to be able to use yours? Do you have a full sense of your calling? Have others affirmed what you have long suspected? And lastly, are you part of a team or in a room of cubicles when it comes to chemistry?