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Friday, March 23, 2012

The “It” Factor: separating good leaders from great ones

Leadership is a hot topic in the evangelical world.  Every pastor I know has read at least a dozen books on the subject.  Personally, I have had a love/hate relationship with leadership.  All of my life people have put me in positions of leadership: captain of the basketball team, class president, president of the Latin club in high school and the Greek club in college, and so forth.  I did a pastoral internship for a full year as part of my seminary training and spent four years on staff at two different churches as an assistant pastor.  But when it came time for me to step into the role of senior pastor, I was lost.  I had no idea how to lead.  

Most of my preparatory leadership roles were more like honorary titles.  I started reading John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Bill Hybels, Dale Carnegie . . . I even read Winnie-the-Pooh on Management! I went to leadership conferences and sought out leadership mentors.  In spite of all this I struggled as a leader, and now I think I know why.   I was missing the “it” factor in personal leadership. 

The “it” factor can be summed up in one word: maturity.  Looking back on my ministry experience, I realize that I was serving in “elder” level roles with only child level emotional maturity.  As a result, I spent much of my time overwhelmed by what I was trying to do.  Overwhelmed people tend to be avoidant, angry, and addicted.  That was me, though I hid it the best that I could. 

Maturity is the capacity to act like an adult in every situation you face.  Mature people do not wear masks.  They remain relational under stress.  They return to joy from upset emotions.  They endure trials with grace.  They are a rare breed. 

R.  Return to joy from upset emotions rather than getting stuck in and defined by those negative emotions
A. Act like themselves instead of wearing masks
R. Remain relational under stress instead of blowing up or shutting down
E. Endure trials without turning into someone else (like a little kid)

Most of what I know about maturity as a concept, I learned from Jim Wilder.  If you are familiar with his book The Life Model or any of his other training materials, you will recognize a lot of the terminology I am using. 

I am convinced that the single greatest crisis in evangelical leadership today is a lack of personal maturity.  I had a great résumé.  B.A. (magna cum laude), M.Div. (cum laude), Th.M., D.Min., I had taught Old Testament and Theology at a Christian College, served on staff at three churches and grew up in a leadership family.  I had been involved in successful ministries at almost every stage of my journey.  But a great résumé is not necessarily a predictor of ministry success. 

Personal maturity is built at three levels.  Level 1) Grace.  In the early years of life we are supposed to receive a grace foundation for life.  People love us because of who we are and not because of how we perform.  We are accepted whether we fail or not and develop strong relational bonds with those around us, so we feel the freedom to be ourselves rather than pressure to perform in order to earn acceptance.  This is grace. 

Level 2) Wisdom.  Biblically speaking, wisdom consists of two core elements: discernment and discipline.  Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil (particularly what is good for me and what is bad for me.)  Discipline is the capacity to say no to the evil and yes to the good.  During our childhood years, we are supposed to build wisdom on the foundation of grace we have received.  We learn the skills we are going to need in order to succeed at life.  Relational skills, life skills, and with them a sense of identity that is rooted in grace and fostered by a growing capacity to handle the trials of life. 

Level 3) Responsibility. As an adult we assume responsibility for ourselves.  We should no longer be dependent on our parents to get us through life; we should be able to stand on our own.  We not only need to learn how to take responsibility for ourselves, we need to grow in our capacity to take responsibility for others.  Mature people find win-win scenarios.  Immature people always seek to meet their own needs first.  As a result they tend to use people rather than form healthy bonds with them. 

In my next blog I will discuss what leaders need to do to grow capacity and develop maturity. 

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