I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.
Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.
With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.
Pastoral Leadership, Part 2: Integrity
The second principle that is vital to being an effective leader in transition is integrity. During a recent leadership intensive with Dr. Ken Coley, he took the seminar participants on a journey to Psalm 15, reminding them that the most important characteristic beyond one’s salvation is, without question, integrity. He reminded the participants that the English word “integrity” comes from the Latin work, “integrates,” which means, “sound, wholeness, completeness.” He stated in his presentation, “that which connects your character with your core, who you are in Christ, is your integrity, and it will determine your success in the long list of integrity traits found in Psalm 15:3-5.”
The principle of integrity is particularly challenging in light of what secular leadership writers have discovered. James Kouzes and Gary Posner have written an extensive work entitled, The Leadership Challenge. They write: “The most important personal quality people look for and admire in a leader is personal credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe the messenger, they won’t believe the message” (32). How a church handles transition from one leader to the next will be greatly impacted by the integrity of leadership they have experienced. In The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, Hans Finzel spends an entire chapter addressing the credibility that arises in doing what you say you are going to do. He notes that the integrity that flows through the new leader does much to shape the environment of the staff and the congregation. He writes: “Christian leaders should act differently than those in the secular world. They should treat their workers differently, they should view their mission in a different light, and they should be driven by different motivations. The values and beliefs the leader holds usually become the assumptions of the followers” (149).
Establishing credibility early for the new leader will take shape in several ways. First, it is important to set goals and strategies that are truly achievable. Setting a standard or goal that may sound impressive to the multitudes, yet is truly beyond that which is reasonable, can be a dangerous venture. Secondly, it is critical to follow through on promises and commitments made along the way. This again is a reminder to be careful not to overstate the plans for change, when in reality, some changes will be more difficult to accomplish than others. A third truth in connection with shaping this credibility will require a commitment of hard work and a willingness to keep one’s eyes focused on fulfilling the tasks.
We determined to start a new more contemporary service while maintaining a traditional service. We also decided going to two Bible Study hours was necessary as well. The leadership, particularly among the children’s ministry, felt overwhelmed. But over the months that would ensue, people would step up to roles of teaching and leading, working with our children’s leaders as well as other areas in the ministry of the church. With a fresh vision cast, it was critical to the credibility and integrity of the new leader, as well as the trust of the congregation, that the plans move forward to execution. There will be points along the journey of all pastors moving into a new work, where the credibility, the integrity of the leader, will be tested. It is critical in those moments to truly do what you say you are going to do.