I’m writing this while sitting in the Worship Center of Christ’s Church of the Valley. It is break time during the 2006 Willowcreek Leadership Summit. There are something like 550 preachers and leaders present from Arizona and the surrounding area. I understand that Central Christian Church in Mesa is also hosting a simulcast.
This is the first such “summit” I’ve attended. I did so because I always want to learn and, possibly more importantly, because the church here paid my registration.
What are my impressions? Each speaker has provided valuable insights to leadership. What strikes me so far is that most of what they are sharing is common sense focusing on dealing with people. That’s not to say there aren’t some valuable insights I’ve gleaned from the presentations to this point. Let me comment on just two of them.
James Meeks, a Black preacher from Chicago, spoke about factors that keep churches from growing. Surprisingly, he did not focus on facilities as limiting factors. The limiting factors came mostly from personal perspectives. The one that hit me was the limitation created by unsure or uncertain leaders. This has been a particularly difficult point for me to swallow. I grew up in church cultures that said the elders were the church leaders and the preacher was in submission to them. In fact, since most ministers were transitory, the elders were the permanent leaders in a particular congregation. Meeks stressed that the preacher needed to be a leader and set the pace and cast the vision. Uncertainty about direction or vision in a preacher stifles growth primarily because the local leaders may not understand the change dynamics necessary to produce growth. I always hesitated to take that sort of stance because I didn’t want people to follow me but to follow Jesus. I failed to recognize what Paul said when he wrote, “Be followers of me as I am of Christ Jesus.” My friend Leland Griffin in Grand Junction always used to say, “People will follow someone so they might as well follow me.” I wish I had understood this years ago.
The other insight came from Jim Collins who said, “It is not what you achieve; it is what you contribute.” This is not a new insight for me, but it comes from a different perspective. The problem is, however, that you may never know what you contribute. Jim Dorman, a minister in Flagstaff, greeted me yesterday. I’ve known Jim since about 1980 and he’s done a great work for God. He reminded me that I gave him a book on discipleship by Juan Carlos Ortiz while at United Christian Youth Camp in Prescott, Arizona. That book impacted him. Sometimes contributing to the life and growth of a believer is as simple as giving away a book or expressing an encouraging word to someone. Jesus pointed out that anyone who gives a cup of water to someone thirsty has done it to Him. We so often think that tremendous achievement means significant contribution. That’s not always true. Sometimes it is the quiet caring and a demonstration of Christ’s love that is all that is required.
It is important, I think, to keep in mind that genuine biblical leadership is a function not a position. Leadership is marshalling others who together can do something great when they could not do so separately. It has nothing to do with the right structures, right names, or right this or that. It has everything to do with influence. That’s what John Maxwell says. I must confess that even though Maxwell doesn’t impress me much (I’m still determined to refute one of his irrefutable laws), I do agree with him in that.