Mistakes leaders make

mistakes-leaders-makeDave Kraft has had plenty of time to make mistakes and to observe others doing the same. He’s been in Christian leadership for more than 43 years serving with Navigators and a variety of churches. In his recent book, Mistakes Leaders Make, he offers ten warnings of what not to do as a leader. This is an easy book to read. It took me less than a day, but I’d recommend taking it more slowly and working through the issues and questions he raises more carefully. It’s readability is increased by the style of writing. He follows the pattern of Lencioni in telling a story about a church and its various staff. While the church is fictional, the characters and issues are very real. Each chapter introduces a new character, and their mistakes, before teasing out some principles and practices.

Kraft recommends letting Psalm 139:23-24 be your prayer as you work through each chapter.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

The list of mistakes is very sobering. I have experienced temptation and failure in a number of these areas. Each one is worth considering carefully.

  1. 1. Allowing ministry to replace Jesus

The first mistake is very subtle and easy to deny. How could you possibly replace Jesus with ministry when ministry is about serving Jesus? You can and I have! It’s easy to be so caught up with the responsibilities of ministry that we neglect our relationship with our Lord. I don’t have time to talk to God because I’m too busy doing things for him. Successful ministry can become more important that honouring the one we serve. I think this area is a big trap for senior pastors and it has an awful ripple effect. Families, staff teams, and churches all suffer as this happens. The key to this mistake – indeed the solution to each of the mistakes in this book – is to keep Jesus at the centre of our lives and all we do.

2. Allowing comparing to replace contentment

Comparison versus contentment is another perennial fight for Christian leaders. Every denominational gathering, leadership conference, or ministry fraternal offers the temptation to pride or envy. How many on your team? Have you planted a new church this year? What’s your budget? How many people come each week? It’s a fools game. The solution is to be content with who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and what God is doing through you. (p33) Just remember you are God’s person, entrusted with God’s people, and God’s ministry. If you must compare, then ask yourself the question whether you are being all that you could be for God.

3. Allowing pride to replace humility

Kraft argues that pride is the root cause for the undoing and fall of most leaders. It’s so easy for the ministry to become all about us. He quotes Gary Thomas in his book, Thirsting for God:

Proud women and men relate everything back to themselves. They are all but incapable of seeing any situation except for how it affects them. Empathy is something they may read about but will never truly experience.  (p44)

Pride can be a particular issue for young, gifted leaders who experience success early in their ministry. It’s easy to be swept up in the praise, to believe we are the cause of our own success, and to lose sight of the contribution of others. Most significantly we can take our eyes of the Lord of the harvest altogether. I believe that this was a struggle of me at times. The solution is to refocus regularly on the cross of Jesus Christ and the extraordinary grace that we’ve been given from God.

4. Allowing pleasing people to replace pleasing God

People pleasing is a trap. If we spend our time worrying about what everyone else will think of what we do, then we will be torn this way and that and never lead effectively. Ultimately we play to an audience of one – God himself. He will judge our motives, words and actions. As Proverbs 29:25 says, The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

5. Allowing busyness to replace visioning

Busyness is a great enemy of Christian leadership. Too few leaders spend time thinking, praying, dreaming, looking ahead, and planning. The urgent gets our attention and we fail to set clear vision for the future. This mistake leads to ineffective and overly busy ministries, burnout of people, and disillusionment with what we’re doing. Leaders must look to the future. We need to be concerned with what could be not simply with what is.  This is a hard lesson to learn because we are so often tyrannised by the urgent. Let’s make time in our calendars to think, pray, reflect, dream, plan – both on our own and with our teams.

6. Allowing financial frugality to replace fearless faith

The temptation is to think that this mistake is one that only church boards and parish councils make! This is not true. We began our ministry on a shoestring. We had to clear a substantial debt in the beginning and for a number of years I was paid 6-8 weeks late. Everything was done on the cheap, money was kept and saved rather than spent, and I became overly concerned with getting a bargain. We need to be financially wise, but also filled with faith. We should remember that God is our provider and he calls us to use his resources for the advancement of his work.

7. Allowing artificial harmony to replace difficult conflict

We are not to be so loving that we don’t speak the truth, or so truthful that we don’t speak with love; there is a fine balance between the two that is essential to all human relationships, especially among church staff and in a leadership role.  (p79)

Avoiding conflict can be a big problem among Christian leaders.  I’ve been in staff meetings where it’s obvious people aren’t on board, but they remain compliant or passively aggressive. It’s awful! We’re tempted to work around people rather than confront them. Sometimes people are unable to do their job and we’d rather compensate for them at great cost to the organisation, than confront them or move them on. Conflict can be very healthy for teams. And healthy conflict depends on trust and relationships. I recommend reading Patrick Lencioni for more on this.

8. Allowing perennially hurting people to replace potential hungry leaders

There are always hurting people in our midst and the compassionate leader can find him or herself overwhelmed with trying to care for them. Eventually the leader is unable to keep it up and goes on stress leave or resigns. The problem is we try and do it all ourselves. Leadership is about building teams of people to share the load. We need to take the time to get the right people onto the team bus with us and them help them to find the right seats according to their gifts, abilities and passions. Grow the team and we grow the capacity to care. Leaders must be team builders.

9. Allowing information to replace transformation

It’s not what you know, but what you do, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, with what you know that makes all the difference.  (p99)

It’s easy to be so consumed with preparing, teaching, and passing on information, that we lose sight of the purpose of seeing people transformed by God. If we are teaching and learning, but never changing, then we have a massive problem. As leaders we should be on our knees asking God to transform us and the people we lead.

10. Allowing control to replace trust

Stressed and busy leaders are high risk to be controlling rather than trusting. We might fear things going wrong or getting out of control. We might worry that someone else will stuff things up or not do them properly. We might be jealous of others and try to guard our reputation. Good leadership is about helping others to have a go, to grow, and contribute, and be the people God made them to be. After all, this is God’s church and God’s ministry, so let’s lighten up and trust God!

This is an insightful and practical book. It cuts deeply. I recommend it especially to young blokes coming out of theological college who are planning to conquer the world! It’s also a must read for senior pastors who know deep down that they keep running in the red zone on empty!

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