What Kind of Leader Are You?

What Kind of Leader Are You?

Hi church,

I wrote this article (below) back in the spring (of 2013) and left it to be edited as I am a terrible speller and my grammar is even worse.  However, with the busyness of church life I forgot all about it till today when searching for another document on my laptop I found this one.

Well, I wrote this to encourage and challenge our leaders and then never used it so I thought I would put it here for you to read this fall.  I apologize for my grammar, my notorious run-on sentences and my spelling, but as we are right in the middle of our busy fall ministry season, I think we each need to check how we are doing what we are doing.

Love you all and pray that this will be a blessing and an encouragement for you leaders today.


What ‘style’ of leader are you? 

I love watching most sports, although curling really just doesn’t do it for me.  Although it is more exciting than watching soccer!  0-0 draw – really – is that really a sport?  Watching paint dry comes to mind … just kidding, relax you soccer lovers, please don’t e-mail me as I am just joking … sort of.

One of the things I love about watching sports is the team aspect, therefore I typically enjoy team sports more than individual sports.  And I love to watch and analyze the leadership within a team.  Sometimes it is the coach or manager who’s leadership propels the team beyond what their ability could produce.  Other times it is the leadership of a player who lifts everyone’s game to a new level.  I love watching leaders lead even in their play like Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken did.  Or for you older folk what about Scotty Bowman or Tom Laundry?  For you younger ones, how about Paton Manning or Sydney Crosby?   I love seeing leaders, in the field of play or on the sidelines, leading.

Several decades ago I got hooked on football – the North American kind – with the weird shaped ball – that football.  Specifically on the National Football League (NFL).  A team I loved to watch at the time was the Chicago Bears as they had such a bizarre mix of weird and wonderful players and Mike Ditka was their coach.  That team was anything but boring!

Years later the Bears were coached by Lovie Smith (yes that is really his name!).  I loved watching him coach as well even though he and his team were radically different than Ditka and his team.   Over the years as I have studied and practiced leadership I cannot stop thinking about the similarities and differences of Coach Ditka and Coach Smith. I watched and pondered and analyzed each seeking to learn leadership from them to see what I could apply in my area of leadership, which is leadership in the church.  One thing I found was that I was continually being pushed or nudged, in my spirit, away from one’s style and toward the other’s.

These two men represent, to me, two rather diverse camps in the leadership spectrum, both in the business arena and sadly in the church arena.  Ditka was loud, can’t miss him, in your face, calling players out publicly, yelling all the time, about to explode even in the good times and ‘motivating’ his team with his fiery, near violent style.

Lovie, well, let me say this, his critics have accused that his name represents his style.  He was calm – always calm, no player or coach seems to recall him ever raising his voice.  When you watched him on the sideline you couldn’t tell if his team was down by 20 points or up by 20.  He talked calmly to his players and even the refs, even when they made terrible calls or just plain blew it (as refs will often do – sorry, couldn’t help that jab).  He did not yell, he had amazing self-control, he talked and treated everyone with calm respect.

So my question for you, if you are a leader, is this , ‘Are you a Coach Smith or a Coach Ditka in your leadership style?

This issue has come to the forefront again this past year and what motivated me to write this article.  It happened in the sports arena as well.  In the winter of 2013, a school fired their college basketball coach in the USA.  This happened when a video surfaced showing Coach Mike Rice, of Rutgers University, yelling at players in practice, name calling, humiliating them, and physically pushing them or throwing basketballs at them.  As increasing public scorn grew toward Coach Rice, Rutgers University eventually fired him.  You can likely still Google his name and the word video to see some video of him actually doing this – shocking!  (Just a little warning – there are some swear words used and depending on what video you see they may or may not be edited out).

In an article in the on-line magazine ‘NFL Evolution’ writer Bill Bradley questioned the coaching techniques used by Rice and interviewed some ‘experts’ on how a coach could get away with this approach for so many years (Rice coached and apparently acted like this for 3 years at Rutgers).   Bradley interviewed Mitch Abrams, ‘a New Jersey sports psychologist who is one of the few experts on coaching violence’.  “Abrams sees two issues at play — the glorification of the sports star, athlete or coach, and the scarcity of coaching instruction.” (April 8, 2013, http://www.nflevolution.com/article/Mike-Rice-8217-s-coaching-techniques-questioned-by-RMU-psychologist?ref=8363)

I would like to ask if the real issue is either of the questions Abrams raises (‘the glorification of a sports star, athlete or coach’ OR the ‘scarcity of coaching instruction?’).   I would suggest that the problem is far more prevalent than just a sports issue and that the problem is far more basic than just some sort of higher level coaching issue.

The real problem is far more insidious than simply the ‘glorification of stars’ and it is far more basic and foundational than simply some discussion of instruction or training in coaching.

The real problem is poor, weak or just downright sinful character.   The real issue is that this poor, weak or sinful character is excused away by many because – get this, crucial element in this entire thing – because of the results the leader accomplishes in his/her leadership. 

This is simply good old fashioned pragmatism, the ends justify the means.  A coach who wins, by nature of the winning, prompts others around him or her to look the other way if the means by which that winning comes is questionable or just wrong.

It seems very hard to believe that the athletic administration at the schools at which Rice coached were not aware of the yelling, name calling, and verbal and physical assaults.  Yet it seems that this was allowed to go on for years (2007-2010 at Robert Morris University and 2010-2013 at Rutgers).  Why?  The team wasn’t performing as well as everyone would have wanted, BUT they were improving and Coach Rice seemed to be effective growing the program.  His combined record at Robert Morris (his previous coaching job) was 73-31 and at Rutgers it was not as good, being 44-51, but it was felt that he was turning the program around as the three years prior to his coming the team lost about twice as many games as they won.

Should the means matter as much as the result?  Should the process of how we get to a winning team matter as much as the fact we win?  I would say yes!  Perhaps you could argue that in the area of sports or even industry and business.  But when it comes to the church there is no argument.

Here is a truth that every leader knows, all leaders have strengths and weaknesses.  Every leader not only has strengths and weaknesses, but every leader struggles with sin.  Christian leaders are saved, but this does not mean they are freed from indwelling sin, but rather they are sinners saved by God’s grace and used by God’s grace.  Until glory each one will continue to battle sin and each knows this.  However, there is still a God-given standard or what could be called ‘character qualifications’ for spiritual leaders in God’s work.

For leaders in God’s work character matters and character must define and direct how we do everything, including how we lead.  The how matters as much as the what.  In your own leadership, you must carefully and continually assess if you are leading as Scripture would call you to lead.  You cannot dismiss nor downplay failures in the how, simply because the what may be spectacular.

For all of us who are called, by God’s grace and mercy, to lead, we need to constantly and humbly do our best to pay close attention to this.  A very wise and godly friend and counselor shared this truth with me when we were discussing this issue, ‘sometimes our gifting takes us where our character can’t keep us’.   That really rocked me and continues to cause me to stop and prayerfully ask God if this is me.  I believe all our gifting is from God.  He calls, He saves, He gifts, He gives opportunity, He empowers, and all for His glory.   It is all of God and yet we have our part to play in all of this.  No blaming God here – God is not the author of sin nor does He tempt us to sin.  So that said, the problem is that sometimes we do not pay close enough attention to the sanctification and cultivation of our character such that our gifting may have taken us to a place that our character is not sufficient to handle. When looking at leading in God’s church we are not talking about any of us being ‘without sin’.

God Himself has made the fact that character matters very clear.  1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make it as plain as day, ‘an overseer (elder) must be …’ or ‘Deacons likewise must be …’.  Character matters!  Paul commands that the spiritual leaders in a church, ‘must not be a recent convert.’  Why Paul? ‘He may become puffed up with conceit’.  Character matters!  The Bible does not say to select your leaders based on ‘if he can produce significant results’, or ‘if he has accomplished much’, or even ‘if he is widely known and followed by many.’   Character is made the measuring rod for assessing if a man is qualified for spiritual leadership.  Again, not talking perfect character, but clearly there are standards below which a man cannot dwell and still be considered qualified for leadership.  I believe it is clear that Scripture does not allow for the Mike Ditka style to be an option embraced by church leaders.  No Coach Rice leaders in the church thank-you!  It is the Lovie Smith approach or repent and yield to the Spirit or find something else to do – please!

Our culture is so oriented to effectiveness, accomplishment, success and achievement. Jesus did not select the successful, those in positions of power, or those with a proven track record of success for His leadership team.  Some might argue that He also didn’t select men with great character for His leadership team, when you think about Peter and his struggles, a traitor like a tax collector Matthew, a doubter like Thomas, or a zealot like Simon.  However, we are not talking about who these men where before they were saved or even before being commissioned and sent after Jesus ascended.  We are talking about the character of those saved and active in church leadership.

Jesus apostles were men, far from perfect, but living out what they believe.  I know the ‘what would Jesus do’ thing is old and dismissed by many, but Paul did command the Corinthians ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1).  Results are not the primary measure of man or woman of God, nor of a leader in God’s church.  The core issue is expressed this way by Paul, ‘Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.’ (1 Corinthians 4:2).  God is the source of wisdom, power, ability and accomplishment in His church.  He does the work, we are the conduit.  It is by His power, through His Spirit, for His glory.  Therefore, it is not about our ability to get results using methods the world would embrace like yelling, motivating by fear of public shame, anger, bullying, manipulation or threatening.  The flesh is sure to exhibit itself by character traits of ‘fits of anger, strife, enmity and divisions’.  How can one who leads by a Ditka style yelling, intimidating, bullying and motivating by fear of scorn or public humiliation think that this is God’s Spirit producing God’s results for God’s glory?

The fruit of the Spirit – the character evidence of God at work – includes, ‘love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control’.  Jesus leaders in His church doing His ministry must in some consistent manner be characterized by His character, ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20).  Abide in Christ is the call, yield to Him, be filled by Him, and I would add, lead like Him.   Is there ever any evidence of Jesus leading like Coach Rice or Coach Ditka?  Some may bring up when Jesus purged the temple with a whip.  That clearly was not Him leading His followers.  His righteous anger and passion was oriented against evil, vile, blasphemous pagans and their desecration of God’s temple.

One of the struggles that presents itself in seeking to lead with Christ’s character is that often the greater the giftedness, capacity and ability God gives a servant, the greater their own struggles with certain tendencies.  For example, significantly effective coaches can be prone to impatience with players who don’t catch on quickly or forget the basics at times.  The greater the speed at which the coach can learn, think and operate, the easier it is for him or her to expect this same thing from their players and thus could be easily led to impatience and frustration when players don’t get it.  However, even good secular coaches realize they must have self-control and patience and not excuse away bad behavior simply because some players don’t get it.   There is nothing sadder than watching a coach in his/her post-game news scrum trying to defend and explain their temper tantrum on the sideline during the game.  It is like a toddler trying to explain that the reason they had a melt down yelling and kicking and screaming was because their brother bugged them and took their things.  Personal responsibility is to set aside the blame game and say, ‘it was me, I was wrong, I sinned, I failed, I acted shamefully’.   It washes thin to see constant excusing when Scripture calls us to be responsible for the  control of our own tongue and deeds (James 3).

This truth is more crucial in Christian leadership than other realms for we must never excuse or blame away a lack of self-control, anger, fit of rage or offense to someone else, but rather we must own it in true broken humility.  We are called to be quick to repent and accept any consequences of our sin.   God is gracious and abundant in forgiveness and restoration through the cross of Christ.  So personal renewal after sin and repentance is instant and wonderful, but we must never confuse this with the call that church leaders must be characterized by a particular level of Christ-like walk and talk.   We are so oriented to results in our culture, and I fear in our churches, that we will willingly turn a blind eye to improper or just outright sinful practices if the result is what we want.

Just to press home a little more, let me ask and answer this question, ‘What sort of character truly matters?’   Well, let’s let God answer that for He has clearly revealed what character matters for His leaders in His church.  Here is a sample list from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1: above reproach, devoted to one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, not arrogant, not quick-tempered, upright, holy, disciplined and holding to Word of God.  Even the unbelieving world sees that someone like Coach Rice cannot use any means he thinks will work as long as he produces good results.  Why?  Character matters!

Winning is not everything!  Some may argue that is not true in the secular world, in sports, politics, business, etc.  I would disagree, however, let’s stick to the church realm; in God’s economy the ‘how’ matters as much as the ‘what’.

It does not matter if a leader can draw a crowd, cast vision, increase donations, build buildings and build a church if those things are being done in a manner which does not both reflect Christ’s character and evidence the filling of His Spirit.  Scripture clearly tells us that the method matters as much as the outcome, the process as much as the product.  You cannot dishonor Christ in the process, yet honour him with the product.

True, real, spiritual, lasting results in the spiritual realm certainly are a result of God working in and through us.  And God is never inconsistent.  His process never is out of sync with His product.  Let me state it this way, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5).  True kingdom fruit is produced by the vine not the branches.  The branches display or ‘bear’ fruit, not produce it.  Therefore, real fruit or effectiveness is a direct by-product of God’s Spirit working in His church.  Plus, we know what sort of character God’s Spirit has when He is working through His children, ‘patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled’.

This means that leaders in God’s church cannot do ministry any way they want.  We can’t pick our style and say, ‘I like the results a Ditka style produces so I am choosing that approach’.  This is not an option available to us.   We cannot do ministry in our own strength, according to our own wisdom and excusing away our own shortcomings or sinful habits.  We are ‘under shepherds’ called to steward our God-appointed responsibility as our Master, Lord, Shepherd and Judge commands, ‘So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.’ (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Now let me wrap up with one final thought.  None of what is said above means that God’s leaders are not to have drive, desire and an ambition to take ground for the King, to move the ball up the field or put more Biblically to desire ‘to bear much fruit’.  Why? Well because, ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’ (John 15:8).  Any pastor worth his weight in anything cannot minister without a drive, pull or ambition, describe it how you will, to see more souls saved, more marriages restored, more prodigals returned, and more Christians disciple for God’s glory.  How can any leader in God’s church ever stop ‘pressing on’, working hard with ‘labour and toil’, willing to ‘suffer’ for His sake?  I am not advocating for passive, lazy or unmotivated leaders.  Selfish ambition is sinful, but ambition itself for God’s glory is not wrong, but rather should characterize every church leader.  More fruit for God’s glory!   I leave you with a few simple leadership truths, statements of clarity I pray to help us assess our own leadership style seeking to imitate our wonderful Chief-Leader.

In your walk and your leadership understand that: 

  • Meanness does not = fearless
  • Bravado does not = courage
  • Volume does not = passion
  • Intimidation does not = motivation
  • Yelling does not = commitment
  • A good result does not = faithfulness
  • Self-confidence does not = effectiveness
  • Self-control does not = passivity
  • Gentleness does not = lack of drive
  • Calmness does not = lack of passion
  • Kindness does not = weakness