God created leadership for the church. Jesus is the chief Shepherd, and he sets aside other shepherds to lead the church by serving under him. Members of the church body are to “obey” and “submit” to those who “keep watch” over their spiritual development. These leaders, however, are not to abuse their authority but rather lead by example. This relationship between leaders and followers in the church is clothed in humility through God’s gift of grace.
Within the context of the local church, God desires for some to lead and others to follow, both with mutual respect and submission to each other. Leaders serve the people; the people submit to the examples of leaders. All leaders, however, bring baggage into this relationship. It’s easier to point out the things your followers need to change, while it’s harder to unwind your leadership baggage from God’s plan for your church.
We church leaders can disguise this baggage as a “ministry philosophy,” when it can be nothing more than our own prejudices and preferences. What are some ways we carry baggage? I’ve begun a list below, but please add your own thoughts in the comment section.
Preferences. Some leaders simply rebrand their personal preferences as the “vision” for everyone. True vision is collection. True vision takes into account the preferences and gifts of all followers.
Experience. Most of the time, leadership experience adds wisdom. This same experience, however, can mold our thought process into doing things the same way as before. For example, if you’re a leader in a new position, it’s far easier to lean heavily upon previous solutions in past leadership roles. It’s harder to form new solutions that fit the current context using experience only as a guide.
Hurt. The longer you lead, the more hurt you will experience. Getting hurt—particularly as a senior leader—is inevitable. Learning to cope with the jabs thickens the hide, but projecting previous offenses on others attempting to offer constructive criticism is an easy mistake to make.
Oversimplification. Veteran leaders have a valuable perspective. This veteran perspective enables them to make decisions quickly and clarify complex problems. When veteran leaders get too far in front of their followers, however, they can oversimplify these problems. Sometimes overly simplistic solutions are more confusing than the problem.
All leaders bring baggage into a relationship with their followers. Recognize this baggage. Avoid using it. Discard the baggage when possible, and be a better leader.