Leadership with my eyes WIDE OPEN! 13 Leadership lessons I am learning . . .

At 40 years old, I am a leader in training. I am constantly observing, studying, recording, journaling the things I am learning in leadership. I read constantly and I am always interested in studying leaders. I love reading about US Presidents and love reading leadership books. I study pastors, ministers, educational leaders, and nonprofit leaders.  I am a work in progress as a leader. Here are some lessons I have collected observing leaders, especially pastors:

  1. Genuinely care about people. You may not be the most outgoing person but if you care about others, it will develop loyalty, and people will want to follow you. Character matters.
  2. Honesty is always a good policy. People follow those they can trust and know they will be upfront with them through the good and bad. Loyalty will follow.
  3. You will FAIL if you are not approachable, humble, and available as a leader. You will fail because you have not developed the trust needed to succeed.
  4. You MUST give the impressive and provide the opportunity to be accessible to those who follow you. Use Social Media like Twitter with quick 140 character replies, write a blog open to comments, use Google+ Hangouts with discussions, set aside a day/lunch/coffee appointments to meet with others. If you are NOT accessible, I question whether you are even their leader (in title only).
  5. Loyalty as a leader is a two-edged sword. If you remain loyal to your friends who are no longer effective while you are letting go of younger talent, you demoralize those who remain and lose the respect of your younger talent.
  6. Organization rises and falls ultimately on the ingenuity, forward-thinking, and energy of the CEO or Pastor. Regardless of how visionary, talented, or up and coming the Associate Pastors, VPs, COO or other lower level talent are, the CEO or Pastor is at the face of the organization to the world.
  7. There is a true life span to one’s effectiveness within an organization. Boards, Executives and Ministers need to plan accordingly. No one should hold a position indefinitely.
  8. Leaders who lead by fear will ultimately have staff who will leave at the first chance they can with no regrets. Leading by fear such as firing on a whim, micromanagement, and gatekeeping of employees will exhaust your staff, and cause them to be brittle out of anxiety.
  9. Don’t discount the fatigue and cost of long commutes.
  10. Titles are important to people. Be wise in demoting people and fully explain the process to all. Once a person is demoted even if you have not cut their salary, you may have wounded them permanently within your organization.
  11. Accountability is VITAL for organizations and ultimately the success of the Pastor. If the Pastor does not report to an accountability board (Elders, Deacons etc.), watch out they are setting themselves up for failure. Creates a false sense of security and breeds blind spots. Causes followers to raise doubts and suspicions even if there are none.
  12. Release and multiply your leaders. Provide them the training they need, create a healthy culture of productivity, and give them the best opportunities to succeed. If you don’t, you will lose them anyway if you micromanage them.
  13. Leaders allow everyone to succeed when they make a decision and stick with it.Leaders who change their minds often after decisions have been announced, cause their followers to be like seasick sailors who question your effectiveness of handling the “ship” and the confidence of your leadership. Be thorough in your planning and preparation and then see your decision, plan, program through to it’s conclusion.  Follow through is key.

My name is John Roland and I am a bi-vocational pastor.  I have my MDiv with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2001).  Married with 3 kids and live in Newnan, GA (25 miles south of ATL Airport).  I am a fundraising executive, have served as a senior pastor to three different churches, served as a director at Luther Rice Seminary, served as a Director of Development at Kennesaw State University, served as an executive director of Prayer Igniters (www.prayerideas.org) , and have been a consultant to a number of ministries.   My blog jaroland74.wordpress.com, LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/johnaroland, and on Twitter @jaroland74.

I am learning every day and would love for you to add your comments as well.




  1. David Rogers says


    That is an interesting list of principles, and from my perspective, mostly helpful—some of them, indeed, very helpful.

    It puts a finger on some issues I am still thinking through, though, and have not come to definitive conclusions on. It seems to me much of our leadership models in current evangelical churches in the West are based on a combination of biblical principles and secular business principles. I do not think these are necessarily always incompatible. And I think that, ultimately, all truth is God’s truth. But I do have some questions regarding a couple of your points from this perspective.

    As I look at your list, I think that points 1 through 4, 8, 11, and probably 12, are all principles that can be backed up with Scripture, though they are also sound principles from the point of view of secular business thought. Principles 9 and 13 are more or less neutral, as I see it, from a biblical perspective. I can’t think of anything that either supports or tends to not support them from the Bible. Points 5, 6, 7, and 10, though, are a little more problematic for me from a biblical perspective. It would be helpful for me if you could provide some biblical support for these principles—all of them, but especially points 5, 6, 7, and 10.

  2. says

    There’s a theme among some of the points that I think bears investigating.

    First, #10: There is no demotion in Christian work. There is only transformation as the individual and church organization progresses in Christ, or removal on account of egregious sin.

    Second, the idea I propose in the first point along with items 7 and 12 mitigate item 5. Loyalty to old friends means helping their ministries transform positively. There are no dead-end jobs in the Kingdom and there is no highest position aside from Christ. We are obliged to raise the next generation of Christians, each leaders in their own respect, and compelled to help older Christians realize their value in the Body as their roles mature with their changing capabilities. Even in the late stages of Alzheimers, confined to a nursing home, our elders have a God-given role in the fellowship. How we treat them trains us in humility. Likewise, as people age yet remain active, the loss of abilities are providential and their role should change to take advantage of the abilities that remain.

    Third – and this goes with the first two – leadership in the Body of Christ is no greater than the lowest follower. We tend to exalt our leaders, but this should be no more than the same gratitude to God that we have for the laborer who cleans the toilets. Humility in item 3 should be an item all its own and should be stressed as the most important point based on Matthew 20 and 1 Peter 5.

  3. says

    I need to explain my article further. This is not an essay arguing for the validity of Biblical leadership. I am talking to preachers. They get it, I get it and can preach the sermon. This is simply an article written about what I have observed and seen to be practical truths in my life working in universities, nonprofits & churches since 1995. Each item I have experienced and seen the consequence of the actions of the leader for good or bad. These are lessons I have learned in a practical sense.

    My father is an attorney and as a volunteer ministry, he was trained as a church mediator for SBC churches. He said from all of the church conflicts he was involved in as a mediator, a large portion of them could have been prevented if the pastor just had the most basic of interpersonal skills. The pastors could preach great theologically sound sermons but had a very difficult time getting along with people. Reminds me of the quote, “the pastor loved the whole world but no one in particular.”

    Regarding #5, my focus is about a generational divide I have seen. Builders and Baby boomer leaders finding comfort in surrounding themselves with other Baby boomers (long past retirement age) sometimes to the detriment of the institution. In general, I believe this generational battle (Builders & Baby Boomers taking care of their own even if way past retirement age at the expense of GenXers) will be a major problem in the future in all areas unless clear transitional plans are established. Those were my thoughts. Regarding #7, another organization I was involved, the CEO was well past retirement age (75 years old) but had no plan for ever retiring nor a transition plan in place. It caused some real conflict within that organization.

    #10 and #13 relate to a leader I observed who could not make up his mind. He was a CEO and would promote people very publicly, then later change his mind and demote them but did not lower their pay. He would repeatedly announce big policy changes in which all the staff were to participate and then less than a year later change his mind and drop them entirely. This happened too many times to count. He wounded his employees (especially those he demoted) and caused them to doubt his effectiveness and wisdom in leading the organization. He micromanaged, would name a few favorite employees and then just as quickly they were no longer the favorites. He is a great Godly man, but a very poor leader.

  4. says

    Not a comment…a request. Moses was a revered leader of Israel. I would be interested in one of you smart, sharp, young, theologians wiring a post comparing what we know about Moses and his leadership to this list.

    Dave, what is the possibility of making this happen?

    • says

      D. L.,
      I taught a class on leadership based on Moses a few years ago. I just now zipped the notes I taught from and put them in the public side of my dropbox here. They aren’t pretty, but they should give you an idea what I put together. Let me know if you have trouble with them. I switched versions of MS Word a few lessons in and I could format them differently if it would help.

    • Christiane says

      essentially, in Christianity the leader will always be
      the ‘Servant of the Servants of God’

  5. says

    David Rogers expressed my thoughts very well and the following explanation helped.
    I think the key phrase in #5 is “While you are letting go.” Letting go or bypassing someone that God has called and is using is a mistake unless there is just no room to add them. But if they’re willing to serve for less or pro bono, use them. But loyalty is rarely a bad idea. Maybe it is time for someone to retire, or move on, but that should be handled very carefully.

    #6 is just unbiblical it seems to me. I open to see a biblical defense of it, but I don’t see it. And this is the kind of thing that bothers me about a lot of ‘leadership’ teaching in the church. It appears to me to be trying to impress secular concepts on the Bible.
    #7 Was almost a a little scary until I read the follow up comments, that helped. But when I’m 75, I don’t expect to be in the same leadership place I am today, but I still think there will be a place to serve, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

    #10 gives me pause. Why titles in the first place? Outside the church or inside? Yes I have a title, Pastor. It has a biblical definition and biblical requirements. Some people who minister within the church are not ready to be pastors. They might be youth workers, worship/song leaders, administrative or teaching people. So let their titles fit their duties if they need a title. If they do fulfill the pastoral requirements, and many do and should be recognized as pastors; call them pastors and name their area of responsibility and be done with it. But they should always recognize their responsibility to the whole body, as pastors of the flock.

    Most of the others seem to me to be good principles with biblical support.

    Although when I read #9 I thought it said, “Don’t Discuss the fatigue and costs of long commutes” and I gave it a hearty Amen then, too.

  6. says

    I’ve been in the business world as a training manager and later an owner and am now in the pastorate. Their are some simple things that cross reference.

    1) All leadership must be by example. You can’t ask people to do what you won’t do yourself

    2) Delegate. You cannot develop future leaders if you do not entrust them with responsibility and opportunity, including the opportunity to fail

    3) Involve others in decisions. Coming to a consensus works far better than orders. People take ownership when they are involved

    4) Be willing to admit you are wrong. Most people respond to and respect someone who doesn’t think they have the answer to everything

    5) Patience. If we get frustrated easily, people get frustrated. People learn and grow at different rates.

    2 huge differences between business and church. First and foremost, everything we do in church is to be about Jesus. It can’t be our vision, or methods, or ways, it has to be His. If our personality drives things, it’s about us, not Him. Do we seek to influence for what we want, or what He wants. The second is the difference in working with employees and volunteers. A volunteer has no obligation to follow you as an employee would. No matter how big a staff, a ministry is still driven by volunteers. Volunteers will follow those who invest in and care about them. An employee has to listen to a boss, a volunteer does not

    • says

      Thanks for the article, John. We need to continually investigate biblical and practical leadership. I study leadership primarily because I know I’m not a great leader, but I always take leadership advice with a proverbial grain of salt because I know that biblical leadership isn’t supposed to be like the world’s leadership. So it’s a balancing act to try to be as biblical as possible while understanding that many churches or at least some church members expect worldly leadership from the various church leaders we have.

  7. says

    Regarding #6, the reality is the pastor is the person people most identify with your church. What I have noticed and seen in churches I have been involved is they may have the greatest ministries, people with a passionate heart for God, but the pastor is arrogant, unapproachable, and completely lacks the most basic of interpersonal skills. He preaches a very doctrinally sound sermon, conveys love from the pulpit but could not carry on a conversation with a stranger if his life depended upon it. Keep in mind, people are watching and are you developing your skills to relate to people? Do you care about people who are not doctrinally sound? Like Jesus who was invited to parties, do people genuinely like being around you? I am not trying to be mean but from my experience as being a minister since 2001, we make sure our doctrine is pure (which is great) but we do not develop disciples, spending one on one time with people who cannot help us. Some of the most socially inept people I know are ministers but they are doctrinally sound. My take away is love people, genuinely spend time with people every day. Care about people, be a good conversationalist, and work on developing your interpersonal skills so people actually want to spend time with you when you are not preaching.

    • Adam Blosser says

      “Some of the most socially inept people I know are ministers but they are doctrinally sound.”

      Ouch. While I agree that we ought to always be working on our interpersonal skills, I find this statement to be a little troubling. Should the introvert to whom interpersonal communication is a challenge consider himself unfit for the ministry? Loving people and being good at and comfortable with interpersonal communication are two different things. Both are important, but a lack of the latter does not necessarily indicate a lack of the former.

      It sounds like maybe interpersonal communication is a strength of yours. You may want to be careful about sounding like you are declaring all who do not share your strengths as unfit for ministry.

      • Tarheel says

        One who is by personality or appears to be aloof and lacking interpersonal skills should work and strive to work on that…it is a requirement for pastoral ministry to build and maintain relationships…if that’s a struggle for someone – they should work on it.

        It’s just like other weaknesses that a called individual may have we’ve gotta strive to improve it.

        This won’t look the same for everyone surely – but good interpersonal skills are a requirement for effective ministry.

      • says

        “Should the introvert to whom interpersonal communication is a challenge consider himself unfit for the ministry?”

        That’s precisely the reason I’ve discounted myself from pastoral ministry.

  8. says

    I am not trying to be mean but too often pastors do not put a big emphasis on building disciples, spending one on one time with people, and truly connecting with people around them. I do not think someone who is socially inept is disqualified for ministry but it sure makes it hard to lead people and conflicts are sure to follow. Unless you are called to be the weeping prophet like Jeremiah and end up in a well, my interpretation of God’s Word is we are called to be and build disciples, have strong interpersonal skills, and genuinely love people. Unfortunately, from my experience in SBC circles as a young minister since 1997, I have not seen that be a premium priority. I am not trying to be mean but interpersonal skills must be a high priority for ministers after they make sure their doctrine is true.

  9. GoTigers says

    I have been in churches where the pastor is a tremendous preacher and a learned theologian but the second he stepped away from the podium he shut down. Would not speak to his flock and wouldn’t offer more than polite and inch-deep conversation. He was probably shy. He probably was blessed more with a teaching spiritual gift and found small talk and hospital visits extraordinarily difficult for him. That was probably it. Instead, the flock thought was he was cold and didn’t care. Even if it’s not a strength, ministers MUST grow in their interpersonal abilities. They must know how to engage with their flock, listen to them, dig deep, strengthen their relationship with Christ, lead them to Christ. For a pastor, interacting with their flock is EVERY BIT as important as preaching, setting the education strategy for the year, and the managing the building project. Even if it’s not their strength.

  10. Norm (AKA bapticus hereticus) says

    Excellent post on leadership, to which I will briefly comment on points 1, 2, 3, 12, and finally 6. There is much literature to support these insights, for example the first point is especially important when considering transformational leadership’s measure of individual consideration, the second is typically the number one attribute desired of leaders (i.e., trustworthiness), and the third represents the prime reason that executive’s fail: poor interpersonal skills. Helpful for understanding the dynamics of point 12 may be seen in Conger and Kunungo’s (1988) conceptual work on the empowerment process.

    Concerning 6, one cannot discount the influence of an organization’s leader, but neither can one discount the influence of the culture in which said leadership occurs. The two interact, of course, but largely and usually the culture of the institution is the stronger force. Success or failure typically is not the result of a single individual, notwithstanding the significance of his or her behavior, either positive or negative.