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You aren’t a leader and that’s OK


There’s a lot of leadership language flying around church circles these days.

I’m at the point where I find the irony too much to bear.

My definition of a leader is, “Someone who takes you where you otherwise wouldn’t go alone.

And here’s what most people working at churches need to hear but doesn’t sell enough books for anyone to be brave enough to say: Your job isn’t to lead and that’s OK.

In church work there are very few people within the organization whose role is to lead. Most are managers. They get stuff done. They love people who walk through the doors of their program. They create amazing stuff for a project.

They are the nurses in a hospital. They are the teachers in a school. They are the police officers on the beat. They are the skilled craftsman on the job site.

Without the managers doing and loving their job, church would suck. No one would go to your church if things aren’t done well and to do things well you need people who get stuff done.

But, while it feels good to walk around and mint everyone a leader I find the emphasis on leadership language ultimately deflating when it’s intended to empower.

It’s OK to Be Awesome in a Non-Leaderhip Role

This morning, as I was reflecting on this post, I had a funny mental image about what it means to call every church staff person a leader. I envisioned a master sergeant coming to church for the first time and meeting the youth pastor in the foyer, making small talk. I then I envisioned their different definitions of what it means to be a leader.

As I put myself in that scenario I realized I’d be embarrassed. This guy leads people with tanks and guns and can call in air support. I’ve got a clipboard and a staff meeting.

You can’t compare a master sergeant who leads a platoon of soldiers into battle knowing some of them won’t come home alive to organizing a fall retreat. Sure, there are similarities. But one is a Leader with a capital L and the other is leading a very important part of a very important part of the church.

But that doesn’t make me feel bad about not being a leader who takes people into battle. Not at all. Instead, it helps me to have sober judgement (Romans 12:2) about my position in life. It helps me to think to myself, “How can I manage this youth ministry program beyond my abilities in such a way that reflect the Holy Spirit’s gifts flowing through me?

I’d never look at a nurse or a teacher or a police officer or a construction worker and say, “You’d be truly satisfied with yourself if only you aspired leadership. Why don’t you become the hospitals administrator?” (Or principal? Or chief of police? Or the foreman?)

Why? Because I know that to do so would express to that person that on a fundamental level I don’t know them at all.

Yes, anyone can “be a leader” with their attitude or their desire to make their team better. But I think we devalue the very word “leader” by lumping every person in every role into a potential “leader.

To do so is just marketing.

It’s OK to not be a leader. There’s no shame in being the best at what you do and to be the best you don’t need to mislabel yourself something you aren’t.

5 Responses to You aren’t a leader and that’s OK

  1. Joel Mayward August 30, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Such a good reminder. In our leadership-worshiping culture, we can forget that there are other members of the body of Christ with equally valuable spiritual gifts to be used to build up others.

    John Frye posted a similar set of thoughts on pastors and leadership on Scot McKnight’s blog:

  2. jared August 30, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    I totally agree!!! Jesus talked about being a servant yet we worship at the throne of Leadership. I wish we had a servanthood conference. I bet that it is the one Jesus would like.

  3. Kurt J. August 30, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Sooo Good, Adam! One my mantras recently is “Leadership is Overrated”. Meaning that we’ve somehow elevated it so much that we dismiss other gifts and roles in the church. Seems like nobody wants to be a shepherd or pastor….we all want to be “Leaders”.

    • adam mclane August 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      I like that a lot. I think this post comes from a place of frustration… I just think we sell people a poor image of who try are in Christ. If even argue a false image of leadership.

  4. Jennifer Foley August 31, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Leaders without followers are just out taking a walk – speaks to the true challenge of being a disciple.

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