In elementary school we would receive a report card every six weeks. This report card would have our current grade in each subject as well as a summary of our behavior. Every one of my report cards would have “Talks too much” checked. I was a talker. I am a talker. It was not a badge of honor to be worn; rather, it was a lack of self-discipline that needed to be addressed.
The old adage states that since we have two ears and one mouth, we should listen twice as much as we speak. Listening well is a dying art. Everyone wants to be heard, so we Tweet, Retweet and sub-Tweet. Interpersonal communication, it appears, has been replaced with one way communication. This is not helpful for making disciples. It is certainly not helpful for pastoring.
The best leaders are not necessarily the ones who do all the talking. I must admit that I used to feel a sense of responsibility to always have an answer or something to share. This was more out of my insecurities as a pastor than any biblical principle. Simply put, I was not trying to earn the right to be heard as much as I was trying to establish my position. Like I said, this was out of a fleshly insecurity and not out of a Holy Spirit inspired spiritual fruit. While having an opinion about everything is not inherently bad, it is also not a fruit of the Spirit. Discerning what needs my opinion is a working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Ministry leadership is not about me or my opinions. I do not have to agree on everything. I do not have to have everyone agree with me. Ultimately, my role as pastor is to glorify God in the way that I serve those entrusted to my pastoral care.
What I have learned in ministry is that the best leaders tend to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening. These are the ones who have embraced the reality that in order to lead well as a pastor, one must serve others well. Ministry leadership is not about making decisions. Anyone can make decisions. Ministry leadership is discerning what is going on, what needs to change and how one can best influence the needed change to better serve the Lord and people.
Here are the lessons God has taught me to be a better shepherd-leader:
- Pray for God’s wisdom in everything. Every issue is a spiritual issue. Begin by discerning God’s wisdom.
- Ask questions. Gain as much information as possible to help you better understand the context and dynamics of the situation. Pursue understanding. I am a better pastor when I have clarity of mind and heart rather than an uneducated guess.
- Listen well. Ask the right questions. Ask the needed follow up questions. Listen for the purpose of understanding not responding. Listen more than I speak. I always pray for God to help me know the right first question.
- Affirm the strengths in the lives of those I am leading. Many times the decision that needs to be made is in direct relation to redirecting a person or team member to focus on their strengths. Affirming their strengths helps to create a positive context for the conversation.
- Love well. I am not perfect and will not always lead perfectly. Loving well those I lead does more than earn the benefit of the doubt. Loving well develops trust. Loving well disciples because it teaches me to take responsibility and it teaches others to be gracious.