Beyond the Dream: No Time for Leaders to Coast

“As long as I am in a position of leadership, it will demand the same things leadership has always demanded.”

Q: I’m a younger church leader. I’m just wondering what it’s like to be past all the hard and difficult building years and to actually be experiencing the fulfillment of what were once only your dreams for ministry?

I have to be honest here. This question got my head spinning with a ton of different thoughts … some nice and some not so nice.

Let me start with an example of a “nice” thought. I can’t believe God has given me the undeserved privilege of being part of a ministry like NorthRidge Church. As I look back on where we’ve come from and what we’ve been through; look at the impact we’re presently making; and look forward to the possibilities that lay before us, here’s what I think: Only God!

Now, let me give you an example of one of my “not so nice” thoughts. (This will give you some insight into my soul.) What are you, nuts? You think ministry gets easier as it grows in size, impact and influence? Come on. Think. Is the wedding the hardest part of being married?

I think you get the point.

As a young leader, I, too, thought the most difficult years of ministry would be the early ones. I, too, believed there would be the blood, sweat and tears of the plowing and planting years. Then, if God’s grace allowed for success, I’d get to enjoy the harvest years. They’d be easier, more fun and certainly more fruitful. I’d have greater allotments of time to invest relationally, and I’d get to expand my investments into new areas outside of the church. I really did think that when the dream was fulfilled I’d be living the dream.

Not so.

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What I Didn’t Understand

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are a ton of privileges and joys that come with being a long-term leader in a ministry where God has so clearly and powerfully worked. However, here are some things I didn’t understand when I was still on the front side of the dream.

When a church or any organization grows in size, influence and impact, complexity grows exponentially. Complexity creates significantly greater demands on leaders.

Young leaders get to lead more intuitively. Because they’re more naturally connected with the culture of their generation, they can lead to themselves—their preferences in music, arts, language and interests tend to be relevant. As leaders age, they have to lead more intentionally. Because they’ve grown further away from the youth-shaped culture, to lead effectively, they have to lead away from themselves. This is a far harder task for any leader.

As a ministry grows, needs change and culture takes on new shapes, the style of leadership often needs to transition. This has produced the hardest aspect of leadership I’ve had to engage in my 24 years as the pastor of NorthRidge: Changing myself. Changing how I lead. And I’ve had to go through many different iterations through the years, from crisis-transition leader to visionary leader to managing leader to empowering leader, and (this has been the least natural and most difficult for me), mentoring and developmental leader. My most natural style is transition leader. Becoming the right leader for our church in every season has made leading far more difficult than I ever dreamed.

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Worth it? Yes. Easy? No.