John C. Maxwell: Lead With Courage

How can pastors of small churches cultivate a leadership-development culture? The quick answer would be for the pastor to invest in personal leadership first, because if we don’t lead ourselves well, we can’t lead anyone else well either. So being intentional about growth in the area of leadership is always a great idea.

But there’s a practical side to this question that might seem too simplistic, and yet it’s at the heart of any leader’s journey. To create a culture, you have to have people buy in. And the best way to get someone to buy in is for you to spend time investing in them. Leadership is caught more than it’s taught, so find someone with leadership potential and begin investing in them.

When I was a small-church pastor, I looked for people who were excited by the vision, who weren’t afraid to get involved, who showed initiative when the situation called for it and who were always willing to ask questions. I know it can sometimes feel like people with those qualities are in short supply, but sometimes we have to retrain our eyes to see people who’ve been standing right in front of us. If we’ll look for potential leaders, we’ll find them, and that’s how you start developing a leadership culture.

The relationship between humility and leadership is an interesting one. Humility is a disposition that a leader chooses because it enables them to grow, to acknowledge their need for others and to become someone others want to follow. Humility is not false modesty, and it’s not self-doubt—humility is understanding that you can do more things with people than without and leaning into the truth that we are better together.

Humility is being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and seeking to improve on the former while not ignoring the latter. This means that a leader must continually seek out ways to improve and grow and stretch, whether that’s through trying new things or investing time learning from others. A good leader is a learner, and a learner is someone who admits they don’t know everything.

For pastors to grow and develop into transformational leaders, they first need to pray and ask God to transform them personally. We can’t lead people from the sidelines—we have to be in the game if we want to see transformation take hold.

I also think we need to have a clear understanding of what transformational leaders look like, and we know from the example of Jesus that transformational leaders see what others don’t see, they say what others don’t say, they believe what others don’t believe, they feel what others don’t feel and they do what others don’t do.

For many pastors, the biggest step is simply choosing the courage to be transformational. Often, we’d rather be a politician than a transformational leader, because it’s much easier to promise things than it is to lead people to them. To lead, we must be courageous, and the strength for that comes from God.