Traits – Loves People

This week as I continue sharing traits of an effective leader, I focus on the need for leaders to work hard at building relationships with the people they lead. As a task-oriented person, I have had to learn how important it is to be people oriented as well. I remember a pastor I served under would often tell his staff, “The most important thing in leading people is relationship, relationship, relationship. As a leader you will sometimes need to spend relational capital so make sure you have capital to spend.” The work of creating and sharing a vision, planning programs, leading teams, administrating the work of the church, and facilitating organizational change is important work. But none of these things happen without healthy, trusting and loving relationships with those you serve the Lord with. An oft spoken piece of wisdom is that people don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care for them. As a leader it is important to build trust and good will by demonstrating humility, integrity, kindness, patience, gratitude, and genuine concern for those you are called to serve and lead. The last night that Jesus would spend with his disciples before his crucifixion, he shared an important admonition, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The greatest attribute we can aspire to as followers of Jesus and leaders in His church is how we love others. It is worth our best effort. – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Are Lifetime Learners, Zealous for the Truth

This week as I continue sharing traits of an effective leader, I focus on the need for leaders to be lifelong learners always pursuing the truth.  Leaders do well to read broadly and expose themselves to great thinkers. There is always great value in learning from others who have gone before and to glean from the things that they learned.  As it has been said many times, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Continually expanding our mind is vital mental renewal. It is good to be curious, always asking questions, expanding your education, seeking good ideas, and developing new skills.  It is analogous to sharpening a saw.  One who does so works more efficiently and accomplishes more.  Today we are living in the Information Age, a time where we have instant access to more information than ever before in human history. But not all information is relevant and not all information provided is truth. Therefore, it is important for us to filter what we learn with the timeless truth of God’s Word.  Jesus said his purpose in coming to the world was to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). That those who continue in his word would know the truth and the truth would set them free (John 8:32).  So as we do the valuable work of learning, let us be wise in not merely pursuing knowledge, but in also pursuing truth. – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Leans into Conflict

This week as I continue sharing traits of an effective leader, I focus on another difficult but important trait of a leader – handling and mitigating conflict.  I have heard it said that conflict is not necessarily good or bad but managed or mismanaged.  As a leader it is important to understand not only the issues that bring conflict into a church, but how to navigate through it so that substantive matters can be addressed in a way that brings suitable resolution and maintains healthy relationship among those involved. When conflict occurs, typical responses include fight or flight, attack or escape, assault or denial, which never resolve but only exacerbate the tension.  Leaders lean into the conflict, even when it is awkward or arduous.  As gospel centered servants we know Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemaker for they shall be called children of God.” Leaders point people to address disagreements in a way that brings glory to God.  They help people account for their attitude and actions so that they can overcome obstacles that prevent reconciliation. They remind people how God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). It is only when we discover the great cost and sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf leading to our forgiveness and reconciliation with God that we can find the strength, wisdom and courage to resolve the matters that may divide us.  Peacemaking is not easy, but we can be encouraged by the words of James, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (3:18).   – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Willing to Take Risks and Lead Change

As I continue sharing traits of an effective leader, this week I focus on the attributes of risk taking and courage.  These are aspects of leadership that are easier to define and discuss than to practice, simply because it can be costly.  I have heard it said that courage is not the absence of fear but the determination to do the right thing in spite of the fear.  Leaders are often in situations where what they believe to be the right thing to do is not agreed upon by all they lead.  Thus, there is an element of risk to move ahead and do the right things, the right way, in order to bring about the best results for all involved.  Sometimes the risk is in stretching people to a place where faith is required; attempting things that necessitates a complete trust in the Lord. I believe we lead best when there is a spirit of collaboration, good communication, and time to prayerfully consider the Lord’s will and the best course of action.  I am not suggesting being a take charge and plow over others kind of leader.  That may show courage but also a lack wisdom or humility.  What I am suggesting is being a leader who does their due diligence to fully research a challenging situation, pray persistently for wisdom, reasonably and collaboratively think through best solutions, and carefully and amply communicate what you believe is the best course of action, and implement it.  Simply doing these things can be seen as a risk, but one worth taking if it means that the Lord is honored, and His mission is faithfully accomplished. Like Joshua, the Lord encourages us to “be strong and courageous” as we keep our eyes on Him and lead His people with both humility and boldness to accomplish His will.  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Leads with a Focused Vision

This week I focus on an important but sometimes difficult trait of a leader – vision.  What makes this difficult is not so much its definition but its formation.  I’ve read a lot of definitions, but the one I like best is from Aubrey Malphurs: “A vision is a clear, compelling picture of God’s future for your church as you believe it can and must be.”  While mission answers, “What are we to do?” Vision answers, “Where are we going?“  Vision is visual, it is a picture of a preferred future.  Leaders should work to form a clear idea of what the future should be for their organization. It begins with a prayerful dependence on the Lord to give clarity and wisdom to see what can and must be.  In includes having a solid conviction of our mission – the Great Commission, a good grasp of the culture and capacity of our congregation, and a firm contextual understanding of our community.  Based on these three areas of understanding, a leader can begin to form a plan for the future and describe what it should look like when you arrive there.  Constructed on the bedrock of reality it launches us into the future of great potential.  Ultimately our future is in the hands of a sovereign God (Prov. 16:9), but as we look to examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Nehemiah and many others, we see that the Lord inspires his leaders with vision.  Planning is not prohibited by the Lord, but a proactive stewardship of what he has given us as leaders.  Therefore, we must prayerfully, humbly, and actively seek the Lord’s vision for our congregation’s future and boldly lead them there. – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Pursuing Competence in Leadership Skills

This week I focus on a broad subject but one that is important to point out.  Leadership is a topic of many books and seminars, and I encourage those who lead to take advantage of these resources.  I have heard many pastors indicate that their education taught them how to be good theologians and care givers but not leaders. The New Testament uses three words to describe the role of a pastor.  Presbyteros / Elder carries the idea of one who is mature in the faith, demonstrates Christlikeness, doctrinal conviction, and wisdom in seeking God and teaching and leading people.  Poimen / Shepherd carries the idea of pastoring God’s flock.  They know, love, feed, and protect the sheep.  Episkopos / Overseer carries the idea one who leads the church to fulfill its mission.  They are able to cast vision and implement strategy.  They are able to answer the six directional questions – “What is our mission?” “Why are we doing it?” “How are we doing it?” “Where is God leading us to?” “Where do we start?” “When are we successful?”   Overseers know how to lead a change process and navigate through the challenges that present themselves.  Additionally, they know how to multiply themselves by discovering, developing and deploying other leaders in order to expand the work of fulfilling the mission. As you can see there are many competencies to develop and strengthen as leaders.  My prayer is that you pursue growth in these areas resulting in greater effectiveness in the mission God has called you to.  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Passion for and Dependence on God

This week I continue sharing a series of articles focused on things I have learned that are traits of an effective pastor and leader.  Some might suggest having a passion for and dependence on God should go without saying, but the truth is that one can be competent to lead others but fail to lead themselves.  I have seen too many leaders falter because they attempt to be a branch disconnected from the life of the True Vine. They depend more on their wisdom and skills rather than a full reliance on God.  In previous articles I referred to king David leading with a pure heart and skilled hands.  He was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).  Our heart will not be pure nor passionate if we are not purposefully and intentionally seeking after God. David sought the Lord like a deer panting after water (Ps. 42:1), and God used him to lead His people to enjoy His blessings like they had never known before.  We can gain much wisdom following his example.  It has been said that one cannot lead people any further than what they have been themselves.  If we want our people to passionately seek after God, they must be able to see it displayed in our lives. May our example be one of being a person of persistent prayer, a faithful student of Scripture, and consistently walking in the Spirit. – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits – Character That Builds Trust

This week I continue sharing a series of articles focused on things I have learned that are traits of an effective pastor and leader. Once again, I share Psalm 78:70-72.  He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; he brought him from tending ewes to be shepherd over his people Jacob – over Israel, his inheritance. He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with skillful hands. Another trait that the psalmist points out of king David is that he led his people with a” pure heart.” It cannot be stressed enough how important good character is in being an effective leader, especially in ministry.  A leader can be very gifted and competent in many things but a lack of character can easily derail and disqualify them. A review of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 makes it apparent that the Lord looks more at the heart than the skills and abilities of a leader.  Out of the fourteen qualifications listed, ten focus on character qualities such as being upright, sensible, self-controlled, respectable, gentle, avoiding greed and addictive behavior and so forth. Paul went on to admonish Timothy to not only be trained in doctrine but in godliness as well (4:6-8).  While calling is essential, it doesn’t replace qualification of good character.  While no one can be perfect, except our Lord, leaders should seek to consistently live above reproach.  In doing so people will willingly follow because you have built trust by demonstrating Christ-likeness, integrity, and spiritual maturity. Let us strive to live so we can say as Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Traits of an Effective Pastor

For the next couple of months, I am going to be sharing a series of articles focused on things I have learned that are traits of an effective pastor and leader. A wonderful description was made of King David in Psalm 78:70-72.  He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; he brought him from tending ewes to be shepherd over his people Jacob – over Israel, his inheritance. He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with skillful hands. One of the first thing I notice is that it was God that called him into this position of leadership.  When Paul met up with the elders from Ephesus, he exhorted them saying, Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28).  We see here that it was God who placed a calling on their life to lead his people.  I believe a pastor is one who is chosen by God to be his servant to shepherd his flock.  This is both a source of encouragement and solemn conviction of responsibility. Leading people is not an easy task and sometimes it is only the sense of calling that keeps one in the ministry. But we can be encouraged when we know that God not only calls us, but He empowers us with His Spirit, encourages us with His Word, and accomplishes His purposes through our work.  As we faithfully fulfill His calling we can look forward to the day we hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  – Dr. Gary Mathes

Maintenance or Mission

One of the key principles of leadership I have learned from many in the field of church revitalization is that knowing and clearly articulating your mission is the first and primary step.  One of my favorite philosophers, Yogi Berra, said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else.”  Mission is the compass that points to our true north.  It is answering the question, “What are we supposed to be doing?”  Without clearly articulating the answer to that question it is easy to settle in on doing what you always do, i.e. maintain the norm.  Unfortunately, many churches struggle with a definitive sense of purpose and fall prey to a posture of maintenance.  As leaders we are to clearly and concisely communicate what Christ has called the church to complete.  We believe Jesus’ mandate for us is the Great Commission and we are to be faithful to follow these holy orders.  Our purpose is to make disciples. Our method is to go, baptize and teach those who respond to the gospel.  Our scope is from our neighborhoods to the nations. Our length is to the end of the age.  Our power is in the Spirit of Christ. When we understand our mission, and choose to accept it, we will see God at work in our midst and will bear much fruit for His glory. – Dr. Gary Mathes