10 Ways Ordinary People Become Good Ministry Leaders, Part 1

The literature on leadership can be discouraging. After reading multiple case studies, theories, and biographies, one can be left with the impression that good leadership is next to impossible. It is limited to those who have the attributes of Superman without the aversion to kryptonite.

I recently compiled a list of good leaders (a few I would characterize as great leaders) who, by most definitions, are common, ordinary people. They were at the middle of their classes in grades. They really did not and do not have charismatic personalities. They had no family or demographic advantages. And none of them, to my knowledge, were outstanding in extracurricular activities.

But now they are doing very well. It’s as if a switch turned on at some point in their lives. They decided that they would no longer be addicted to mediocrity. Instead, they decided they would make a difference. Yet they had few of the innate gifts associated with good or great leaders.

So I wrote down a list of more than twenty characteristics of these men and women. And, somewhat to my surprise, I noted that all of them had ten characteristics in common. Though statisticians would argue that I found correlative factors, I really believe that most, if not all of these characteristics, are causative.

How then do many common people become good or great leaders? Here are the first five characteristics.

  1. They determined that their integrity would be uncompromised. They did not cut corners or cheat. Though others around them were smarter, more forceful, and more creative, they never compromised in their work and lives. They saw their integrity and reputation to be priceless gifts that could not be forfeited.
  2. They worked hard. Often when others around them played or wasted time, these leaders continued to work. If they had an employer, they felt like they were stealing from the company unless they gave their best efforts. If they were self-employed, they knew that other companies would eat them alive if they did not work hard.
  3. They took responsibility for themselves. You will never hear these leaders blaming their employers. You will not hear them complaining because someone else in the organization was recognized or received a promotion. Stated simply, they did not blame others or circumstances. They believed that they lived in a great nation where they had multiple advantages to get ahead.
  4. They were decisive. They learned that slow decision-making was poor leadership. They knew that analysis paralysis could kill an effort. Instead of living in fear of making the wrong decisions, they moved forward just as soon as they had sufficient information, not complete information. They saw smart people failing to make prompt decisions because they were enamored with more and more information and data.
  5. They read a lot. While many of their peers spent dozens of hours each week watching meaningless television, these good leaders were reading books, articles, and anything they could to make them a better person and a better leader. Like the impoverished Abraham Lincoln reading books by dim candlelight, these ordinary men and women became extraordinary through their constant and continued learning, regardless of the sacrifice.

Keep in mind that I am looking at common men and women who became good, and even great, leaders. I am not talking about the smartest, the best educated, or the most articulate. These are common men and women who are now extraordinary leaders.

I’ll finish the article tomorrow with the last five. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-two books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, I Am a Church Member, is scheduled to be released in 2013 by B&H Publishing Group.

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COMMENTS

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Matt — 08/06/13 12:21 am

I know a lot of people aruond my age (typically slightly younger) seem awkwardly attached to their parents before and after services. We're at an age where most of us want freedom from our parents, yet so many are not comfortable enough to step out and connect with other people. It seems that that's the biggest issue. Students aren't connecting with anyone in the church, so when they leave their parents, they feel alone in a church setting. I think that it's not something they realize at the time, which explains why high school students typically don't plan on leaving the church, but they're out of their comfort zone once they reach the age where they need to be on their own more so than they're used to.Getting students involved with definitely help, I think. I am dreading leaving the children's programs at my churches because I feel connected both to the children and the leaders in the programs. It won't solve everything because a lot of teens don't like to commit to those things, but it will help take away some of the shock for those who graduate and suddenly aren't part of the youth group anymore and need to be active in the church as a whole.

Recent Comments
A lot of comments were criticizing types of worship that they didn't like. Remember that different churches meet the needs of different people. You might like hymns, but someone else likes loud praise team songs. You might like in-depth sermons and others might like something lighter. Those differences were not what this article was about. People of various denominations looking for various worship experiences had ten similar things to say about looking for a church. Wandering into a tongues-filled church is far different than wandering into a KJV 1611 church then being disappointed. ALL churches should work on having clean and safe areas for children. My husband and I actually changed churches before we had children because our home church nursery was far from being clean and safe. ALL churches should work to have clear information about service times and directions on their websites/signs. ALL churches should encourage their members to be genuinely friendly. These are things that should be found regardless of one's personal taste in what they want from a church. It would be nice if websites had a sort of "what to expect" page for visitors as far as when services start, what they usually consist of, how children are handled, what to expect for communion or other rituals. This would make people feel welcomed. It's just like when you have someone in your home. You tell them where the bathroom is. You show them where to put their purse so your pet doesn't get into it. You point out drinkware and beverages. I think that many churches EXPECT that people will know what to do, but it can be very confusing going to a new church, even of the same denomination. Not knowing what to do can make people very uncomfortable. There's no reason not to make every effort to make everyone feel comfortable in church. And if a church does ALL it can and a person doesn't come back, it's not that the person is somehow unloving towards God. It could just be that the church wasn't what the person was looking for. This article was pointing out ways that churches could do better. I would like to comment about the whole "this is my pew" problem. A lot of schools have gone to randomly assigning seating from day to day in the lunchroom. This breaks up cliques and helps everyone feel included. Kids get to meet different kids than they might if they just sat at the same table all the time. Just think how it would be at church if everyone was encouraged to rotate where they sat and to never sit in the same pew in the same month. Talk about shaking things up!!
 
— Emalyn
 
A year ago in December we moved from Texas to Montana. At a Christmas Eve service we were told we were in the way and had to move to a back wall and stand the entire service. As we have met new people I always ask what church they go to. This would be a great opportunity for someone to invite us to their church, but no one ever has. We were very active in our church for over 30 years. It is hard being an outsider and being the new person. But I will get there.
 
— Beth
 
I have a lot to say but I will try to condense it because when its long nobody reads it all. I have traveled around the world with my Air Force husband and have attended many churches. The main reason I selected a church to attend was because I felt God had led me there and I heard the Word preached by a man of God. Some people are not looking for the right thing so they are not going to stay at any church. I go to a wonderful church where all people are treated equally and guest are our first priority. LOVE is what people are looking for whether they know it or not and when a church is built on the love of God LOVE will surround them and draw them in its circle. The best way to find the church you are looking for you need to pray about it and go to more than one or two churches to find where God wants you to serve. God love you and wants you to be a happy Christian. .
 
— Barbara Johnson
 

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