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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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-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

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.

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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