I was still a teenager, just 19 years of age when I began leading a Scripture Union mission team.
For the previous three summers I had been volunteering on this SU mission team and now with more experienced team members moving on I had been invited to step up and take on the lead role. It was an opportunity to serve God, but it was also an opportunity to fix everything on our mission that I believed was ineffective.
I immediately began to make sweeping changes to the mission. I changed the dates of the mission as well as the location, name and structure of the program. I communicated these changes to the team not for their consultation but for their information. If they didn’t like it, they could join a different team as far as I was concerned.
The changes I introduced were mostly beneficial, but my heavy-handed way of implemented change left some feeling disenfranchised. I wasn’t worried; God had given me a vision and I was not going to let anything get in my way of seeing it come to pass. It wasn’t difficult implementing wholesale change in a volunteer mission team. Most leaders had been on the team less than 3 years; the team was young and not especially committed to the ‘way it’s always been.’
A Presidential Youth Pastor
Within a few years I found myself leading a Church youth ministry. I approached youth ministry the same way I had approached leading mission teams. I had a vision from God and was determined to implement it. I again made sweeping changes and some of these were well received. I believed that leaders should lead and followers should follow; again some of my team members felt disenfranchised.
My youth leaders and members of my congregation however had been part of the church for more than 3 years. They weren’t about to go and join a different church just because they took issue with my leadership style. I wasn’t trying to upset people; I simply cared more about my vision than I cared about my congregation.
Several years past and I encountered a minister who was in tension with his church’s leadership.
Initially I couldn’t see why; the minister was passionate about Jesus, he was a hard worker, committed and dedicated to serving. He was energetic, passionate about Jesus and had some great ideas. I eventually figured out that whilst he was very passionate about the ideas God had given him, he didn’t value the ideas God had given to anyone else. He was so focused on what he wanted to do, he carelessly ignored the passions and dreams God had given to others around him.
It dawned on me that for most of my Christian leadership I had tunnel vision; I cared only about the vision God had given me and took no interest in the visions God had given to others. I had been a presidential pastor who thought the sole purpose of my leadership had been to implement the vision God had given to me.
The penny drops
It took a long time to realise that in a Church of a hundred people God has a hundred visions, a hundred callings and a hundred kingdom dreams. What if my role as a leader wasn’t to simply pursue my own dreams and visions but to encourage, equip and empower a congregation to step into the visions and dreams God has given to them?
Paul writes in Ephesians that church leaders have the responsibility to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church (see Ephesians 4:12).
Loving people more than ideas
Early in my Church leadership I thought people were highly resistant to change. The reality was that people in my Church and mission team simply wanted to be valued and to be included in the change process.
I would too often get frustrated when a member of my congregation wouldn’t embrace my vision. I began to see resistant congregation members as obstacles to God’s vision rather than the very purpose of it. They became problems to solve rather than people to love.
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example” (1 Peter chapter 5 verses 2-3).
Leading in church today
I would like to think that today my leadership style is less presidential and more personal. I believe congregations are longing for leaders who will not simply pursue their own agendas but nurture the visions, dreams and callings that God has given to all his followers.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is an associate minister with the Churches of Christ denomination. Travis loves to help people find their God given calling and encourage people to walk with Jesus into the unique adventure he has for each person.