An Essential of Ministry Leadership

Outwardly it seemed like a very successful local church with a highly effective ministry.  Gifted and sufficient trained staff was on hand, the facilities were more than adequate, and hundreds of people made it their church home.  Those were the external appearances.  Internally, the lay leadership behaved tentatively, the membership seemed to lack commitment, and a sense of enthusiasm and hope was absent.  Why? Because one of the invisible, intangible essentials of leadership was missing. Each missionary on this particular mission field, single person and couple, was a blessing to meet and become acquainted with.  Born out of a deep and abiding love for the Savior, their service was properly motivated by willing sacrifice.  Competent and courageous, each was potentially a powerful instrument in God’s hands.  Their labors together, however, were fraught with dissension and discord.  So serious was their interpersonal conflict that the cause of Christ was severely damaged and their continuance on the field in grave jeopardy.  Why?  Because one of the invisible, intangible essentials of leadership was missing.

It’s common!  I regret to say in our ministry we often--far too often--see the carnage that results when this invisible, intangible essential of leadership is missing.  Churches, mission headquarters, mission fields, parachurch organizations – all are vulnerable to the destructive effects of this essential’s absence.  What is this essential that takes months and years to build, but can be destroyed in a moment?  It cannot be purchased or acquired in school or in the marketplace.  And once a leader has established it, he or she must faithfully work to keep it–every day!  What is this elusive commodity?

It is “trust;” the “T” word, unseen yet vital to leadership.  Without trust a leader has little influence and will soon find there are no followers behind him.  With it, influence will grow and people will confidently join their leaders.  We would do well to better understand the importance of this biblical principle and its dynamics.

In the New Testament the Holy Spirit used four words exclusively when conveying the notion of trust; one noun and three verbs.  The noun pepoithēsis (pep-oy’- thay-sis) is variously translated “reliance,” “confidence” and “trust.”  The verb elpizō (el-pid’-zo) means “to have hope” or “to trust” (as translated in the AV).  The verb peithō (pi’-tho) is translated “to rely,” “to have confidence,” or “to trust.”  And finally, the verb pisteuō (pist-yoo’-o) is translated “to have faith in” or “to put trust in” with respect to a person or thing.  In sum, because of the well-established consistency of a person’s actions, over time we come to know we can rely on and be confident that they will behave in a certain way.  We expect, have hope in, and put trust in the assurance they will act predictably.  In short, we trust!  Of course, it is a blessing when we learn to trust in the predictability of a person’s holy living.  Contrarily, it is a great burden to bear when a person has taught us to trust in the predictability of their sinful behavior.

The Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to write, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Our Lord is the sublime example.  His perfect holiness, absolutely predictable from the beginning of time throughout all eternity, is the unchanging Rock in Whom we can place our trust.  What a blessed comfort!

How does this apply to that church or that mission field I wrote of earlier?  How does this apply to the mission headquarters or parachurch organization?  The answer: profoundly!  In the church cited above, the lay leadership and the membership had lost a confident trust in their pastoral leadership, trust that their pastor would hold tight to the grace of God and be the example of holy living as the church faced the inevitable challenges of ministering in a lost world.  Rather, he made it quite clear he was not interested in the opinion of others but pursued his own agenda, struggled with serving, and often returned evil for evil.  In the example of the mission field, the missionaries had taught each other, all too painfully, that they could not trust one another to be humble and cooperative.  Rather, they had found each other to be strident, self-serving and habitual gossipers.

The importance of trust in leadership cannot be overstated.  But how is it established?  And how is it sustained?  At the foundation of one’s ability to trust in you or me as ministry leaders is what they see in our walk with God.  Yes…it’s important for them to hear the right things (talk the talk) but it is far more important for them to see holy living.  We must walk the walk.  They must see a vibrant, daily, deepening relationship with God.  This principle is made altogether clear in Ex. 19:9: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’”   Particularly in ministry, followers need to know their leader is getting a word from God; that God speaks to him.  It builds trust!

Once trust is established, the leader must labor for God to sustain it.  It must become a matter of prayer where we are on our face crying out to the One Who empowers.  As leaders, we must always keep in clear focus our own clay feet so that God will keep us humble.  That comes only from a love of and commitment to God’s Word.  It is ALL we need.  May we be faithful in applying it.  Someone once said, “It’s no good to know more unless we do more with what we already know.”  Let’s apply this biblical principle and firmly embed this essential into our role as leaders.

Straight Ahead!