Why is it important for the leaders of our church to experience care? Because the spiritual vitality and the relational health of our churches will only be as strong as the spiritual vitality and relational health of the leadership team. When Christ saved us, he committed to caring for us, and for our churches to last, we must share that care with each other.
With that in mind, I want to share seven commitments for the leader who cares for leaders.
A leader who cares for leaders is committed to renewal.
We should seek to create an environment in which our leaders experience ongoing spiritual renewal. This is often assumed, but it's essential and vital.
In John 15:5, Jesus says "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."
The culture we create should communicate that abiding in Jesus is everything. There must be this sense among the leaders that if we are not walking intimately and personally with Jesus, nothing of value is going to get done. Here are some practical ideas that our team has implemented:
- Read a good book or devotional together that helps you think about specific areas of life in ministry.
- Read through large portions of scripture together.
- Spend extended times in prayer together.
- Set aside days to fast together.
- Encourage your staff to make time for personal development and renewal each day.
A leader who cares for leaders is committed to rest.
In Mark 6, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach the gospel, cast out demons, and heal those who were sick. They returned excited, with a lot of stories to tell, and Jesus responds by saying "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." Jesus is caring for his disciples by inviting them to rest.
When we invite our leaders to rest, we are caring for them holistically. We're caring for their souls and for their bodies. As leaders, we should model Sabbath rest, and should encourage those on our team to celebrate the benefits of rest.
With rest, I would also include retreat. For years I would plan retreats. We would meet all day Friday and Saturday, spending time in the morning in word and prayer. Then we'd launch into meetings all afternoon. We'd do that both days, and it was so productive!
After a while, the staff was like "This is not a retreat. We enjoy this, but it is not a retreat."It’s easy for me to underestimate how much as a leadership team, we need to spend time hanging out. We need time nurturing relationships, getting to know one another and spending time together without an agenda.
A leader who cares for leaders is committed to reconciliation.
Conflict will happen. It's inevitable. How we handle conflict says a lot about how well we are caring for our leaders.
Your leadership team must be willing to have conversations that are marked by truth and love. Truth that you’re ready to be honest and sincere, to say and receive hard things. Are you eager to do that with humility and kindness?
See conflict as an opportunity and actively pursue reconciliation. It’s unhelpful to your team to run away from concerns out of fear. A leader's effectiveness is directly linked to his or her willingness to have hard conversations.
Think back to the analogy of the vine and the branches. Reconciliation is like the pruning work. Nobody enjoys pruning, but it's necessary to remove those obstacles that hinder relational health and community on the leadership team. Are you willing to have hard conversations?
A leader who cares for leaders is committed to respect.
One of the ways I think that we need to be intentional about respecting other leaders on our team is in the way that we speak to them. And this has implications for the content and the tone of our speech. We should never be harsh or belittle another leader on our team, even if we disagree with them. Instead, we should always treat them with respect.
Take time to intentionally look for ways God is working in their lives. This is something that Sojourn Network talks about a lot. Recognizing the good that God is doing in them, point that out, and encourage them.
We see this with Paul in his letters. At the beginning and the end of his letters, he commends and encourages the leaders. By pointing to evidence of grace in their lives, Paul is caring for them and strengthening partnerships between him and those churches.
As a pastor, you possess a tremendous amount of power, authority, and influence in your church that often times you're unaware of. I used to actually deny that I possessed power and authority because I felt like it was prideful rather than humble. But when you reject it, you put yourself in a place where you’re blind to it, and then you’re more susceptible to abusing that power.
It's actually more helpful to acknowledge it, own it, and then reflect on how to use it for good. How will you use that power to respect the leaders that God has given you in your church?
Caring for your leaders involves committing to renewal, rest, reconciliation, and respect.
In caring for leaders, we need to remember that as a leader, we also need care. When we receive care, we are not only being cared for, but we are caring for others. When we are vulnerable, transparent, and willing to share our weaknesses, we create an environment in which others feel free to do the same.
When my wife and I first got married, we had a tough first year. At that time, we were pretty fearful and insecure about sharing that with our leadership team. But when we opened ourselves up to receive care, our people were so generous to give.
As we began to share the challenges and struggles we were having, everyone else started opening up. We were shocked to hear that others had similar struggles and hardships in their marriages. This brought the whole leadership team closer together in remarkable ways. The point I'm trying to make is that caring is not always giving. We care for others when we humble ourselves and take a posture of receiving.
We need to rely on the strengths, giftedness, unique insights, and wisdom of the other leaders on our team.
If we're caring well for the team, there needs to be this sense that we are in this together. When we rely on others, what we're doing is acknowledging God's work in their life, the distinctive way that he has gifted them, and the unique contribution they make to the team. This requires that we give away authority to other leaders on the team.
One thing we need to be mindful of is not to be threatened by the men or women on our team who are high capacity leaders. It’s important that high capacity leaders share a similar vision and have strong character and we need to empower and rely on those leaders.
We must create an atmosphere that encourages open dialogue and allows for pushback. Try to seek out feedback from your leaders regularly. One of the ways that we do this at our church is having a service review each week. I want everybody to go around and answer questions such as, "What did you think was helpful from the sermon? Where are the areas that you feel I was unclear? Was something I said wrong?"
If we're going to rely on fellow leaders, they need to have a sense of confidence that their input is welcomed and encouraged, that when they give it we can handle it, and in fact we invite it.
We need to give away authority and create an atmosphere of open feedback.
In Acts 20:29-30, Paul is talking to the elders at Ephesus. He says "I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them."
Paul acknowledges that among the elders at Ephesus, there are going to be individuals who are wolves to the congregation. It's always sad and painful to remove a leader, but sometimes it's the best thing we can do to care for the other leaders in our church. A bad leader can be like a virus, sapping the vitality and life out of the leadership team.
Early on in the ministry at the church where I serve, we had an leader who had this sense that we're going do it things his way. Time after time, the leadership team would want to move in one direction, and he would lock things down, even at times threatening, "Well if we don't do it this way, then I'm going to have to resign."
We had many difficult conversations and eventually concluded that he had to be removed. It was challenging to do, but it was necessary. Sometimes, to care for leaders, one of the best things we can do is to remove a bad leader.
The 7 R's
Those are the seven commitments. Renewal, Rest, Reconcile, Respect, Receive, Rely and Remove.
2 Samuel 23:3-4 says, "The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me when one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of the Lord. He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning. Like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth."
Let this be our prayer for our own lives and ministries: that our leadership would bring light and life to the leaders who have been entrusted to our care.