Modeling Ministry Leadership

Every year is filled with opportunities for Christ-centered ministries to model leadership.

Here are five fundamental leadership considerations in good times—and the not so good times:

  1. It is a time to listen. There has never been a day when it is harder to listen. We receive and have access to more information than we can reasonably digest. All the information “noise” may cause us to miss what God is trying to say to us.

It is a time to listen to the Lord—spending time in the Word, meditating, and praying. It is time to be sure your organization is in step with what the Lord’s plans are for your ministry. In my communications with ECFA members in recent months, it is clear that God is signally blessing ministries where prayer is a high priority.

It’s also time to listen to your staff. Your staff may be feeling “dis-ease” during these uncertain days. This is a time for high communication with staff—a time for transparency about the ministry’s plans, its finances, and its future. It is a time to pray together and a time to share answers to prayer and the challenges that lie ahead.

It is a time to listen to givers. Communicate directly with major givers. Understand their projections for future ministry gifts. Send online surveys to those who are giving more modest amounts.

  1. It is a time to be sure you are focused on your strengths. In pre-recession days, resources for many churches and ministries were more plentiful. And, as in other times when funds are more abundant, the development of new programs and the expansion of existing programs often occurred.

As resources tightened, ministries took different approaches to budget-balancing. At first, some chose the least painful route—making across-the-board cuts, retaining most programs. As the impact of the economy deepened, cuts to programs developed.

Many ministries will want to conduct ongoing reviews of ministry core programs—it is not a time to focus on insignificant weaknesses. Are there more adjustments necessary to allocate resources on core programs?

  1. It is a time for ministry leaders and their boards to be on the same page. A positive relationship between a ministry’s top leader (CEO, president, executive director, or senior pastor) and the ministry’s board is always vital. But especially during challenging times, the relationship between the board and the ministry’s leader should be strong.

If this bond of trust is strong, it creates a nurturing climate that is the basis for effective ministry. This is simply not a time to waste governance capital on insignificant differences between the top leader and the board.

As my friend Dr. David McKenna comments in his book published by ECFAPress, Stewards of a Sacred Trust: “We should strive for a mutuality of trust in which the board empowers the top leader and the top leader engages the board. To accomplish this goal, two-way lines of communication, collegiality, counsel, and confidence must be open and active. It is based on cultivation and testing. The beginning point is for both parties to ask Peter Drucker’s persistent question, ‘What do I owe the other?’”

  1. It is a time for simplicity. Simplicity is a virtue. Complexity is the enemy of progress and success. Complexity is the enemy of ministry. When making leadership decisions or developing initiatives, keep in mind the administrative impact and evaluate whether the organization has the "horsepower" to pull off the initiatives in a God-honoring, excellent manner.

It is possible to take even the good beyond what can reasonably be done for a particular ministry. It is possible to have the best policies and procedures, a five-star fraud-fighting program, and budget variance reports that would make a for-profit corporation proud. These are all potentially good and yet they can add a level of complexity which is beyond the capacity of staff.

  1. It is time to stand for high standards. It is always important for believers to stand for high standards—like ECFA’s standards. But especially during tough economic times it is important to maintain high standards of transparency and accountability.

When ministries are under pressure—financially and organizationally—there is sometimes a tendency to lower the bar in the clarity of our fundraising appeals, in how we use gifts restricted by givers for certain projects, and more.

Closing. This is our time, a time to lead the way, a time to model how Christ-centered ministries face significant challenges. What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.