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ed stetzer on courageous leaders

Here is a great article from Ed Stetzer about what it means to be a courageous leader.


The other day, I talked about arrogant pastors — a problem that is all too common. As I had both expected and feared, there was quite a response across various forms of social media. People quickly identified with the issue.

I’ve been thinking more about the issue of character. Even this morning, we see what the lack of courageous character can do as we watch government leaders fail to take action and the “sequester” takes effect.

True leadership demands character.

In ministry, that character has to be courageous character. My experience is that it is not celebrated enough and, to be honest, is sometimes lacking in ministry.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Well, it is not a secret that ministry positions can unfortunately become places of power more than servanthood.

Let me also add that Christian ministry often elevates people who can write and speak into positions of leadership and influence before their character is prepared to handle it. In other words, if you can write and speak, you sometimes gain influence without possessing the character to handle it.

But what is character, exactly? It has become a word we sometimes throw around quite flippantly. Almost like the nebulous “it factor,” we can identify those who have it, and we can most certainly identify those who don’t. But it is something we all should display, regardless of our position.

When it comes to ministry leaders, I thought of four things that fit the description. Mind you, it is not an exhaustive list. Just one that has been developed through my observations of those who evidence character, and those who do not. As with yesterday, I’d like to hear your comments on them and any additional traits that you might suggest.

Ministry leaders with courageous character:

1. Always tell the truth.

Most of the time, the temptation to lie, hide or manipulate the facts comes because we want to protect ourselves. A leader of character knows that truth is primary.

In particular, leaders in ministry know that self-protection does not fit with what we know to be true about the gospel. Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners and meet our greatest need. There is nothing left to protect because He has already protected everything for us. Forever. We have nothing to lose and nothing to hide, and with that comes great freedom — the freedom to be transparent and honest.

If you shade or distort the truth, or hide facts and plans for your own benefit or advancement, you are not a leader of courageous character.

2. Treat those who work for them with respect.

Leaders not only take responsibility for themselves and the ministry around them, they also have a team of people that look up to them. Yes, those people are ready to follow and are looking for guidance, but they also should be able to trust their leader to be someone who cares about who they are and what they do.

A true leader looks out for the team just as much as the team looks out for the leader. (You might find my series on unhealthy Christian organizations helpful on this topic.)

If those around you do not know that they are valued as a part of the team, you are not a leader of courageous character.

3. Stand up to bullies.

As much as we may wish it wasn’t true, bullies do exist within the context of ministry. We will encounter them everywhere we turn. Bullying can be found in colleagues as well as in those around leaders in positions of authority.

This brings a layer of difficulty that may be unwelcome, but must be addressed nonetheless. Certainly, we have to learn how to display Christian grace and humility when challenged and persecuted. But leaders have a greater responsibility because they are responsible for others around them.

And when someone else is using coercion to abuse or intimidate others, true leaders respond with the courage to do what is right.

If your leadership is marked by seeing which way the wind is blowing, or running away from needed conflict, you are not a leader of courageous character.

4. Do not tolerate weasels.

Just as we will encounter bullies in positions above us and alongside us, as we lead more people, it becomes more likely that someone on our own team will be self-serving and insincere, even regarded as sneaky.

Part of the reason we are put in a position of leadership is because we are expected to have the courage to deal with challenges like this. When dealing with those who may be undercutting the people around them, true leaders confront, encourage change, and in certain instances, extend grace and a second chance.

However they must never tolerate it or turn a blind eye to it. And certainly, leaders should never use that person’s manipulative behavior to enhance their own position.

If you are weasely, or if you are surrounded by people who think your word and actions are weasely, you are not a leader of courageous character.

A true leader is more than someone who stands around telling others what to do, expecting everyone to fall in line. Certainly a leader is to be a visionary. But a leader is also expected to be an advocate. A team looks to its leader to show them the way. But they also look to their leader for support.

When you are a leader, everyone under you will have successes and failures. You will need to be prepared to encourage and to celebrate, and at times to correct and exhort. But in every situation, the people who follow you need to know that you have their back just as much as they have yours, even (and sometimes most of all) when you are helping them recover from mistakes.

Yes, these characteristics of a leader can be developed. They can certainly be improved upon. We can grow as leaders. But it takes willingness, discipline and tenacity. If you’re not a person of character in your current situation, you can change that. Leaders can mature. I’ve seen it happen first-hand.

So, if this is convicting to you, address it. Ask the Lord for help and direction. Just don’t pretend it is not an issue.

But if you’re not a person of character in your current situation, don’t fool yourself into believing that you will automatically become one in the next. Without work, character doesn’t change.

Character sticks.

Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today’s Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.