In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership

Every human organization rises and falls on its leadership and a local church is no exception. Do you struggle with the tension between trying to be a good leader and a godly leader? Have you ever wished that you could enroll in Pastoring A Local Church 101? If there were such a class, Mike Bonem’s new book, In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership, would be an excellent textbook.

Bonem’s book, released this month, is a valuable addition to a pastor’s library, the bookshelf of a church staff member or that of a lay leader who takes seriously their leadership responsibilities in a local church. Here are five reasons why this is an important book for local church leaders.

It is a book born out of real leadership experience in a local church. Bonem writes from the perspective of more than thirty years of experience, first as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., then as the executive pastor of a local church and now as a church consultant working with a wide variety of churches in terms of denomination, size and location.

It is a book filled with real examples of real leaders and churches addressing real issues. Bonem interviewed more 40 pastors and ministry leaders and combines their insight with his own. It is practical wisdom drawn from the trenches of ministry.

It is a book that draws on the best of leadership learnings and Biblical wisdom. Bonem begins with a Biblical foundation of leadership and then moves to the best of contemporary leadership insight from people like Collins, Kouzes and Posner.

It is a book that does not offer a single leadership model as THE model but focuses on leadership principles and multiple examples. Bonem demonstrates that God blesses a variety of leadership styles and approaches to ministry.

It is a book that includes both reflective questions and useful appendices. At the conclusion of each chapter, Bonem includes reflective questions that are appropriate for individual response or they can be used by a leadership team or small group. Appendix B, Practical Tips for Managing People, addresses hiring, performance evaluation, compensation and termination. Appendix C, Practical Ideas for Measurement, includes ideas on what and how to measure, plus metrics on evangelism, assimilation, spiritual growth, ministry deployment and effectiveness, and giving.

Recently, I had a wide-ranging conversation with Bonem about the book and its usefulness to local church leaders. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

CC: Your book, In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership, has two distinct parts. Part One deals with the church tools of planning, people, metrics, finances, and systems. Part Two addresses a unified team, the power of culture, the complexities of change and soul care of the pastor. If the second part is working well, how does that impact the first part? Which part is more important?

MB: Part two is much more important than part one. I wrote them in the order I did because I felt like the audience would be looking for the practical stuff in part one. In my mind, part two is more important than part one. If you get the part two stuff right, it is easier to do the part one stuff. If the culture is right, if you have a great team with complimentary gifts, then it is easier for people to trust one another. It is then easier to have the conversation about how to do planning and what are the better metrics. You can do it by leveraging the skills sitting around the table…there are no hidden agendas…it is a much healthier environment. If part two is not in place, then working on part one stuff feels like you are constantly fighting an uphill battle.

CC: What did you learn in the process of writing the book that surprised you?

MB: One of most surprising things for me was a conversation with a pastor who would be called successful by almost any standard, but when I asked him about relating to the high capacity business leaders in his church, his response blew me away. He said he was almost intimidated to go into meetings with them. That made me wonder about other pastors who might feel the same way. That was a big “ah ha” for me.

Two other things surprised me. One is that there is more openness to business leadership principles in the church. The almost universal response was that God’s wisdom is where we find it. The other thing that surprised me was how many successful pastors struggle with anything they call strategic planning. They have a big vision and clearly accomplish a lot but if you ask them about their strategic planning process, they tended to say, “We never have been able to do that well here.” Some of that is semantics… but a lot of pastors tend to have high level vision and tactical plans for this year but actually lead more by gut feeling and intuition.

CC: A lot of your interviews were with pastors of larger churches. What lessons can be drawn from the book for pastors of smaller churches?

MB: Clearly the examples I have used, especially in the areas of staffing and personnel management…a lot of the same issues apply to volunteers in smaller churches…how you relate to them, how you manage them. A second point is that one way or another, the pastors who get to those larger church positions have learned or acquired those management and personnel skills. For smaller church pastors who have not yet had the chance to pick up these skills and their organizational and leadership issues are not quite as complex, the book could be valuable.

CC: For the average pastor, what is the key leverage point between being fulfilled in ministry and what keeps them frustrated and discouraged?

MB: The number one issue is the bookends of chapters 2 and 12 that start with understanding who you are and what is happening in your spiritual life that keeps you grounded. If you do not have that right, you will never be satisfied… you are always fighting a battle and fighting it on your own. If you are not clear about who God has made you to be and not grounded spiritually, then you are not going to find success.

If you are, then the next big issue is building healthy relationships, either paid or volunteer, and you do that more readily and easily if you are comfortable in your own skin and anchored in your relationship with God.

On the pragmatic side, the next issue would be personnel. We mess up personnel issues so big in the church…we don’t deal with people who are underperforming…we don’t adequately reward people who are excelling…we hang onto people who are in the wrong roles and everybody knows they are in the wrong roles. And because you are rubbing shoulders with people all the time, if you are not dealing with personnel, it is a constant aggravation, a constant drain.

CC: For a pastor or church leader who has just gotten the book, where should they begin reading?

MB: Read the first two chapters. Beyond that, what is the issue that is keeping you awake at night? Go to that chapter. Chapters 3-11 can stand alone.

CC: Now that the book is finished, what would you include in it that is not a part of the book?

MB: I think we just touched the tip of iceberg on the issue of how pastors and high capacity leaders work together. There is a depth that goes way beyond what we addressed in the book and helping lay leaders to be sensitive to pastors and vice versa.

CC: Final question: Are you saying that every leader has the potential to be great and godly?

MB: I certainly think that God wants all of us to be godly – that is shaped more and more into the image of Christ. But I don’t think that everyone will be great as defined by the world, or even their ministry peers. “Great” has the connotation of lots of people in worship and a huge ministry footprint. I think we’re all called to be good stewards of the talents and resources with which we’ve been entrusted. Anyone in a position of leadership can learn to be a better steward by studying the best leadership material and concepts that are available. If you’re doing that, I think you’re pursuing greatness according to God’s standard.

Mike Bonem is an experienced consultant, speaker and author of three books related to church leadership. For more information about Mike, his work and resources for church leaders, go to http://mikebonem.com

To order a copy of the book, click here.

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