BP Toolbox

Leadership Styles and Trials

More books, articles, blogs, podcasts and other forms of communication have focused on the role of leadership in recent decades than most any other subject.

You want to be better known? Write a book on leadership or do a podcast on being a better leader, and you will gain some notice by all of us who strive to excel as leaders.

My thoughts on leadership, like most other subjects, are very simple and practical. You will not have your mind stretched much by reading this blog, but it might help you to do a leadership audit in your life.

The word leadership is almost exclusively used as a positive term. However in reality, leaders can be bad and even evil. Consider Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin as examples of malevolent leaders. Both used genocide as a way of ruling over people and leading their countries. Other notorious figures could be identified in the same kind of way.

Recently while visiting in a church, I heard the relatively familiar words, “What our church needs is some leadership.” Most likely, this layperson was thinking of a preferred leadership style and certainly in positive terms.

For descriptive purposes, I have used three different models or styles of leadership when I speak to the subject in sermons or other presentations. These descriptions are well known but not often focused upon in discussing how to lead others.

Authoritarian Leadership

One style of leadership can be described in a single word: authoritarian. Authoritarian leaders are at times referred to as dictators. In church life, being a dictator in the truest sense of the word is not often well received despite any attempt to be a benevolent one.

The authoritarian leadership style has built-in trials. A person who seeks to be dictatorial will encounter pushback from some who see that kind of leadership as being too controlling or even unbiblical.

Authoritarian leaders do not usually think of themselves as dictators even when they are the personification of such a leadership style.

In the military, where the chain of command is so regimented and structured, that kind of leadership is most often a necessity. After all, troops do not get to vote on a battle plan. After counsel from advisors, only one person can make the decision.

Are there times when church leaders have to make decisions which appear to be dictatorial? Yes, of course, but that is usually the exception not the rule. More often than not, there is a degree of collaboration and, on some matters, a vote by people.

Laissez Faire Leaders

On the polar extreme of the leadership style grid is what can be called a laissez faire approach. This is much more hands-off in nature.

For pastors, this is the style where the pastor preaches and does pastoral care but does not see himself as direction setter or one who gives administrative guidance. For some churches, this style is a good fit. If a church wants a pastor to be the proclaimer of the Word and a chaplain to the people, then this style of leadership works.

The challenge for laissez faire leaders is that people need direction. Pastors need to be shepherds who lovingly lead and not forcefully feed the flock. Most churches do not want an authoritarian or dictator as their leader, but they also are not usually desirous of one who has a laissez faire approach to the role of leadership.

Leaders of Trusted Influence

The best way I can describe the preferred leadership style is one of trusted influence. Influencing people to follow Christ and to make disciples is our goal. Trust has to be present for this Biblical objective to be realized. That is not an automatic kind of experience. Trust is earned.

As a pastor when I transitioned from one church to another, I had to remind myself that I was in many ways starting over again. The people in the church did not know me, and I did not know them. Over time, through the good and bad experiences, trust is earned. When a leader is trusted, a leader will be followed.

The biggest ministry transition for me was becoming the lead state missionary or executive director of the State Board of Missions. The not-so-surprising reality was that I was no longer a pastor of one church family but a missions leader seeking to influence other leaders in a clearly focused Great Commission direction.

One day, while trying to think through some decisions about matters before me, it dawned upon me that in the pastorate I was a shepherd having to do some CEO-type functions and, now, as an executive leader of a staff, I was doing CEO-type work trying to be a shepherd-like leader to many others across the state. That was a revelation moment for me when greater clarity came to my thinking and leading.

The trite expression is that a good leader has a cool head and warm heart. That is not only trite but true. I am afraid there are times when the best of leaders can have a hot head and cold heart.

My prayer for all of us is that we will lead with a heart warmed by the power and presence of Christ. If our walk with Christ warms our hearts, then His Holy Spirit can cool our heads when our carnal nature seeks to overwhelm us with anger and root of bitterness.

Lead on for God’s glory and for Kingdom advancement. “Work for the night is coming when we will work no more.”

    About the Author

  • Rick Lance