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Leith Anderson affirms action as key to effective leadership

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Effective Christian leadership is based on actions that help people see the way to the future God has for them, pastor and author Leith Anderson told students of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
The complexity of leadership expectations in the church make that task difficult, Anderson said, but it is essential to excellence in the new millennium.
Anderson, pastor of the Wooddale Church in metropolitan Minneapolis, was the inaugural speaker Oct. 14-15 for the seminary’s Excellence in Leadership Lectures established this fall by seminary President William O. Crews at the Mill Valley, Calif., campus. Crews established the new series as part of the seminary’s commitment for providing continuing leadership education for church leaders.
“Without question, quality leadership is the crying need of the church today,” Crews said. “All leadership for Christian ministry is nurtured in a growing relationship with God, but it must also be fueled by a hunger to serve the purposes of God and be characterized by a clarity of God’s compelling call on your life and ministry.”
Noting the popularity of talking about vision in leadership, Anderson warned that vision must be accompanied by action in order to help people see new directions.
“Most visions are only owned when the followers see it begin to happen,” Anderson said. “Leaders for the 21st-century church of Jesus Christ must be people who don’t just tell the vision, but they show the way. There is vision aplenty and talk is cheap but it is action that revolutionizes the church and the world.”
Anderson noted the leadership qualifications cited in 1 Timothy 3 are based primarily on observed behavior in action.
“Leadership is all about what needs to be done,” he noted. “Action in leadership is an indication of character but it is not essentially character. Leadership is what we do.”
Anderson also called on future leaders to choose multiple mentors wisely. “The goal is to get to know the mentor so well that you could predict how the person would respond to situations that they themselves may have never even faced,” Anderson said. “Choose more than one mentor so that you don’t mimic that person’s weaknesses along with the strengths.”
The ability to “exegete” culture is also high on the list of leadership factors, Anderson said, going hand-in-hand with exegeting the Word of God.
“Every community is different and the ‘rules’ don’t apply from one community to another,” he said. “Take God’s truth and put it into the culture today. Christianity is a ‘go to’ religion and not a ‘come to’ religion. We must take God’s truth and insert it, put it back into culture, back into language and back into time.”
Christian leaders also must develop and demonstrate a theology, Anderson declared: “We need a theology in place to interpret what is going on around us and to lead. And it is important that we not have an a la carte and eclectic approach.”
There are at least four leadership myths that churches must avoid, Anderson observed:
— Leaders must have all the right traits.
“The absence of good traits may make the leader less than he or she could be, but they are not essential to good leadership,” Anderson said. “More crucial to good leadership are the three ingredients of opportunity, intentional development and experience.”
Most great leaders, Anderson said, couldn’t explain how they know to do what they do to perform as effective leaders.
— Leadership is all about the leader.
“Your effectiveness as a leader is not simply up to you alone,” Anderson said. “There is a mix of circumstances and factors that make the difference. In another context, the same person may not succeed in the same way as a leader.”
— All leaders will be heroes.
“The reality is that very few leaders are heroes,” Anderson said. “Related to this is the issue of celebrity. It can be argued that there is no place in Christianity for celebrity.”
— You must have the leadership gift.
“The Bible says very little about the leadership gift,” Anderson observed. “It is certainly possible to lead with other than the leadership gift and it is important to remember that gifts are given to the church, not the individual.”
While it has always been hard work to be a competent leader, Anderson said, the significance and increasing rapidity of change today makes it even harder.
“We are at a time in history of the church in which people are struggling to choose between that which God has blessed in the past and that which God appears to be blessing for the future,” Anderson noted. “And most people don’t know which to choose for today.”
The Minnesota pastor cited several cultural trends affecting ministry in the future: the explosive growth of Christianity globally, the busy schedules of people’s lives, the expectation of options in programming and the importance of relationships.
In analyzing the growth of Christianity globally, Anderson noted there are more people coming to Christ every hour than what is described in the New Testament Book of Acts on the day of Pentecost.
“When my personal ministry is complete, I want to be able to say I was part of that,” he said.
With regard to the schedules of people’s lives, churches have to take into consideration as they plan for ministry development that people are working longer hours than 20 years ago. For example, Anderson said, “Sunday night has become America’s night at home.”
While some church leaders may view the expectation of choices and options in church life as a symptom of American consumerism, Anderson challenged church leaders to view those expectations as ways to incarnate ministry, recognizing the differences in people.
Perhaps the most important trend for church leaders to consider, Anderson said, was the importance being placed on relationships: “The younger a person is in this culture, the more emphasis they have on relationships. Relationships have become the means for evangelism. It is a trend that is not going to stop.”
In a historical overview, Anderson noted that before the 1940s, church-programmed evangelism occurred primarily during Sunday evening evangelistic services. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was accomplished through Sunday schools. Through the late 1980s evangelism shifted to Sunday morning services. Since the early 1990s, however, and into the future, evangelism has shifted to weekday events built around relationships.
However a church structures itself for the future, Anderson said, the emphasis must be on ministry. “Governance and structure are important,” he said, “but remember it’s like a skeleton — you have to have it but the day you see it you’re dead.”
In the end, Anderson urged, future church leaders must see themselves in the hope-giving business: “If we don’t have hope, we can’t give hope, and if we can’t give hope, people won’t come anymore.”

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  • Cameron Crabtree