Years ago, I was a marketing director for a global retailer, constantly working on just the right ideas to build our brand and make more money. We would invest thousands of dollars to develop campaigns that were in lock-step with our mission and vision. And then—justlikethat—things would come to a screeching halt because our corporate leaders would emerge from conference rooms longing for something new or fresh or different. They seemed to know the “next thing” was going to be THE thing that set us apart and gave us the edge—and they often expected their employees to quickly rally to bring their fresh inspiration to life, no matter the cost.
There were jokes about “what happened on the 32nd floor” and frustration about how disconnected the leaders were from the gut-level, in-the-trenches life of the business and its people. The impact of the decisions made by the leaders of the company was in fact crippling not only to time and money but to morale—and to the very heart of the entertainment giant itself.
I’ve been in ministry now for almost eight years, and have heard many of our leaders proudly boast of “not being like the corporate world.” Certainly, we wouldn’t dare intentionally create an environment that’s harmful—our decisions are steeped in prayer, our mission is to advance the Kingdom work of God, and we are careful to make sure we have just the right people in place to bring our fresh, divinely-inspired vision to life.
Yet far too often, we look far more like those corporate leaders on the 32nd floor than we do true ministry leaders. And so to us—those who call ourselves leaders—I have to ask one question:
What are we thinking?
I’m troubled by some of what I’ve seen in a world that’s supposed to be above reproach. I’ve witnessed decisions made without inviting discourse and welcoming dissent and investigating implications. I’ve heard pastors tell employees, “You just need to rise a little higher” when new ideas demand even longer work hours and more time away from family. I’ve watched as nonprofit presidents place resumes on desks with a wink and a hushed “make a place for this donor’s child.” And I’ve managed the fallout when decisions are announced and compliance is demanded with bold statements about biblical hierarchy and order.
As leaders in ministry, we are given a responsibility far greater than casting vision, managing finances, crafting clever messages, or assimilating teams. Hebrews 13:17 says: “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God.” We are to be alert to the condition of the lives of those whom we direct, and we are responsible to God for how we treat them.
You and I need to step out of the conference room and into the living room of those we lead. We need to invite others into the conversation, actively listening to both ideas and concerns. We need to prayerfully evaluate our ideas with an eye to how they will impact not only the lives of those we want to reach, but the lives of those required to implement those decisions. We need to communicate clearly and humbly, making time to respond with integrity and grace.
And most of all, we need to remember that our leadership is only as legitimate as our servitude. That, leaders, is how we show we are different. That is what we should be thinking.