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Stop Raising Up Leaders By Alec Hill and Justin Lawrence

Leaders who can’t manage aren’t really leaders at all!

A cottage industry has sprung up around Christian leaders and leadership. Whether it’s conferences, books, videos, or degree programs, there is no shortage of places to listen to inspiring thought leaders.

What’s Missing

But as we assess churches and other non-profits, this charge-ahead leadership model is often deficient. What’s too frequently missing is a nuts-and-bolts component to the daily work of developing the gifts of staff, trustees, and volunteers.

How often have you heard someone say, “I’m a leader, not a manager?” What a false polarity! Suffering under a boss who can’t plan, evaluate, build a team, or resolve disputes is a horrible experience. Leadership that lacks management competence isn’t just inadequate, it’s not  leadership.

Management Skills Matter

By management, we mean the slow, daily accretion of trust and growth that comes from effective working relationships. While it may not be sexy to talk about the practices of effective management, it is the only thing that can reliably deliver long-term and mission-driven results. Using a sports metaphor, the daily workout (management) prepares us for the big game (leadership). It’s simply not possible to play effectively without doing the exercises.

Leaders of large ministries often over focus on the “transformative” aspects of leadership. Is it possible that we listen to them too much? After all, two-third of non-profits have annual budgets of less than a million dollars and only 1,500 (out of 380,000) American churches can be described as mega. Constant vision-casting is a luxury that few hands-on leaders can afford.

Five Basic Management Skills

1. Get Organized

We’ve all had bosses who flew by the seat of their pants. Their last minute surprises prevented us from doing our best work. Good managers are well planned, set clear expectations, make timely decisions, and chunk tasks into doable pieces. Two books – Deep Work by Cal Newport and Getting Things Done, by David Allen – capably address this skill set.

2. Build a Strong Team

Some leaders say, “we’ll meet as needed.” What a disastrous practice. Good managers schedule regular team meetings (now easier with zoom) and one-on-one times. And they resolve disputes quickly. When teammates are at odds, they jump in as mediators and – if need be – judges. For those who are conflict avoidant, learning such pro-activity becomes an active personal discipline.

3.  Offer Feedback

Many leaders shy away from providing honest and systematic feedback. But this is an essential management tool. How can we expect others to grow without our constructive input? Every staff deserves a thorough annual evaluation with both positive and negative comments. It’s stunning how many ministries ignore this simple practice. We recommend Mark Horstman’s The Effective Manager for a feedback model and the Best Christian Places to Work Institute as an evaluation process.

4. Major in Delegation

Poor leaders hold on to too many responsibilities and micromanage. This not only puts incredible strain on them but is terribly demotivating for those they supervise. Good managers, on the other hand, are radically willing to assign tasks. While performance may initially lag, over the long term delegation frees leaders to focus on strategic matters, and, at the same time, develops next level staff.

5. Become a Skills Coach

We all have staff and volunteers who display their giftedness (e.g. in administration, teaching, project management). Good managers don’t just assign a task but walk alongside their apprentices, looking for small wins. Over time, more responsibility is taken on, expanding the ministry’s reach.

While ministries certainly need more “Christian leaders,” greater attention must be paid to all levels of skill development – including better management. The Kingdom deserves no less.


Alec Hill is President Emeritus of InterVarsity Christian FellowshipJustin Lawrence is Senior Director of Sales and Marketing of InterVarsity Press.


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