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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Five "Leadership 101" Principles

I was recently briefed on a church situation that left me shaking my head in complete disbelief. The details aren’t important. Suffice it to say that the attempt to accomplish a strategic goal was being severely mishandled, and it was resulting in complete failure. As I listened, it was as if every elementary understanding of effective leadership was at best lost in ignorance, or at worst being purposefully ignored. This wasn’t a case of immorality, just folly, which is the more typical form of spiritual malpractice.

It feels like I hear about a different case like this a week, but with this latest occurrence dancing around my mind, here are five quick principles I wish I could breathe into those leaders that may apply to many others:

1.  Whenever possible, give authority along with responsibility. One of the most frustrating (and ineffective) ways to manage people is to give the responsibility to do something, but not authority to make decisions. The truth is that the people closest to something—the ones actually doing it—are usually able to make the best decisions about it.

2.  Include the people most affected and most knowledgeable in the decision-making process. If you are going to build an auditorium, include the arts team in the planning process. If you are going to build a new children’s ministry wing, have children’s ministry staff and leaders on the front lines of development. This should just be common sense. 

3.  The one who casts the vision has to be the one who funds the vision, and the one who is attempting to fund the vision must cast the vision. You cannot cast the vision for something and not follow through with the leadership work of raising the resources necessary for its fulfillment. And, conversely, if you’re trying to raise resources for something, you must cast a compelling vision for why it is strategic.

4.  If you try and promote everything, you end up promoting nothing. I once heard it said that if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. The point was that you can only prioritize so many things, and if everything is a priority, nothing is. This is also true for promotion. If are entering a season where you are trying to raise money for three things at once, promote four key events at once, and raise awareness for two areas at once, it will all fall on deaf ears. Need to raise money for a specific challenge or campaign? Only talk about that one challenge. Need to promote a key church-wide event? Only promote that event. If your response is that you have to promote and raise money for multiple things because of the calendar and scheduling and what had already been initiated, then there is another leadership mistake. Poor planning, and the need to simplify.

5.  Align your resources and efforts along strategic growth paths. There is no end to the good that can be done, but there are very few things that actually result in advancing your mission. Most churches allocate time and money in an “inch deep, mile wide” manner. What would serve churches better is to have an “inch wide, mile deep” approach where they do significantly less, but with significantly better results. For example, if your mission is to reach the unchurched, what will make that increasingly happen? For most churches, it’s simple: they should invest in what gets people there (which is being invited by a friend) and what gets people to come back (friendliness, weekend messages and children’s ministry). Yet few churches invest significantly in serving the invitational process on the front end or in children’s ministry on the back end.

Okay, maybe not the most “electric” of leadership lessons,

… but they sure are ones that will keep the power on.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.