9 Real-Life Leadership Lessons You Can Use As You Lead Your Church In 2023
Right now, I’m reflecting on 2022 and looking ahead to next year, when, in March, Firm Foundations Marketing turns 5 years old.
A lot is going through my mind, so here are some things I’ve learned along the way – and how they apply to leadership at your church as well.
1. PASTORS ARE PEOPLE, TOO
Burnout, exhaustion, and flaws.
There’s, of course, a fine line here, but sometimes pastors get a bad rap simply for being human. They need support, understanding, and grace, just like the rest of us.
If you work with churches – extend grace.
If you’re a pastor, be sure you’re also investing in yourself and not pouring from an empty cup.
2. ALWAYS BE AUTHENTIC
Nothing is more exhausting than trying to keep up appearances – personally, in ministry, or in business.
Likewise, it is incredibly freeing when you fully embrace your strengths, weaknesses, and the unique personality that envelopes them.
Of course, there is a place for change and growth, but too often, it’s easy to feel inferior and like we have to be something we’re not. The truth is, there are people out there looking for the unique compilation that is you or your church.
3. EVERY LEAD SHOULD NOT LEAD TO SOMETHING
Ok, this one sounds more business-y but hang with me.
While my heart is to use the knowledge, tools, and gifts God has provided to come alongside pastors and church leaders to better equip them to do Great Commission work, the reality is we aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Whether that’s due to philosophy, budget, or any number of things – it’s just fact.
And I’m ok with that.
My job when I get on a call with a pastor needing help is to discern if we are the best people to help them achieve their goals. Do we align well? Do we have what they need? (Sometimes, that has meant turning down tens of thousands of dollars when someone wanted to hire us, but we knew we weren’t the best partner for their situation.)
When it comes to your church, the same is true. Not every guest that enters your doors “should” be a part of your church family. Not every warm and willing body should be thrown into a critical volunteer position. That’s not as exclusive or shunning as it sounds; it’s merely a reality.
We want people plugged into a Gospel-centered community, but the answer doesn’t always mean your church.
For example, imagine you’re a small and aging congregation. Are you best equipped to reach the 20-something college student? Probably not. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
The beauty is you can still have gospel conversations, minister, and serve them. And connect them to a body of believers where they can truly connect and grow in their walk.
Knowing your ideal audience and discerning the best next step is vital in either situation.
4. PLAY THE LONG GAME
In ministry, this one might be a little more of a “duh” statement. In business? Whoa boy – I wasn’t prepared for just how long it takes some of y’all to pull the trigger on things 😊 It’s the nature of the church (or nonprofit) world, right? Committees, Boards, Councils, irregular meetings, tight schedules, and stressed decision-makers. It’s hard out there!
In business, as in ministry, the goal should be to sow seeds of value. Some of those may grow, and you reap the fruit of, and some you may not – but sow you should.
5. BOUNDARIES ARE IMPORTANT
This point could be a post in and of itself, so I’ll be brief. It’s a tough one.
In business and ministry, we are burdened and impassioned by what we do. The problem is it doesn’t take much for that to seep into an unhealthy place. Lacking boundaries can wreak havoc on a leader, and it risks spilling over into the duties and expectations of others you work with.
Suppose you don’t have boundaries in your schedule. Does that translate into stress, urgency, and after-hours requests and expectations imposed upon others? If you’re a senior pastor, your employees likely attend your church. This also means you have a dual dynamic as their employer and spiritual leader. These lines get quickly blurred with the innate passion of those serving in ministry.
Recognize this unique role and create boundaries for yourself but also encourage them for others. You can work 24/7 and still not accomplish everything to be done – so accept that and create space for rest. Everyone will be better for it.
6. KNOW WHEN TO EMBRACE THE UNCOMFORTABLE
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve said it often.
It’s natural to find a rhythm and stop learning, trying, and growing. We naturally prefer things to be easy and coast (you’d be crazy not to). But the reality is a year turns into three, which turns into 5, which turns into 10. Before you know it, you have a website that looks like it was last updated a decade ago, and you’ve completely lost touch with your community.
There is a place for consistency, but that is far more natural to many of us than change.
Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Develop a rhythm of assessment. Experiment to try something new.
The strongest of plants grow with pruning and being challenged by the storms. The same is true for those in ministry and business.
7. IT’S OK NOT TO BE PERFECT
Hi, I’m Tyler Harden, and I’m a perfectionist. *phew* ok, now that we got that out of the way…
I believe in excellence, and if it’s Christian, it ought to be better. Not because we are so laser-focused on leveraging everything the world offers. But because we care so much about the people on the other side, we want to do what we can to reach them.
The problem is perfection is often subjective, and it…takes..forever.
It took me a while to really embrace this one, but eventually, I recognized the wisdom in “done is better than perfect.” I saw how much I was stressing out, nitpicking things to death. Missing deadlines. Racing to the last minute. Driving a freelancer batty. I was so sure every little tweak mattered — and most of my audience would never even notice.
There is a place for excellence and maybe even perfection, but the reality is we miss out on so many great opportunities when obsessing over things that, in the grand scheme, don’t matter that much.
An email is quickly forgotten – especially the one with that egregious typo. A sermon slips the minds of folks within hours or days.
The work you put in is valuable and impactful, but remember to assess it within the broader scope of those receiving it. Only you might notice something just shy of perfect – and when others see it? They’ll probably forget that flaw by the next meal.
Well, unless it was in the church bulletin, there’s always next Sunday, right?
8. STAY HUMBLE
Depending on what season of life or ministry you’re in, this may not be so difficult. Some of you may even feel so beat up that you’re like, “hey, humble feels like second nature. I wish things were going so well that pride was even an issue!”
But more importantly, here’s what I mean: no matter the size of your audience, church, or social media following, you will always have something to learn from someone else.
No matter what you’ve achieved or how qualified you may feel, I encourage you to reach out to that person you see who you secretly admire and get to know them and learn from them.
I’m convinced that imposter syndrome is humility wrapped in a blanket of isolation.
Imposter syndrome comes from one-way engagement with those leaders, speakers, and social media accounts you follow and envy but never personally engage with. You put them on a pedestal when you should view them as a peer.
Approaching them in conversation with humility – is one way to break that down, and stay humble and grounded, while moving forward. Prayer and scriptural truth should, of course, also be part of the process.
9. GOD IS YOUR PROVIDER
This is one I’m constantly reminded of.
Growing a business – being an entrepreneur – is hard work. And the same goes for ministry. Maybe you’re looking at a shrinking congregation, unstable giving, a building in desperate need of repair or updating and just wondering, “how is this ever going to work out, Lord?”
I’ve been there. I am there. And the stories of God’s faithfulness and provision over these last 4+ years of building a Kingdom-minded business seem countless and would blow your mind.
When I found myself suddenly laid off in 2018, I felt like I had lost my identity. I had worked my way up the corporate ladder. I had extended my influence and led growth and vision casting. And then suddenly, without warning, it was all gone.
Within a month of being laid off by the only employer I’d ever known, I felt God calling me – confirming for me – that everything that had come was merely in preparation for what he had for me now. And so Firm Foundations Marketing was born.
There have been learning curves and pivots – oh, and this little thing called a pandemic – along the way. Still, in it all, in one unforeseen and unbelievable way or another, God always provided.
Life looks a lot different now than it did a handful of years ago, but it is so much more fulfilling, and when things start to get scary, I have hope and trust in the path God has set before me. And time and time again, He has proven He is faithful.
I’m grateful to play a small role in helping others reach their communities with the life-saving truth of the gospel. Our world needs it now more than ever. Thank you for being part of my journey, and I hope to soon be a part of yours.
With a joyful heart,
Co-founder and CEO, Firm Foundations Marketing
Follow @tylerdharden on Twitter or Instagram
Trying to connect with people in your community shouldn’t be like throwing spaghetti against the wall. Schedule a call with Tyler to find out how your church can connect more effectively.