My first article here was about leadership styles described as “gas” and “brakes,” in which I identified myself as brakes. Then I wrote two articles about how the gas leaders can screw up their church. So that doesn’t seem fair. Brakes need self-awareness every bit as much as gas, and they will also drag their own church down, just in less noticeable ways. Here are three ways I’ve caught myself hurting my own church:
Letting Perfect Be the Enemy of Good
I would much rather be great at a few things than just OK at a lot of things. While this instinct is very valuable in preventing mission creep, it can also result in seeing nearly every new initiative as a suicide mission. My first instinct tells me, “We can’t possibly do this new thing because we aren’t yet the best at our first thing.” But the reality is that in chasing perfection, I am wasting time on something that’s giving diminishing returns. When I find myself trying to put yet another tweak on an already well-functioning ministry, I have to remind myself of what the church is for. It’s for the advancement of the gospel to new people; the goal was never to stay really organized or never mess up.
Preventing Failure by Never Trying
I am a reflective person, so it’s difficult to move on from failure. As a result, I just don’t try anything until I’m very sure I can succeed at it. The Colin Powell rule states that a tough decision should be made when you have between 40 and 70 percent of the information that you need, but I want more like 90. The reality is by the time I’ve gotten to 90, the opportunity has passed. I miss out on learning from failure.
The most important lesson I could learn from it is that I will survive failure. Nobody should be in ministry leadership to protect their own self-image. The fact is ministry is not safe; we are the ones who are making it safe for others, and that is dangerous work. I’ve got to do it anyway.
Making Myself the Hero
I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I am a reasonably competent person. I can get something done and enroll other people in doing it well, but that presents a problem. It’s very easy to tell myself that the church can’t run without me. Internally, I’m protecting my reputation, sometimes at the expense of the church. If a program is going poorly, I’ll try to distance myself from it or internally make a plan for how I would have run it better. I’ve also become a champion at avoiding topics or situations where I can’t be the expert.
Externally, I’m presenting myself as the hero of the church, when we all know that it’s Jesus. I’m letting my own competency replace the wonder of the gospel. I need people around me to remind me that I am replaceable (by rocks, it turns out), and this ministry was never mine to begin with. I am a fortunate steward of the gospel, and I must never lose sight of that, or it’s for nothing.
Fellow brakes, our churches need our skill set. But they don’t need our sense of superiority (which is really just insecurity in need of stroking). Let’s find leaders we can support who will pull us out of our own heads to help spread the gospel.