Raising leaders vs. valuing excellence

Dr. Bruce Hopler

Vice President of Church Strengthening

  • Church strengthening

It’s Sunday morning, and church services are happening all over the world. Church A and Church B have flawless quality in their sound systems. Church C and Church D have sound balance issues and the occasional squeal.

It’s Tuesday night. Church A and Church B have a well-executed small group running. Church C and Church D have a small group running, but the dynamics of the group are not quite what they could be.  

It’s Wednesday morning. Church A and Church B have a staff meeting where everyone is in alignment. At Church C and Church D, there are disagreements and some confusion. 

It’s safe to say that Church A and Church B are the more ideal/healthy churches, and Church C and Church D are poor examples of leadership, right? Not so fast. Let’s look beneath the surface.

Church A has worked hard over the years in creating leader pipelines and internships. There is constant training and matching people according to their giftedness. Excellence exists because leaders are empowered and inspired to give their best in serving God. Staff meetings reflect their core values and challenges given can be a bit hard to hear at times, but everyone knows that they are loved, supported and their best interests are kept in mind. There is genuine excitement about the difference each leader can make for the Kingdom of God.

Church B has a few leaders with high control issues. The senior pastor is seen running around making sure the PowerPoint slides, the sound quality, the greeters and many other aspects are taken care of to his specifications before he preaches. He is leading the small group and is sure to use lots of Greek and Hebrew so that everyone knows that no one else could be as good as him. They are “wowed” every week, yet no one believes that they could possibly measure up to lead a small group themselves. Staff meetings have little-to-no discussion as everyone is happy just to listen and take a to-do list from the pastor.

Church C is working hard to break the 200-growth barrier, so the leadership knows they have to do things differently. They sent one of their 20-somethings who has a knack for audiovisual to a training seminar and are letting him figure his way around Sunday morning. A discussion took place with the leadership and the new sound guy after the service, as to why there were sound issues. On the one hand, he helped them understand the need for new equipment, but at the same time, he took some correction and agreed to research how he can become better in this area.

In the Tuesday night small group, it was a single mom’s first time to lead. The pastor was there but purposely remained silent, so that she could learn. They had a conversation the next day, sharing where he found ways to affirm and encourage her, then sharing some growth points that she agreed to work on.

In the staff meeting, it is new for them to be meeting at all. Historically, the ministries were all siloed, and the pastor is in the process of changing this. Some are excited about the change; others are not. For each, he is giving enough space to get on board, but not tolerating bad behavior from those who are resistant. It is awkward at best, and everyone may not survive the transition, but enough accountability structures are being put in place for each leader to thrive or move on. 

Church D is nice. The pastor is so nice that he does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He is also fearful. Offending the wrong people could impact his job security. So his survival technique is to be the nicest guy in church. Bad behavior is tolerated, heads are turned in the presence of low quality and concerns are swept under the carpet. It is not that they are complexly oblivious to the lack of excellence; they just prefer not to talk about it. Did I mention that the pastor of Church D is a super nice guy?

Now, which churches should be considered healthy? I would gladly work with Church A and Church C all day long! Sadly, Church B and Church D are far too common. 

Every ministry leader has to balance the tension between raising leaders and valuing excellence. Healthy fruit is produced in good season. The challenge we face is becoming so fruit-obsessed that the appearance of healthy fruit, unfortunately, trumps a truly healthy, life-giving tree. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to balancing this tension, but it is critical that every leader maintain a long-term perspective.

How are you balancing this tension?

Converge Compass can help you evaluate your ministry so that you can face the challenges, move forward and increase fruitfulness.

Dr. Bruce Hopler, Vice President of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the executive director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

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