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Dogpaddling with Dolphins

I’ve been on both sides of a lead pastor transition.

Years before serving in the lead pastor role at our church, everyone on staff—including me—shared our individual scores from a leadership assessment we had each completed. It turned out that one of the labels for a specific style of leadership was termed “dominant.” This stereotypically tended to be the hard-charging, no-holds-barred, take-the-hill leaders. The primary leaders in our organization seemed to fit that mold. I was okay with that; after all, it was hard to argue with success. After we compared test results, all the strong “D” personalities were high-fiving each other and comparing notes, mostly because they happened to be the same leadership type as my friend and lead pastor.

It made sense to me: we were a mission-driven church and fairly intoxicated with our annual up-and-to-the-right charts, rapid growth, and adrenalin addiction. We would eventually be adding an identical seventh weekend celebration in a room that only seated five-hundred-and-seventy.

But I remember thinking, “I’ll never be a real leader here. I don’t have that kind of personality-type.” My predominant style happened to be “inspirational,” which seemed to me like the softer side of leadership. Okay, maybe even the weaker side of leadership. Who wants to be led by a Hallmark card?—as I misunderstood it.

I don’t remember feeling particularly sad about that; it was simply a reality-check. I enjoyed what I was doing then. I led worship, taught a midweek Bible study, and had launched a Saturday night celebration for singles that had morphed into a regular weekend service. I taught on the weekends periodically. I developed creative teams and led several ministry areas as well as facilitated multiple small groups. Sometimes I spoke in workshops and seminars in our tribe.

But I was not a “jump-in-front, take-charge” leader. I didn’t swim with the sharks; I dog-paddled with dolphins.

I didn’t care to know Attila’s secrets; the rules of war weren’t on my radar. Anything that smelled manipulative creeped me out. I valued harmony, while conflict totally sucked the energy out of me. And I frankly didn’t care about position, posturing or the politics of power. Boring.

My real problem was this: my paradigm of leadership was way too small. And limited.

Situational leadership was new to me, let alone understanding the seasons and sovereignty of God. But even more was a past that dogged me. Inferiority floated like pond scum across my gene pool. Plus, a few good failures rounded out my life-experiences.

Regardless of the reasons, one thing was true: I was a classic reluctant leader. I didn’t view myself with blue face-paint leading a charge on horseback. Nor was I the gladiator Maximus charging the chariots in a coliseum. I would have lived in the suburbs of Sparta.

The Bible is filled with a wide spectrum of leaders. Moses was a seriously reluctant leader after his first big failure in life. Caleb was an aggressively confident one. Gideon begged to get off the leadership hook. Deborah was a prophetic, truth-telling warrior-leader. David said simply, “I’ve killed both a lion and a bear with my hands. Let’s go after this uncircumcised Philistine,” and the Bible records that he ran toward Goliath. The apostle Paul seemed to be a “my-way-or-the-highway” leader early on. Timothy was timid. Each of them had different pasts, different life experiences, but they were all leaders with decidedly different approaches to leadership.

The danger is that we can overlook a potential leader for the one with the dominant take-charge personality.

The truth is: everyone follows someone and everyone leads someone. For instance, we are invited, no, demanded by Jesus, to disciple and mentor others. No one is excused. The scope of our leadership will differ widely based on what we’ve been given; to whom much is given, much is required, but it’s explicit in scriptures that everyone is called to lead and help others to develop a relationship with God.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group

Adapted from Elemental Leaders: Four Essentials Every Leader Needs…And Every Church Must Have.


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