Over 12 years ago, I was a soldier in the United States Army.1 As I think about my time in the army, there is one massive thing I am grateful for—the opportunity to learn how to lead. I would like to share five leadership lessons I learned from the army that are must-haves for pastors and church leaders.
1. Live by the leadership singularity
A singularity is basically the simplest state of a thing. Leadership can have many variables, scenarios, hacks, and tricks, but if you boil effective leadership down to its most simple, “singular” state, you will arrive at this word: care.
So, pastors, care about your church members. I mean, really, truly care. If you do not care about people and they know it (and trust me, they will), there is seldom any bouncing back from that.
2. Embody your people
In the military, good leaders are those who do not look at their soldiers as employees, volunteers, stepping-stones, or tools to accomplish the mission. Rather, they look at them as family. These kinds of leaders will take any flack, endure any heat, and remove any obstacle to see their people succeed. Everything to this kind of leader is “us.” If you insult their team, this kind of leader will stand up for them even if you compliment his or her leadership.
Pastors should learn this lesson well. Some pastors I have met complain endlessly about their church members. Many times, they view their churches as a stepping-stone to future and better opportunities. They do not embody their people, and it shows.
3. Be a bearer, not a wearer
In the military, everyone wears rank insignia. When you become a sergeant, you receive the three stripes. These three stripes symbolize your role as a leader. However, there are two types of sergeants in the military: the wearer and the bearer.
The wearer is the sergeant who wears the stripes and enjoys the respect that comes with them. He or she can give commands and demand respect. The stripes also come with a burden to care, nurture, and sacrifice. However, wearers do none of that. They wear the rank and welcome all of its accolades while refusing to bear the burdens that come with it.
The bearer is the sergeant who welcomes both the kudos and the burdens. They lead selflessly and see themselves as servants, not taskmasters. These kinds of leaders are loved because they inspire followership, they do not require it.
4. Utilize the leadership triad
A good leader is one who lives to provide his or her people with purpose, direction, and motivation. You cannot skip one without the overall mission suffering. If you provide purpose and direction but no motivation, your people will not act. If you provide direction and motivation but no purpose, your people will not care. If you provide motivation and purpose but no direction, your people will not follow. All three need to be at play at the same time for your leadership to positively influence the mission.
5. Lead from the front
Leading from the front shows the difference between a leader and a boss. A boss sits in the background and yells to his people, “Go!” A leader steps into the foreground and yells, “Let’s go!” as she sets the example of what they are to do.
How does this work practically? When I ask my elders to visit church members, I visit the members first. When I ask my preachers to preach good, life-changing, and biblical sermons, I preach them first. When I ask my people to look out for one another, to put family first and to spend time with God—I do it first.
Jesus exhibited all these leadership lessons. He cared deeply for His people and bore the burden of leadership all the way to the cross. He provides us with purpose, direction, and motivation. He lived out all that He asks us to do and more. So, look to Jesus. Let’s lead like Him.
- This is an expanded version of a previously published entry in the author’s blog.