Building Strong Leaders (Marshall Shelley)


This is a blog from a chapter in the book called Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley.

As stated previously, fighting problem people in the church (dragons) necessitates a healthy church. If the church itself is not healthy, then the best place to begin building a healthy church is by building healthy leaders. “Cohesiveness among the spiritual leaders of the congregation is a healthy core for healing the rest of the body and for fighting the infectious attitudes that spring up from time to time” (p. 95).

Even the pastor should not surround himself with “yes men.” The best leadership is not “where everyone plays follow-the-leader. A board that always votes unanimously the pastor’s way will only be as strong as the pastor’s personality. When the pastor is overwhelmed, run down, and needing guidance, a collection of clones won’t be adequate.” (p. 95)

As we go through this list, I will replace his use of the “board” (elder board) and generalize it with the term “leaders” for wider application (elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.).

1. Cultivating Personal Trust

“If pastors and their [leaders] don’t trust each other, the church will be unhealthy, and chances are, the pastor’s tenure will be brief and unpleasant… Unless the relationship changes, that ministry is doomed. A relationship of trust must be attempted, even when it doesn’t come naturally.” (pp. 98-99)

“Often [leaders] won’t open up until the pastor gives permission by letting his own humanness and vulnerability show.” (p. 99)

2. Chosen for Character, Not Clout

“Healthy [leaders] are built with members selected for their spiritual qualifications, not their money, longevity in the congregation, or strong personality.” (p. 100).

“And they must not be new believers—they must be known well enough and long enough to have been observed living out their faith.” (p. 101)

3. Common Learning Experiences

Shelley suggests going through a common curriculum or study, so that leaders end up with having the “same vocabulary” and have a “common base of understanding.” The idea is to strengthen leadership with the same teaching that will bring everyone on the same page.

4. Regular Performance Reviews

“Reviews also help prevent surprise attacks by individual [leaders], and even if they occur, the evaluation provides a forum for those criticisms to be fully discussed and defused” (p. 102).

5. Accepting the Defense Contract

“Many pastors let their board members know from the beginning that though they may differ sharply in their meetings, in public they do not dissent but represent the will of the board….The clear guidance and support of elders keeps a pastor effective, and pastors minister most effectively when they are not defensive. At times, the board can deflect criticism aimed at the pastor and confront the church dragons.” (p. 102)

6. Meetings a Ministry, Not a Misery

“The atmosphere of the board meeting itself is an excellent gauge of the church’s health. Do board members pray for one another? Do they take time to find out one another’s worries and joys? Time spent in personal ministry at the beginning of a board meeting is time well spent. An unwritten agenda item at every healthy board meeting is ‘Encouraging each other.'” (p. 104).

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