3 Things Next-Level Leaders Do

3 Things next-level leaders do

What separates some leaders from others?

What is it about those leaders who lead their church forward that differentiates them from those who lead their church nowhere?

Is it their:

  • Amazing charisma?
  • Organization skills?
  • Captivating storytelling?
  • Relentless spirit?
  • Dynamite preaching?
  • Cool programming?

These things can certainly help but they will only get you so far.

Every leader is gifted, no doubt about that. Truly, at the end of the day, we all have what we need to move the church we lead forward. But what often holds us back isn’t knowing a new thing or acquiring a new skill. What often holds us back is not putting our energy into the right places.

Next-level leaders are able to leverage their gifts and their focus toward three areas.

3 Things Next-Level Leaders Do

1. Next-Level Leaders Steward the Mission

It is a leader’s responsibility to steward the mission that God has given the church.

Here’s the reality, most every church’s mission statement is some version of the great commandment and the great commission–to love God, love people, and make disciples.

Next-level leaders see it as their responsibility (because it is) to make sure that everything that the church does drives from and back to its mission.

Many times, leaders lose sight of their responsibility of being stewards of the mission and, instead, become stewards of people’s opinions.

When this happens, the church drifts. And when the church drifts, it begins to slowly fade toward ineffectiveness and, eventually, toward death.

Most churches in North America are either plateaued or dying. Why is that? It’s because of a lack of courageous leaders who are committed to elevating the mission that GOD has given His church above what people prefer and complain about.

Next-level leaders love people. In fact, they love people enough that they are willing to lead them to what God wants for them rather than what they want for themselves.

Next-level leaders understand that the tendency for every group of people, including the church, is to turn inward.

So next-level leaders understand that they must say no to certain things. Because while there are a lot of good things out there that can be done, not every good thing is the right thing. And how do they make the decision on what is the right thing? Through prayerful discernment around the question, does this drive toward and from our mission?

In every moment, next-level leaders see it as their responsibility to steward the mission and propel their people toward a radical emphasis on the mission God has given His church.

2. Next-Level Leaders Cultivate and Steward the Vision

It’s a leader’s responsibility to steward the mission God has given the church and then move to both cultivating and stewarding a picture of a mission-charged future–i.e. vision.

That is what vision is. Vision is a picture of a mission-charged future. It’s what God is calling your particular local church to in the next 5-10 years.

Vision provides one of the most powerful tools needed in a leader’s toolbelt–clarity.

When a leader and a church have clarity on where they are headed, they can move in the same direction together. When there is a lack of clarity, two things can occur: (1) paralysis, or (2) scattered activity. And neither of those options is going to move a local church where she needs to go.

Next-level leaders understand that it is their responsibility to cultivate the vision. This means that work is required to discover the vision. Prayer. Reading Scripture. Listening to the needs of the community you serve. Understanding the gifts of your church body.

Additionally, when it comes to the connection of next-level leaders and cultivating vision, I know no one better at helping church leaders do this than Will Mancini.

His books are must-reads for every next-level leader in the church.

Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement

God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future

To go along with his books, he offers so many practical tools to help church leaders implement the things he teaches. And this is what I love about Will’s work. He wants every local church to work through God’s specific vision for them, not to settle with a copy-paste vision from another church.

If you had to start with one book and resources for how to cultivate vision, I’d recommend grabbing God Dreams and also check out the website that goes with the book.

Once a next-level leader cultivates the vision, they must steward the vision. Stewarding vision is working through the steps to accomplish the vision. And, again, not to sound like a complete fanboy, this is where the tools from God Dreams shine. The Horizon Storyline tool will set you up, not just for vision, but with a strategy to see the vision become reality.

The transition team that was put in place during the interim pastorate that preceded me at FCC worked through this process and I’m so grateful that they did. Because coming in, I could see a clear path and the amazing thing is, it’s exactly what I would have advocated for had it not been done already. Next year, we’ll be looking at doing another Horizon Storyline to map out the next 5 years.

Next-level leaders see it as their responsibility to cultivate and steward church-wide vision.

Unfortunately, most pastors don’t have a vision for their church that they could articulate. Hal Seed, in an article on vision (super helpful), pointed out that “You’re not alone if you don’t have a vision for your church. George Barna found that only 2% of pastors could articulate a vision for their churches.”

3. Next-Level Leaders Cultivate and Steward the Culture

It’s a leader’s responsibility to both cultivate and steward the culture of the church they lead.

What do I mean by culture? Culture within a church or organization is the underlying beliefs, values, and behaviors that create the invisible but very real environment and feel of the church or organization.

To put it simply, a church’s culture is what happens naturally among the people.

Next-level leaders are kind of obsessed with cultivating and stewarding culture. Why? Because if you have a healthy culture, stewarding the mission and vision will be a part of the church’s DNA.

Instead of being a church led by people who only work in the ministry, a healthy culture leads to people working on the ministry on a regular basis.

So how can a next-level leader cultivate a healthy church culture? I agree with Tony Morgan when he said to skip the core values and to develop team values instead.

Here’s why: what your leaders value (truly value in practice, not just theory) will seep into the rest of the church’s culture.

So the beginning point for next-level leaders is a picture of what a healthy culture looks like. What do your leaders need to value in order for that culture to become reality?

Here are the leader values that we came up with at FCC.

Leader values give your leadership a clear picture of a leader’s expectations. When a volunteer quits or complains, what is their response? Well, they are going to pursue them because we pursue people. It’s what we do. We are people pursuers. It’s who we are.

When someone wants to talk, we aren’t going to fill the knowledge gap with fear or assumptions, we are going to fill it with trust because we choose trust. It’s what we do. We are trust choosers. It’s who we are.

In addition to establishing, teaching, and living your leader values, culture is, according to Tony Morgan, created by:

  • What you say
  • What you celebrate
  • What you spend
  • What you systematize
  • What you address

Next-level leaders are obsessed with the culture they are cultivating and stewarding.

Here are some additional thoughts on cultivating and stewarding church culture.

How Are You Doing?

So as you look at what next-level leaders do, how are you doing with these things?

Here’s the good news: no matter how you answer that question, the reality is this is about focus. You can shift what you are focusing on.

Too often, we allow these things to get put on the backburner in the midst of weekly ministry.

Most church leaders focus on this week only and occasionally think beyond this week.

Next-level church leaders are constantly thinking about and focusing on mission, vision, and culture. And that requires a focus beyond this week.

You can make the shift.

It can begin today.

Recommended Resources for Mission, Vision, and Culture

Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer

Church Unique by Will Mancini

God Dreams by Will Mancini

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni

Built to Last by Jim Collins

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.

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