Courageous and Authentic Leadership for Challenging Times
By Kent J. Ingle
We are in the midst of transitional forces that are creating a new world. We need leaders who will become transformational change agents and display courage and wisdom in the face of unprecedented challenges facing the church. We need leaders who will stare culture in the face and leverage that culture to reach people for Christ. We need leaders who can change the way we do church from the inside out, so we begin to see transformational miracles in our communities. Effective ministry in our culture today rises and falls on transformational leadership.
What does it take to be a courageous leader in changing times? To lead is to live dangerously. When you lead people through change, you challenge what people hold dear — their habits, loyalties, and thinking. People may push back when you disturb the personal and institutional equilibrium of their comfort zone.
No wonder pastors often hesitate when opportunities to exercise leadership come. However gentle your leadership style, however careful your strategy, however sure you may be you are on the right track, leading is challenging. But if you are a courageous leader who is willing to take people on a transformational journey, you know it is worth the risks because the end is about expanding the kingdom of God. You are passionate about God and will do whatever it takes to help people experience the life God intended for them.
What is at the core of a transformational leader? What is necessary or what do we expect from a leader who we identify as transformational? Insights into courageous transformational leadership include:
Realizing True Effectiveness Comes From the Interior Life of the Leader
Leaders want to be effective. They want hands-on tools and approaches to help them make a greater impact for Jesus Christ. Many church-growth conferences, seminars, and cutting-edge literature, however, seem to focus on the outward methodologies and techniques. The real foundation for transformational ministry lies within the leader himself — in his character, passion, and authenticity.
Every ministry leader has had times of dullness in spirit and ineffectiveness, and the discouragement and doubts those times bring. I have walked away from seminars thinking all I needed to do to transform a ministry was to write a new vision statement, establish core values, plant a church in the right location, provide adequate parking and abundant seating, draft a well-trained worship group and a gifted drama team, throw in a relational small-group ministry, know how to constantly evaluate, and presto my congregation would grow beyond my wildest dreams.
What about authenticity? Does not effective ministry require more than an abundance of creativity, long work hours, and responsible empowerment?
Early in my ministry I heard that the church is the extension of the leader, and the church will take on the personality of the leader. Recently, leadership experts have reiterated that the leader is the team point man. Those facts are, to an extent, true. If the church is an extension of the leader, if the church takes on the personality of the leader, and if the church looks to the leader as the team point man, does it not stand to reason that the authenticity and private world of the leader need to be developed, protected, and promoted?
A mentoring friend reminds me that God rarely blesses the ministry of those with dubious character, questionable behavior, and unremarkable spirituality. God’s blessings normally rest on those who have their moral, spiritual, and intellectual acts together. The blessings of God and transformational ministry seem to hinge on the private and personal life of the ministry leader. Granted, a leader lacking personal authenticity may have pastoral effectiveness, but only for a season. I have a hunch God measures ministry success — like He does one’s life — not by the external bang of our charisma, but by the internal character of our lives; not by the fluff of our personalities, but by the integrity of the heart; not by the momentary sparkle of being in the right place at the right time, but by a lifetime of commitment and service that often is unknown and unannounced this side of heaven.
All who God has called are not making a transformational difference. Why? Two people may graduate from the same institution, with the same degree and the same amount of experience, but produce different results. One will prosper and make a difference; the other will falter and fail in apathy and indifference. Two churches in the same community with similar theological doctrines, ministering to the same socioeconomic class with similar potential, may achieve different results. Why? Some ministry leaders may have lost an authentic transformational influence, not necessarily because of lack of desire or drive, but simply because they fail to realize effectiveness comes from the inside out.
Cultivating Deep Spirituality
We cultivate the core of our interior life through developing our spirituality. Relying on skills, talents, and the outward persona only goes so far. The leader’s spiritual life is a far more crucial indicator of what makes a transformational difference. People are much more committed to following a leader whose communication and lifestyle radiate spirituality.
You can discover deep spirituality in the invitation of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). After John baptized Jesus, Jesus spent time in solitude and fasting while Satan tested Him in the wilderness. Throughout the remainder of His life and ministry, Jesus consistently spent time alone — even praying through the night — before tending to the needs of His followers the next day. Out of wilderness preparation Jesus was effective in His service. If you do not cultivate the deep spiritual center of your life, you cannot expect transformational effectiveness in the grind of daily ministry.
True spirituality is the pathway by which we can cultivate sensitivity to the presence of the living God. We must keep that awareness alive and vital to the end so we are formed in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Early in my pastoral ministry a mentoring professor, Roger Heuser, introduced me to the concept of the means of grace. These means have revolutionized my interior life and have helped me grow deeper in Christ. Means of grace refer to means, not ends, and grace, not merit. The means have no intrinsic value. There is no merit in simply doing them for the sake of doing them. Their value is in their ability to prepare the follower of Christ to receive; to open up the channels between God and the congregation or individual, to receive the grace that only God can give.1
In His private and public life, Jesus taught by example that the means of grace included: prayer (Mark 14:35,36), fasting (Matthew 4:2), the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14), searching the Scriptures (Luke 2:46,47), spiritual conversation (Matthew 7:28,29), and worship in the temple (Luke 4:16). Added to these inner means are the outward means: acts of mercy (social ministries), avoiding doing harm to anyone, and attending the ordinances and services of the church. When we daily submerge and practice these disciplines, they put us where the Spirit of God can work within and transform us.
Be careful to not equate transformational ministry with spirituality. Ministry consumes the soul; spirituality reinvigorates the soul. We desperately need active change leaders, but not to the exclusion of intimacy with God. More than modeling a spiritual life, your relationship with Christ becomes a tangible inspiration in introducing your congregation to Spirit-led transformational ministry.
Relying on Spiritual Power
Authentic transformational leaders cannot lose spiritual power. Power comes when we tap all the resources God makes available. We need to recognize that God has gifted and designed us with an energy that will change lives and impact our culture for the Kingdom.
Ministry leaders must be aware that spiritual power is easy to lose. An Old Testament story tells of a young man in a seminary that lost his power (2 Kings 6:1–7). The school principal was the prophet Elijah. Enrollment was so healthy they needed a new dormitory. The students offered their help.
One young man borrowed an ax and began cutting trees to clear a plot of land by the river. He began his task with enthusiasm, but suddenly the ax head flew off the handle and fell into the river. He lost his transformational edge. “Oh, my lord,” he cried to Elijah, “it was borrowed.” Elijah took a stick and threw it in the water, and the ax head floated to the top.
You do not have to look far beneath the surface of that event for the spiritual truth to come floating to the top. Many leaders are working intensely for the Lord and are frustrated because they do not have the power to make a transformational impact in their communities. They have become dull and lifeless, largely ineffective as change agents in a changing culture.
We have lost the transformational edge if we are relying on our ingenuity instead of God’s power. Are we depending on man-made programs and activities to the point we have replaced the power of God in our lives? Systems, strategic plans, and program development alone are nothing more than replacements for the Spirit of God working in our lives and in the lives of our congregations. The Spirit of God can give us the energy that will drive the creativity to develop the means by which we can be transformational.
The early disciples were courageous, authentic, and transformational because God’s power had infused them. The community leaders observed the confidence of Peter and John. What caused this impact? They asked, “ ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed’ ” (Acts 4:7–10).
Without the power of God we will accomplish little Kingdom-life transformation. The power of God is the life of God in Christ released through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our congregations, with our organizational abilities, strategic developments, and creative programs, are but the handles upon which swings the ax head of God’s life.
Understanding the Power of Emotional Intelligence
Transformational leaders ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we tend to speak of strategy, vision, or creative ideas. Often, the reality is that great leadership works through the emotions.
No matter what leaders set out to do — whether creating strategy or mobilizing teams to action — their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else right, if leaders fail in the task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.
Behavioral scientist Daniel Goleman contends that only one-third of a leader’s effectiveness lies in the areas of raw intelligence and technical expertise. The other two-thirds comprise the dimensions of what he calls emotional intelligence, which include qualities such as self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal, self-motivation, and empathy. The leader and his followers both benefit from this particular set of leadership competencies. The emotionally intelligent leader displays courage, self-control, and confidence, which establish the basis for integrity, conscientiousness, and trustworthiness — all critical elements that followers look for.2
Leaders’ emotional intelligence carries huge implications for the ministry organizations they lead because it mirrors the leaders’ moods. Just as people have emotional connections between each other, a congregation as a whole can catch the emotional outlook of the leader. Leaders’ enthusiasm, optimism, and energy ripple throughout their influence. Conversely, their discouragement, pessimism, and negativity also affect their followers. The transformational leader has the opportunity to set the tone — upbeat, anxious, relaxed, stressed, etc. Leaders must closely monitor the emotional signals they send. This raises the bar for the leader who needs to develop and manage a high degree of emotional intelligence in key leadership positions and in the key developments of true community, teamwork, missional responsibility, and accountability — all elements that foster transformation.
Being a Constant Dreamer
You can lose transformational effectiveness because you are not dreaming. Dreaming is the ability to anticipate the future. We build transformational ministry, however, on anticipation rather than reaction. A dream pushes the edge of the envelope, daring to accomplish something for God’s kingdom.
The person who embraces a dream and who packs within his soul the courage and inspiration to shape it into life is able to change the world. Walt Disney’s mind brought us Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Donald Duck that he featured in cartoons, films, books, and other memorabilia. However, one of his greatest dreams was the transformation of worthless Florida swampland near Orlando, Florida, into an enchanting world of motels, hotels, resorts, restaurants, rides, and exhibits known as Disney World.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream of peace, brotherhood, and freedom. His vision was not a lofty ideal but a glance into the future.
Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB). Like an unbridled horse, leaders waste their energy on less important things. They misplace their priorities because they do not have direction and focus.
Courageous and authentic transformational ministry demands that one begin with the end in mind. In other words, people of vision need to start with a clear understanding of their destination. They know where they are going and the steps to take to reach their goal.
The effectiveness of a ministry requires that its leader knows what God wants and moves in tandem with Him toward that dream. Those leaders who are making an impact are those who are committed to the completion and fulfillment of their God-ordained dream.
As I have grappled with the issue of transformational influence and studied the effectiveness of ministry leaders, I have walked away with a conclusion. Courageous and authentic leaders making an impact are perfecting God-ordained inner disciplines that not only test their ministry, but also shape their ministry. People who make a difference possess undeniable interior qualities. These qualities provide the difference of being in the middle of action from just watching from the sidelines. Jesus intended authentic transformational leaders to live and lead out in front. Making an impact and being effective require you be willing to prepare and depend on God to take you deeper with Him, provide His spiritual power, develop your emotional leadership expression, and resource your dreams.
1. Roger Heuser and Norman Shawchuck, Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving the People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 135,136.
2. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatizis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 38,39.