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Chair No. 3: What a Leader Must Do To Get to the Next Level and Take Others With Him

More than trends, here are four traits of next-level leaders and next-level churches.

By Scott Hagan

When Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 18:20, He intended them as the faith promise of His assured presence: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (NASB).1 Unfortunately, those anointed words have become, more often than not, the sad disclaimer for the pastor who finds himself standing before a lousy turnout.

On occasions I, too, have found myself holding that inner debate, wondering whether or not Jesus is concerned about the size of my ministry. I realize there is a book in the Bible called Numbers — but is that Jesus’ ultimate measuring stick?

And for that matter, does Jesus even carry a stick? I have concluded that Christ’s concern for my ministry has more to do with the principles of increase than it does bean counting. That epiphany is huge for the leader who longs to get to the next level. Jesus aims at the inner life first; the public life, second. Clearly, that was Jesus’ ministry-development model. He chose to defeat Satan privately before defeating him publicly.

What does this mean?

This means that Jesus is after my maturity, even after He has released me into His assignment. Enough maturity must be present in my life to bring credibility. But there are still significant growth factors along the way that happen in a leader’s life.

Moses was an along-the-way type of leader. Exodus 4:24: “At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.” Why was the Lord so upset at Moses? What gaps in Moses were of such significance that the entire exodus campaign was in jeopardy under his leadership? Moses was about to find out that many details of the mission — as well as several levels of necessary maturity — were of greater importance to God than just seeing His people freed from Egypt.

The Big Thing Is the Little Thing

Moses was about to discover that leadership would be harder than he realized. Pharaoh’s hard heart would delay the story just long enough for Moses to close more and more of those dangerous gaps in his leadership life.

Visionary leaders hate delay. But it is in seasons of delay where growth happens best. Any effective and seasoned leader will tell you that the word no taught him more wisdom in life than the word yes. Moses was also about to learn that in God’s leadership economy the big thing is really the little thing.

The Lord was seeking to kill Moses because he had failed to circumcise his son according to Jewish law. This looked like a small thing to Moses, maybe just an oversight. As a matter of fact, Moses was most likely going to circumcise his son after the customs of Egypt rather than the promise of Abraham. In other words, how could a deliverer lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage when he still had traces of Egyptian bondage inside his heart?

For Moses, the little undone thing became the big thing. The Exodus was off as far as Moses being the leader because he had a gap left unattended.

Today, Jesus aims toward the increased maturity of our character, even while allowing us to serve in renowned capacities. If I succeed in allowing Him full control, this allows me the foundation to reinvest that same maturation process in others, but this time with real meaning. But living in that place and pace of increase — first in maturity, then in fruitfulness — is not a simple assignment. For those on the outside looking in, the weighty mantle of spiritual leadership can be difficult to fathom. The call to public ministry life, which is both a call to example and excellence, is a dance between flaw and perfection. It sometimes turns an honest man into a liar.

Along with these challenges about personal increase, I want to pass along a handful of qualities I have sought to prophetically experience as well as impart and claim for my church. During my travels I have visited some amazing churches; many others, however, were on life support. I have begun to categorize several key traits that seem to rest in some measurable way on these thriving church communities. These churches — some large, some medium, some small in number — are setting the course of destiny and spiritual conversation for their communities. These traits are neither scientific nor exhaustive. But perhaps they will spark a fire of organizational renewal.

Each trait is connected to something that God is doing in me not just through me. If I fail to experience this next level, then I lose my capacity to take others with me. My ministry may appear to be working in the short term; but, if there is a deep inward push back in my passion to grow along the way as a leader — especially during moments when it feels like God is about to kill me as He did Moses — then I cannot expect anyone to make the journey with me.

Hungry for the Next Level

The first trait that must stay alive in me, and in turn alive in the people I lead, is a lifestyle of worship that transcends the taste buds.In breakthrough churches, both the 17-year-old and the 70-year-old are side-by-side in the mutual exaltation of Christ. I cannot explain on paper how these churches pull this off, but it is being done all over the nation. When it comes to worship, the decisive element is the Ancient of Days, not the age of the worshipers. The worship tensions facing many churches stem far more from personality and preference issues than doctrinal ones.

It strongly appears that the deciding factor in taking a church to the next level is whether or not a passionately worshiping pastor leads that church. In many churches, I have witnessed the pastor’s disinterest during worship. He fumbles through his notes. He looks uneasy with his surroundings and stressed about the larger concerns of running the church. This could mean budgets or it could mean stress over staff. Either way, he is not in the moment of personal worship.

If a pastor does not think his congregation can see this, he is greatly misguided. They pick up on the subtle cues and nuances of his leadership, or should I say lack of leadership, when it comes to worship. Yes, he may do well as the style and sound police; but, when it comes to personal worship, it just does not appear to be his priority. There will never be a next level for that leader without a fresh worship life flowing though him.

Defining what is, and what is not, the correct passion for worship is a dangerous and near impossible endeavor for anyone. Simon the Pharisee attempted to define for Jesus the limits of genuine adoration, and he received a face-to-face rebuke from Christ.

A second trait I see in a next-level leader and a next-level church is a clear radiance on the shepherd.On the heels of a gargantuan meltdown, God reentered and reengineered a nation through a man who was unaware of his countenance. While Aaron’s resolve melted like molten metal, Moses met with God. With Aaron as the new picture of backslidden leadership, God gave the people a sharp contrast in Moses as he descended the mountain with the restored Ten Commandments chiseled out by his hand. Something mystical happened to Moses as he chiseled out the stone tablets: God rested on him in a way that was undeniable, even from a distance.

Next-level leaders seem to have encounters with God’s Word that change their complexion. Men with radiance lead city-shaping churches. People follow radiance more than talent. Believers are willing to follow leadership not limited by charisma, but who instead are clothed in Holy Spirit radiance.

Radiance is the tangible residue of God’s love that lies deep within the leader’s look. Radiance is that sound of wisdom and authority that continues to echo well beyond the words he speaks. Radiance paints itself on the face of a man whose integrity and intimacy are genuine.

A third trait of the next-level leader is that the main thing of his life is evangelism, not church maintenance. Churches need a healthy balance of touch-and-tell ministry. Sitting year after year in lecture-style Scripture study was never a method of Jesus or Paul. Bible study is nothing more than bubble study when it only involves a cognizant challenge. People grow best by going, not just knowing. A pastor must never leave the basics of his own first years of the faith journey. He cannot create any level of contagious faith in his church unless he tells stories on himself about reaching the lost.

Information alone will never break nor stir the heart. Every pastor and church must constantly experience the sights and smells of the street. Jesus wandered frequently among the tombs and leper colonies. This is how He spent His time, and I am sure this stirred the incarnate side of Christ, something a classroom could never do.

I have given our church the Matthew 25 challenge: To reconnect with Christ’s lifestyle manifesto — the poor, naked, lonely, hungry, and the prisoner. We begin by asking the Holy Spirit to creatively show and lead us to the most forgotten of our city — to embrace our Samaria.

A fourth trait of next-level leaders, who by design not default, find themselves leading next-level churches, is the presence of a working strategy of care and discipleship.For every purpose-driven church in America there are hundreds of chance-driven churches. The spontaneity of the sanctuary is a beautiful thing, but there must be strategic thinkers and workers behind that Sunday morning curtain.

Look for the Green Grass

Jesus calmly told His agitated disciples to sit the masses in groups on green grass. Like Jethro, who wisely advised Moses to divide the people in groups of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands, Jesus understood the value of purpose and order even in the midst of the miraculous. Group life that fosters genuine, loving relationships and systematic discipleship gatherings that cultivate maturity and spawn new leaders are the core essentials associated with New Testament life. Acts 2 was both the Upper Room(verses 1–4) and the Family Room (verses 42–47). In other words, the New Testament church had both an outpouring and an outline for ministry multiplication.

Next-level leaders participate and perpetuate the concepts of care and discipleship. They build resilient friendships in the Body and totally engage in systematic discipleship. These are key trends of their growth and sustainability. Business and bureaucracy are poisonous leavens. The leader must notice these poisons and extract them before they infect people. The best strategies are the simplest strategies. Many leaders confuse the busyness of their people as signs of growth and maturity. Beware.

The final trait of next-level leaders and the churches they lead is breakthrough generosity. This past year I declared war against the mindset of financial mediocrity. We are coming through a devastating downturn in our economy that profoundly affected church receiving, but not giving. This has in many ways been a good thing for the American church as it rediscovers simplicity. But a negative effect is the growing idea that because giving is down, the ability to give as a ministry is fading. Nothing could be further from the truth. Breakthrough churches and next-level leaders are giving like never before. We must expose the mass-giving lie being spread across America. The lie says that only a small percentage of people will ever be able to tithe and give. Yet God has called us to reach the whole world, a task almost impossible unless the whole church becomes revived enough to bring the whole tithe into the house of the Lord.

I once heard it said that it takes two things to build a church: cash and the anointing. You cannot succeed by one without the other. As crass as that may sound, it rings with a sense of reality. As much as it grates some to believe this, giving, not receiving, is imperative to the next level in our lives as leaders.

More than trends, these traits are not perfected in effective leaders, but they are present in the next-level leader.

The Three Chairs

I leave you with a simple metaphor about the three empty chairs in every church. The only variance from church to church is the number of them that are present. This illustration helps us see the need to focus as leaders on the things that will strengthen the Lord’s church. You judge if it rings true.

Chair No. 1 represents the individual who on any given Sunday lifts his hand or walks the aisle at the conclusion of the message. He walks to that special spot where the auditorium becomes an altar.

Why the walk? Because something about God’s grace just became both amazing and necessary. The tug … the need … the stepping out.

Most likely he filled out a card and in some situations received a computer-generated letter inviting him to a class or two. But in most cases, the process ends there. Saved? Only God knows. Relationship? Follow up? Not on your life.

And that my friends is empty chair No. 1.

The second empty chair represents that select few who go from salvation to connection and belonging. Then somewhere as a new follower of Christ, he senses the need for something far more than salvation and connection; it’s a desire for power. He becomes aware of God’s promise to fill him with the Holy Spirit and His missional purposes. Often at that same salvation altar he finds himself overtaken by the power of God during a revival service. A new kind of Baptism happens. Pentecost is no longer a Jewish feast. A fresh new prophetic world opens up. But with that new world comes a new wave of assault from Satan who fears this man’s newfound capacity as a Spirit-empowered disciple. Total spiritual warfare unleashes. Nothing like this happened after salvation; but now after getting baptized in the Holy Spirit, a deluge of trials, difficulties, and sufferings roar through his life. With no one to counsel him or disciple him in the dynamics of Spirit-filled living, he disappears from sight for no apparent reason. The breakthrough everyone was so hoping for in his life did happen, but shortly thereafter he is gone. There are hundreds of thousands of people like the man in chair No. 2 who have been touched by revival only to disappear shortly thereafter from the church.

They are empty chair No. 2.

The third empty chair, and the passion of this article, represents that individual who fills chair No. 1. He is saved and becomes grounded in relationship with Christ and His church. He then experiences a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit and finds a solid community of fellow Spirit-filled believers to work out the questions and experiences of the Spirit. Saved and filled with the Spirit, he senses another chair is calling him. It is the chair of service and leadership.

He feels compassion in his heart for something unmet in his church and community. He loves his Lord, his pastor, and his church. He feels a desire to test the uncertain waters of leadership in the church. Maybe it is a small group; maybe it is organizing and mobilizing teams that engage the homeless. He goes through training, settles on an area that connects with his passion, and the pastor and church commission him near that same altar where he was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Energized and filled with optimism and dreams for what God might do, he begins. At first, leadership and volunteerism feel romantic and fulfilling, but then turnout, enthusiasm, and engagement wane. New feelings of insecurity arise that not even his secular job produced. A minor dispute with someone in the church turns into a big meeting with the pastor. His pastor tells him that some people, even in his church, the only church he has ever known, do not like his style, decisions, or ideas anymore. What started as a spiritual romance becomes a malignant leadership cancer. He decides he has had enough. Life was better back when he just attended church, got a good message from the pastor, and worshiped God in a personal way. In other words, he should have stayed in the second chair.

The No. 3 chair has ruined everything.

Having had enough, he quietly leaves the only church he has ever known. He is mad and only slightly slams the door on his way out. That wonderful dance between integrity and anger is played out a hundred times each day in the American church. Another hurt leader who only wanted to serve, but ended up exasperated, has gone searching for a new church.

Welcome to empty chair No. 3.

All these chairs are vital, but chair No. 3 — the leadership chair — seems to mystify us the most. It is rare for a church to have long-term sustainable success with their volunteer leaders. More often than not, something always goes wrong. To stem the tide, the leader must see his mission as getting to the next level personally instead of corporately. Because the mystery of Kingdom leadership is that, the more we grow, the more who follow.

Hope to see you at the next level. By God’s grace, that is where I am headed.

SCOTT HAGAN is senior pastor, Real Life Church, of the Assemblies of God, Sacramento, California.

Notes

1. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission (www.Lockman.org).

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