What a difference a leader can make! One of my colleagues (I’ll call him “Nicholas”) used to be a rather lukewarm attendee at his church. Despite growing up in the church and having been accustomed to attending midweek services and Sunday services in his university days, after he got married, he moved to a new town (where his wife was based) and started attending the church that she was attending. It is a bible-believing church, but Nicholas never felt at home in the church.
The Senior Pastor was a Christian but Nicholas believed that the Senior Pastor’s lack of time discipline and willingness to impose his schedule upon his deacons (of which his wife was one) was not a good example of servant leadership. However, these areas of discontent paled in comparison to the hurt he felt when he lost his father-in-law and nobody from the church – neither the Senior Pastor nor the Church Committee members – came to their house to offer condolences or share in the bereavement.
Despite his discontent about the church, Nicholas’s wife steadfastly refused to leave her church. She explained that the church must have assumed that because her father died in a village 200 miles away from Monrovia where they lived and the family had traveled to village to bury the father, they would not be available to receive visitors and that must have been the reason for the lack of visitation.
“Rubbish!” said Nicholas. “I am not going to attend this church any more!”
Despite the outburst, Nicholas grudgingly continued to attend because his children enjoyed the Sunday School and his wife was not willing to move and he did not want to split up his family over church matters. However, he limited his attendance in church to Sunday mornings only, and declined any invitation from the church leaders to participate fully in any ministry. He also shared his frustrations with me in some of our discussions, admitting that he was simply going along because he did not have his wife’s support and could not come up with a good enough reason to force her to leave.
You can imagine my surprise when, months later, Nicholas informed me during one of our virtual meetings that he would have to leave the meeting at 5:30 to prepare for leaving his house to attend midweek service at his church on a Wednesday! I thought I had heard wrongly.
“Did you say you are going to church this evening?”
Nicholas laughed and said “Yes, Modupe. I am sorry I have to leave the meeting soon to go to midweek service.”
“At your wife’s church?”
“Yes, Modupe. They have mid-week services there.”
A few days later I asked him to explain what caused his change of heart to start attending the midweek services. Nicholas explained to me joyfully that the church now had a new Senior Pastor. The new person, according to Nicholas, came in with a new spirit of engagement with the church members and has communicated a clear vision for the church and he practices exactly what he preaches. He starts church meetings on time and ends them on time, leaving Nicholas’ wife with more time to spend at home because their church committee meetings no longer mean 5-hour absences from home. The excitement in Nicholas’ voice was palpable.
“So now, you are happy at your church?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, I am! In fact, I have volunteered to serve in the audio-visual ministry and help out with putting together some of the slides that the Pastor will use in his sermons. It is something that I can do remotely, and I enjoy it and can help.”
I marveled at the transformation. What did the new Senior Pastor do that the old one had not done? What was the difference that had turned Nicholas from an attendee-level member providing minimum contribution (other than his tithe) to the church to an engaged member providing discretionary contribution to the church?
Although it is a small sample size of one, this story illustrates some of the simple truths that exist about good leadership or the ability to influence others towards a positive outcome. I have distilled them into three areas; these are not an exhaustive list…rather they are simply a list that is extracted from an examination of the difference between the old Senior Pastor and the new Senior Pastor.
People are more likely to allow you to influence them when they believe that you care about them. The lack of demonstration of care for a church member when they were in need was a significant leadership error on the part of the old Senior Pastor. The saying that “a friend in need is a friend indeed” is not only true, but it is biblical. As a leader, the old pastor failed to demonstrate a spirit of caring for Nicholas and his wife during a time when they needed to be shown love and community fellowship.
The new Pastor demonstrated that he cared about them by engaging the members and listening to them. This is critical for leadership success. When a leader demonstrates that s/he values the opinions of his followers enough to listen attentively to them and prioritize their needs, that leader will be successful in influencing them.
People are more likely to allow you to influence them when they are confident that you know where you are going. While it may not be true that the old Senior Pastor did not have a vision, what is clear is that this vision had not been communicated clearly to Nicholas. This is a syndrome that sometimes befalls leaders who have led in an organization for a long time; they forget that leaders are repeaters.
It is critical that leaders should communicate their vision on a regular basis to their followers, because most human beings tend to forget the vision when the challenges and successes of daily life take hold. The new Senior Pastor communicated a clear vision and ensured that it was not just communicated to the clergy and church committee. Nicholas was not a member of the church committee and yet the vision was communicated to him.
People are more likely to allow you to influence them when they see that you are willing to discipline yourself first before you try to make disciples of them. Discipleship is not just a biblical principle. It is a leadership principle. Every effective leader seeks to develop her/his followers in such a way that they are able to become effective leaders themselves. The word disciple comes from discipline; however, the Old Senior Pastor forgot that discipline first starts with oneself.
A leader loses the moral authority to discipline his/her followers when he himself is not demonstrating self-discipline. The inability to be on time is one of the most transparent indicators of indiscipline. There are other indicators of lack of self-discipline that I have not mentioned here because the old Senior Pastor did not demonstrate them; the lesson to be learned is that before you attempt to lead others and make them disciples, lead yourself properly.
The new Senior Pastor demonstrated self-discipline by ensuring that he was on time to his own meetings and he kept the meetings to time. This type of leadership spawns engaged and disciplined followers who will become disciplined leaders themselves.
Dear African leader – there are leadership principles to be learned from this church story. Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, the principles of good leadership still hold true. Africans need good leaders to disciple them into become good leaders. Are you willing to hold yourself to the standards that the new Senior Pastor demonstrated? Will you develop, communicate, and re-communicate your vision to each of your employees? Will you discipline yourself first before you attempt to discipline others? Will you care enough about your employees to put their needs ahead of your own? Africa needs you to do this and do this regularly. When we, Africa’s leaders, do this consistently, Africans will rise up and lead themselves into a century of prosperity that the world has never seen and will marvel at. Let’s make Africa work for Africans by leading Africans better than they have been led before.