Four Leadership Lessons from Moses

December 5th, 2012
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One of the most fundamental elements of any successful organization is leadership. However, it is also one the most misunderstood qualities as it relates to congregational development and structure. We are in the midst of a drastic shift within many mainline churches, some would say the shift has already taken place, in that membership is declining, the impact of the church on society is questioned and effective leadership is a rarity. Perhaps the reason for the deterioration of many churches is a result of a misunderstanding of what leadership is and what it is not. If the church is to reverse this trend leaders must come to the realization that true leadership means guiding people into the vision that God has for them, individually and collectively. It is Lovett Weems’ book Church Leadership that has really helped me develop my theology of leadership.

Being a Leader vs. Being a Boss: Selling the Vision

First, it is essential to differentiate between being a leader and being a boss. A boss has authority and power based on his or her position. A boss tells people what they are supposed to do and people do it because there are consequences for disobeying. A leader, on the other hand, may have authority based on position; however, he/she does not have the luxury (depending on how you look at it) of telling people what to do. People don’t have to do what a leader tells them to do. Therefore, a leader has to convince people that what we are doing, where we are going is in the best interest of the group. Our congregations are made up of leaders not bosses and we have to persuade people to follow us.

This was the case with Moses as he had to convince the Hebrew people to leave Egypt. He did not have the power nor the authority to make them leave; he had to convince them why they should leave. It began with a vision. Moses explained to the people that it was time to claim what God had promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and that is a land of our own. Where they were going and why it was better than their current situation was clear, that’s why they followed the leadership of Moses.

Understanding the People you Lead

Secondly, since a church is made up of several members, success depends on a team effort. Moreover, as a result of the church consisting of many individuals who come together to work as one there is always a way each church does things. The language, style, and images of a church are important aspects that must be taken into consideration if a pastor is going to effectively lead a congregation. What may be a perfect goal for one church may be completely unrealistic and irrelevant to another. Thus, if a pastor is to motivate and draw cooperation of the parishioners she/he must understand the ethos of the people.

Once the pastor understands the culture of the congregation he or she will be able to help shape and mold a vision that is relevant and acceptable. The pastor must be sure to continuously keep the vision before the people and help them understand its importance to the point that it becomes the natural progression of who the people are and what they are called to do. The acceptability and relevance of the vision can make or break the vision becoming a reality. I doubt very much that Moses could have led a group of Egyptians out into the wilderness. The Promised Land was not a part of Egyptian culture so traveling to Canaan under harsh conditions would not have been relevant to them. Shaping, articulating, and embracing the vision in a culturally relevant way is one of the most important roles of any leader regardless of the organization.

Leadership Team Support

It is my belief that even with a dynamic vision and a clear plan to reach the vision it is impossible without the right support. Moses’ father-in-law understood that Moses would not be able to successfully lead the Hebrews without a strong support system in place. Moses built a team of leaders who shared the same values. More importantly Moses’ support team had a connection with the same God. No matter how gifted an individual is if they don’t share the same values, beliefs, and culture as the leader then you should not expect excellence in that ministry. It is my contention that it is better to have a committed team that understands and accepts the vision, the values, and beliefs of the pastor than it is to have a league of extraordinarily gifted individuals who don’t value the same things. A leadership team must be on the same page otherwise those you intend to lead will see the disunity and if the leadership is not united then the congregation will not be united.

The Pastor's Deep Prayer Life

Moses not only presents a clear picture of where they were going but the people also believed that God was with Moses. When it comes to church leadership it is imperative that the people understand that God is truly speaking to and through the leader. Otherwise, the vision becomes merely an idea that the pastor is trying to push off on the parishioners. The perceived relationship that the pastor has with God will determine whether or not parishioners are willing to follow. That’s why it is essential for the pastor to have a deep prayer life. Without a meaningful prayer life there can be no true leadership in God’s Church.

If you read the book of Exodus it is clear to see that Moses got away from everyone to spend time alone with God on Mt. Sinai. His alone time with God provided him with the vision, the strength, and the courage to lead the Hebrew people during their wilderness experience. Spending time with God is not just for the personal faith development of the pastor but for the entire congregation. As the pastor grows in her/his faith through prayer time the entire congregation benefits because they are exposed to God though the pastor. When Moses came down from the mountaintop people could see the glory of the Lord on him. It’s the same with the pastor. People can tell when their leader has been spending time with the Lord because it shows up in their preaching, teaching, and interactions with others. Spending quality time with God is imperative when it comes to leadership in our local congregations.

I believe our local congregations would thrive if pastors took notice of Moses’ leadership style. Sure, Moses had his challenges but it is pretty remarkable that he was able to get this huge congregation to follow him in the midst of uncertainty, duress, and chaos. In spite of all of the seemingly insurmountable circumstances that Moses faced he led the people successfully because he sold the vision, understood the people, developed a strong team, and spent quality time alone with God.

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