Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Leadership Training in Missions

One of the frustrations I often have in Swaziland is the training of leaders. The world seems to have created a perception of what a leader is and Christian TV channels have strengthened the idea that leaders are dynamic speakers, running up and down before the audience, shouting while they’re preaching and even more so when they’re praying, throwing in a lot of “In the Name of Jeeeeesusssss!!!” and so forth. Once they can do this, they consider themselves to be leaders and it becomes very difficult to tell them that this isn’t a very good definition of a leader.
I’ve just finished Bill Hybels’ book, Axiom. I’ve read a number of his books. Some I can relate to more easily than others. Of all his books I’ve read, this one is probably the one that meant the most to me. He compiled 76 leadership principles (which he calls “Axioms”) which he mentally refers to when having to make a decision about something. Having personally met him recently at Willow Creek during the Leadership Summit, I hold him in high regard as leader and although I would not necessarily agree with each of these axioms and although not all of these axioms are universally applicable in a country such as Swaziland, there are still 90% or more that I would be able to use in my own role as leader, both in our church as well as in our home-based caring project.
As I was reading this book and asking myself what I would consider as a good church leader, a few things sprung to mind. One is the ability and the willingness to take responsibility. I have so often experienced the frustration of having to ask someone over and over again to complete a task or to deliver a report. Quite often these are people who would, in normal life, be known as fairly good leaders. But when it comes to church matters they give the impression that they don’t really care to deliver work of a high standard. And it struck me, while at Willow Creek, that things were done – almost painfully – correct. (I’m not criticising them when I say this. Rather it’s a question whether “normal” congregations can deliver work of this standard at all times.) I think it is time that leaders be held accountable to deliver work of a fairly high standard.
Something which relates to this is the ability to take the blame when things go wrong. This is something I read about in Jim Collins book, Good to Great and which Bill Hybels also emphasises. Bad leaders take the credit when things go well and blame others when mistakes happen. Good leaders give credit to the team when things go well and take the blame when wrong decisions have been made. But the example which most leaders get from the TV (and which for most church leaders in Africa seem to be their sole training for leadership) teaches them to do exactly the opposite.
But perhaps more than anything else the ability to become servants is the most difficult for church leaders. Church leaders usually want to be honoured and to be held in high regard. And this is almost impossible if you’re down on your knees serving someone else. And yet this is one of the most important lessons in leadership that the Lord Jesus gave us.
How to change things around? I don’t know. What I have seen however is how people with supposedly very little or no leadership capabilities have suddenly developed into great leaders, not because they have attended leadership summits, but because they were willing to become servants of others. Within our home-based caring projects this has happened time and again. And every time I see this happening I know that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that the greatest leaders will be those who become great servants.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Bill Hybels, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Home-based Caring, Jim Collins, Mission, Swaziland


  1. With regard to your blog portion “But perhaps more than anything else the ability to become servants is the most difficult for church leaders.” I highly recommend the book by James A. Autry – “The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance.” It is an excellent book for all walks of life and truly teaches you to be an outstanding leader.

    Comment by Christina Lever | Thursday, September 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks. I’ll definitely have a look at that.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, September 29, 2008 | Reply

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