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Courageous Ministry Leadership

Neil Hart – Executive Head Mergon Foundation​

It’s a lonely role leading anything. Once the excitement dies down the responsibility kicks in. There are so many questions. Are your people inspired by the mission & committed through the hard times? Are they living together in a healthy culture and growing in their contribution?

Is the organisation operating efficiently with good governance? Are funders hearing stories of the contribution in society and coming alongside you to enhance your efforts? Is the Board involved and helping to lighten your load? And greater pressure…are they inspired by your leadership?

We understand the pressure you feel, leading a ministry requires deeply courageous leadership.

The good news is that there is no perfect leader. Even the best I know are not complete leaders. We all have faults and blind spots. We are all a work in progress in the Master’s hands. Be vulnerable with those you lead – I’ve found that the strongest, most effective leaders are insecure. The reality will surprise you. You are probably the very best leader; for now, you are what your organisation needs in this season.

At Mergon, we partner with over a hundred ministries and leaders across 30 countries. We journey with them in 3-year partnership cycles so we get to see a few things in this time together. Leading a ministry is selfless and tough, but very little in life compares to giving your life away for something that means so much or reverberates so deeply into eternal realms.

Over time we have seen some healthy organisations operating in ways that rival the best of corporate best practice. Sadly this is generally the exception to the rule.

Jim Collins, in a foreword to the book Engine of Impact, wrote that “most nonprofits limp along, operating far below their potential impact”.  Even with wonderful, committed leadership and teams, the podium for healthy organisations is sparsely populated.

From over 25 years in business, I can tell you that there are few corporate leaders that have to deal with as much pressure as some of the ministry/NGO leaders I have worked with. In business there are generally well paid, qualified staff to delegate to, in ministry often not. In business, we protect our hearts from the messiness of people’s lives, delegating this to the HR department. In ministry, we live with the emotion 365 days a year.

Having been a CEO in business and in ministry, I want to share 5 points that enable more effective leadership and will imbue you with courage:

1. Win trust by being personal

Great leaders know how to be personal. It’s not a ministry thing, great CEOs in all walks understand this. The bulk of being personal relates to circumstances or information that is not work related. Marriage, kids, financial pressures and needs, fulfilment, rest etc. Do you know these details in your team’s lives? The better you do this, the more trust you will have. The advantage of trust? Well, its immeasurable really, you simply cannot lead well without it.

2. Empower your team with greater responsibility

Expect much from your team by showing respect for the individual skills and experience they have. I have learned that everyone comes with a past that should be respected and given due consideration. Your volunteer or manager may have a degree in something that they are not putting their daily time to. Find space for this to be expressed, and you’ll be amazed at how much more people come to life when they use their skills, interests, training or experience. As a leader, its your responsibility to uncover and maximise this.

3. Have organisational clarity

Ministry leaders are often so filled with passion for the work that one expects everyone will thrive on the same purpose. The truth is that many employees thrive on clarity. A CEO must create and communicate organisational clarity to every single member of the team. It is a truth that humans needs to understand (and buy into) what they are contributing to and how their success (or lack thereof) impacts the outcome of the work. Think of your team members, does each one know for certain what they are meant to be doing and what a difference their contribution makes to the overall goal?

4. Share vision often

Real clarity comes with a compelling vision. A CEO must be great at articulating vision, and doing it regularly. It is astounding how much vision-casting is required to keep a team focused and excited. Find several ways to communicate the same vision: through video, words, pictures, in Keynote presentations or through drama…do what it takes to regularly keep the vision clear and compelling.

5. Raise leaders, not followers

If you asked me what the single most undervalued skill of CEOs is I’d say it is the raising of leaders. There are a few important aspects to doing this well. The first is identification. For me, this is a combination of prayer and using personality tools (of which there are many available) to discern good candidates.

Secondly we should test leaders-to-be. You can always rely on people with tested character, those who have been through the fire. Find ways of testing faithfulness in small and big ways.

Lastly a CEO needs to be able to call out the gifts and talents that they see in prospective leaders. There is little that accelerates growth in an individual than someone who believes in them and tells that how good they are at specific things.

There is little more fulfilling than leading an organisation or team that is healthy, passionate and effective, contributing to growing God’s Kingdom. A healthy team will make you sleep well at night, only kept awake by the God-given mandate and vision you carry.

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