Shaping Culture: Digging the Right “Well”

We often hear about what we are supposed to be doing well. If we were to line up all of the things we are trying to do well and consider which of those are the most important and the most valuable, we would find ourselves facing a difficult reality. Our efforts are not all the same in value and consequence.

What if we were to think of all of our tasks and goals as various wells that we are drilling? If you were going to make a fortune in oil or provide for needs with water, where you would be sure to dig? On which wells would you focus your effort and energy? Would you choose those few with the most significant return, or do you dig a large number of wells that show how busy you’ve been but reward you with less for your work? Five weeks into my seven week course from Willow Creek Association’s LIFT Project, and I may have been reminded of the greatest well worth digging in ministry and church leadership.

A leader should feel the pressure to do well. Another way of saying it is to say that a leader should strive for excellence. It is part of the leader’s job to see that things are not just done but are completed to the highest standards, exceeding expectations, utilizing all available effort and delivering maximum results.

You have probably heard some or all of these “well” categories for those who “lead well”:

  • Working well together
  • Be well-organized
  • Well-prepared
  • Plan well
  • Staff well
  • To be well-read
  • Well-recognized or well-known

What takes priority out of this list? Where do you put your effort? When you bump into your staff, fellow leaders and those you are responsible to lead, what is the first item on your checklist?

Most of our staff and leadership meetings begin with a prayer and maybe a devotion, and then we jump into work. There is an agenda to follow. Did everyone finish what they had to do after the last meeting? What concerns or projects are waiting to be addressed in this meeting? What does the calendar look like for the next few months? What seminar or conference are you planning to attend? How are the offerings do to pay for all of these things?

After hours of talk, debate, calendars, notes, tense moments, awkward silences and too many cups of coffee, what did you miss? Yeah, I know; you got the business done. That’s what it about. That’s what the meeting was called for. But if you had to choose any of those items, were they the most important part of your meeting together?

Planning, organizing, managing, mentoring, and vision-casting are all parts of leadership. Depending on your position and your responsibilities you spend more time and energy in some areas than others. As church leaders, though, are these always the biggest part of leadership? They are nuts-and-bolts elements of leadership and are extremely vital and necessary. What about spiritual leadership?

We might define the spiritual side of leadership as being interested and active in the spiritual development of those we lead. Sounds simple, right? But when we look at how we lead, aside from preaching and teaching, are we really taking an active role in the spiritual lives of those we lead?

Here’s an example. You are the pastor of a church of 130-ish people. The church has five deacons, and in the office with you all week are a secretary and youth pastor. At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday you have your weekly staff meeting. You share a devotion and pray for the needs of your church. Then it’s calendar time, making sure all of the events are in your datebook and on the website. The youth pastor talks about that couple that says the music is too loud and the secretary brought up a couple of parents’ mention that a couple of youth feel left out. You work on a plan, get your to-do lists in order, and then each gets to their daily items. What did you miss?

Did you know that the youth pastor is thinking of leaving because he feels isolated and overworked? Three deacons were on a camping trip on Sunday and missed church, for the third weekend since the beginning of June. The secretary hasn’t read her Bible since the last pastor left town. And the pastor and his wife are struggling with their middle child’s rebellion and anger towards them and God.

You might think that it sounds ludicrous. Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in ministry knows it is possible.

Part of leading well is spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership is more than preaching and teaching the solid Word of God. It is more than providing spiritual growth tools. It is more than offering and inviting multiple worship services each week. Spiritual leadership is asking how those we are responsible for are doing in their individual, personal relationship with God. Are they reading the Word of God? Have they been seeking the presence of God? Do they feel close to God or far from Him? Are their lives bogged down and in need of someone to stand beside them, to pray with and for them, to pick them up and encourage them through all that they face?

Too often those we lead become tools like our calendars and smartphones. Our secretaries and staff are in-the-flesh Siri apps that answer our phone, send letters and emails, make copies and do so much more that we ask of them. We are heavily interested in them, mostly because we want to make sure they are fulfilling their job descriptions and working to keep the machine of the church in motion. But we have to remember that the church is a living organism that finds its life in Jesus Christ. If you doing the above list of “wells” in a way that most people would consider us good leaders, but we are forgetting to lead spiritually, we have done our people a great disservice.

What do we about this going forward? One of the “teachers” in our course this week termed it “loving well.” While this is a great term it is open to interpretation and misuse. Even in our churches, maybe especially in our churches, the term “love” gets twisted to a lack of discipline or correction, a manipulation of leaders’ schedules, and taking authority out of the hands of leaders. Instead let me go back to two words I use to describe healthy relationships in the church: Interested and Invested. In this case it is easy to define “interested” because much of our activity is about being interested. What we really need to do is be interested in the right things.

I started by asking if all of the “wells” that we work at each week were life-giving wells, which would we see to be the most important and most valuable. They will demand more time and attention, and will also bring the greatest fruit and return. I could push my leaders to plan events, develop and use cutting-edge curricula, iron out every ministry wrinkle and achieve their own great heights in leadership. But the greatest well that I can lead them to, the greatest impact I can make in their lives, is to lead them spiritually. It is a renewed priority in my life. I pray it will be in yours.

Talk Back

So how do we do it? In what ways do we need to reprogram our routines and vocabulary to lead spiritually? If you are already doing it well, what are your personal habits to keep it active and a priority?