Achilles was well armed, as the story goes, except for his heel. At first, it didn’t seem to matter. Strong and handsome, he was the triumphant hero in many a war. His one area of weakness, however—small but unprotected—could not make up for his many strengths. In the end, his own heel was his greatest enemy, securing his downfall.
In part one of “The Making of a Leader” series, we discussed with a panel of Foursquare leaders the traits that are inherent in successful church leaders. These are the qualities that make them stalwart and victorious in navigating the challenges of ministry, and able to guide their congregations to their greatest potential. Now, in part two, we examine the other side of the coin—the perils that can derail even the best of leaders if they are not kept in check.
Farrell Lemings, senior pastor of Grace Covenant (Cornelius Foursquare Church) in Cornelius, N.C., was one of the many on the panel who gave us the most-mentioned leadership danger—pride. Jim Scott, district supervisor of the Northeast District, echoed this when stating that the top ministry derailment is “the failure to faithfully steward power.” Sam Rockwell, district supervisor of Foursquare’s Gateway District, also warned of “self-indulgence and personal ambition.”
“Conceit, self-importance and over-confidence can slowly corrode, and finally corrupt, a once great leader’s ministry,” says Wayne Cordeiro, senior pastor of New Hope (Oahu South Foursquare Church) in Honolulu, cautioning that success often leads to pride and is not something many can survive. “Hubris comes in many sizes and packages, and often it is undetectable to the carrier. These internal parasites often can only be uncovered through extreme crisis or, ultimately, failure.”
Wayne asserts that success must be viewed as a gift to be stewarded well.
“Like the nitroglycerin in dynamite, it is fragile and it is powerful,” he explains. “It is beneficent, and it is destructive. Unguarded, the road to success and the road to a marital breakdown can be one and the same.”
Lack of Character
The mention of marital breakdown brings us to the No. 2 response among our panel—lack of character and the failure to manage the personal areas of one’s life, especially in regard to sex and money.
Ron Pinkston, district supervisor of the Central Pacific District, makes an important observation when it comes to failure in these personal arenas. He emphasizes that the lack of rest—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—is often the culprit in a leader’s fall.
“Rest is far and away the most important thing to watch out for,” Ron told Foursquare.org. “Everyone from Dr. Archibald Hart to Dr. Seuss has told us that rest is important. I think it’s in the Bible somewhere! But that doesn’t seem to stop us from violating the Sabbath concept.
“Sexual failure and money mismanagement,” he continues, “are more often than not simply the result of not getting true spiritual rest, burning out the human soul, and desperately trying to find some way to anesthetize the pain.”
Incompetence and Lack of Focus
The obvious evils aren’t the only threats to ministry leaders, however. Our interview participants noted a third category of issues to watch out for. It’s not always the “big three”—money, sex and power—that’ll get you. A lack of ability or competence, or simply losing a clear focus, can shoot an arrow in the heel of even the most virtuous leader.
“Perhaps relational intelligence—the ability to get along with people—should be listed as one of the top three qualities of leadership success,” says Joe Wittwer, senior pastor of Life Center (Spokane Foursquare Church) in Spokane, Wash., “because the lack of it guarantees leadership failure. [Additionally], a lot of would-be leaders fail for lack of skills. This doesn’t have to be, because some of these skills could be learned and then developed with practice.”
Nate Poetzl, senior pastor of New Life Center (Everett Foursquare Church) in Everett, Wash., alerts leaders of “defaulting into a reactionary mode instead of a visionary mindset,” and of “thinking that leadership is about arriving at a destination.” One never arrives, Nate points out, and a leader must always adapt and perceive the future.
Another crucial observation was made by Kimberly Dirmann, district supervisor of the Southwest District—that of “allowing the urgent to shift your focus from leading to managing.” The “fear of man” and the “lack of clear vision and direction” are also common potential pitfalls, she notes.
Lack of Discipline
Glenn Burris Jr., interim president of The Foursquare Church, believes that a huge leadership hazard is a lack of discipline, the failure to stay focused on the mission in the middle of distractions.
“The failure to discern, meaning the inability to navigate complex issues with clarity and wisdom,” Glenn articulates, is also cause for concern. So is the “inability to be decisive, the lack of will or competency to make courageous and good decisions.”
So what are some steps a leader can take to ensure he or she doesn’t fall by the wayside? James Ranger, senior pastor of New Life Center (Bakersfield Southwest Foursquare Church) in Bakersfield, Calif., offers several suggestions.
First off, he says, we must be vigilant against “becoming undisciplined.” Also, he notes, when leaders fall it’s often because they “forgot what got them to effective leadership to begin with” or “took for granted relationships they had built.”
It is clear, then, that a well-disciplined, well-stewarded way of life will go a long way in ensuring a leader stays effective in the long haul. One must keep in remembrance the principles that created effectiveness in the first place, and should never lose sight of the close friends, loved ones and partners in ministry who, like the biblical “iron that sharpens iron,” will keep a leader focused, balanced and in check.
Which brings us to a final point, made by Jason Albelo, senior pastor of East Hill Church Family (Gresham Foursquare Church) in Gresham, Ore. It’s advice often heard, but, perhaps, not so often heeded—we must be accountable to the people God has placed in our lives.
“Solomon said it well [when he noted that] a strand of three cannot easily be broken,” says Jason. “I don’t think you can overestimate the need and the importance of some friends to whom a leader is accountable—someone who can serve as a mirror in your life and can help you to see things in you that you not only need to see, but often times don’t really want to see.”
Next, in part three of “The Makings of a Leader,” we’ll wrap up our conversation with some general thoughts on leading effectively in the ministries to which God has called us.
This is the second part of a three part series called “The Makings of a Leader.” To read the rest of the series, click below.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles