This fall I will teach a class on Ministry Leadership for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Pacific Northwest campus. This is the first time to teach such a class and it’s forced me to reflect on my leadership experiences and core convictions. Over the next couple of months I plan to write about some of these, beginning with something I call “the leadership moment.”
Leadership moments can be huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, or they can come at times which seem less momentous, appearing to be less significant, yet providing opportunities for large and lasting impact. For example, when a disaster strikes your community, or strikes a family in your church or community, what a leader does in that moment will leave a lasting impact. Near the town of Oso, Washington in March, 2014 a mudslide killed 43 people, devastating the small towns of Oso and Darrington. Pastors Gary Ray and Michael Duncan will be forever remembered in those towns for their ministry in the days and months following the tragedy. Carrying great grief of their own, they served their people through God’s enablement in ways that will never be forgotten.
But not everyone understands the significance of a leadership moment. One pastor I know left town at the approach of a devastating storm. It was not a hurricane or tornado that must be fled, but it was a type of storm that “shut the town down” for several days. Though his church was a “safe place” for families without electrical power or in need of food, this pastor left the care of the community in the hands of others in the church and remained absent himself. He did not understand that this was a leadership moment that would forever be remembered by the people he was called to serve.
I was reminded of a moment in my life when I was speaking at a missionary retreat in South Asia. I had a conversation with a young short-term missionary, in which he said that he knew he needed theological training in order to pursue a missionary career, but that he feared attending seminary because his college degree was in geology. He thought this would leave him ill-prepared for seminary. I told him not to fear attending seminary, that my degree was in engineering, and that he would do fine and would enjoy the experience of studying something that he was passionate about, namely the Bible and theology. The conversation lasted maybe ten minutes. Then, seven years later, I was speaking at another missionary retreat and this same man was there. He reminded me of the conversation years prior (which I had forgotten), told me that it was a turning point for him and that he did attend and graduate from a seminary, and for the past few years had been serving as a missionary in an Islamic nation where he was being greatly blessed by God.
Every leader faces leadership moments. Some are obvious because they present large and unique opportunities, often stemming from a tragedy or disaster. For an American president it may be a 9/11 attack or a huge domestic concern. For a parent it could stem from rebellion in a child or a devastating medical diagnosis for a spouse. Ministry leaders confront leadership moments, large and small, with some frequency, and it is our decisions and actions during these moments that often define us for those we serve. As you develop your own leadership skills, it is helpful to understand organizational leadership and the details of developing and communicating vision. But don’t forget those moments, which are often unplanned and unanticipated, but which will define your true leadership for those you serve.