Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

The New Heroes

4 Practices to Release Everyday Leaders

Please indulge my imagination. I’m writing to imagine a new future . . . a future with new heroes — everyday leaders who take initiative, display Jesus, and provide direction.

Heroes are the people we admire for their life example or good deeds. They’re the people we set on a pedestal, who we name our children after, the people we aspire to be like. In our church culture, and our broader culture, we’re championing a certain type of hero — the trained professional. I’m writing to restore the hero of the everyday leader.

Leadership training in the United States represents a $360 billion dollar industry. We see this professionalization as churches hire more full-time staff, business executives become contemporary heroes, and we out-source solution-making to highly paid consultants or seminar leaders. We’ve become increasingly reliant on training manuals, training standardization, and long-distance training experts. Let’s reverse the tide, let’s champion a new hero.

Let’s make the everyday local leader the new hero. Let’s release him or her to employ Godly wisdom to create local strategies for local challenges. Let’s replace training manuals with trust, training standardization with thoughtful people, and long-distance experts with local leaders who create local strategies.

Who are these local heroes? These everyday leaders don’t occupy a corner office, manage numerous personnel, or possess unlimited budgets. Everyday leaders are parents shaping the lives of children, neighbors making their neighborhoods better places, or pastors in small or mid-size churches serving their congregations. Everyday leaders are everywhere, often serving in small or unnoticed places.

Why do we need new heroes? The traditional hero of the mega-church pastor, the business executive, or missionary leader is facing hard times. Almost daily we hear how these traditional heroes — whether within or outside the church — fall through indiscretion or sin. We’ve created expectations about our leaders that no one person can satisfy.

We need new heroes because the traditional leaders’ expertise is no longer adequate for the rapid changes of our culture. Social media, changing sexual identities, and an increasingly diverse culture is out-pacing the ability of any one leader, no matter how gifted, to supply solutions. What works in one setting does not automatically transfer to another. We need local leaders crafting solutions for local challenges.

What marks an everyday leader? They’re people with three simple qualities: initiative, character, and direction. Everyday leaders may not have a position or title but they take initiative about what’s important to them. They have an urgency about helping their local settings  — a family, neighborhood, workplace, or a church — succeed and flourish. You could say that they “own” the local; they’re emotionally invested in the people and places closest to them.

Displaying Jesus in a Christ-like character is the second mark of an everyday leader. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul lists 44 qualities of a church leader. Some of these qualities overlap but one observation stands out — forty-two qualities deal with character, only two reflect a competency. Our new heroes are marked by character not competency; who they are is more important than the skills they possess

Everyday leaders take people somewhere, giving direction to a few or the many. They’re parents leading children through cultural changes, employees influencing the values of their workplace, or small group leaders investing in people’s growth. These everyday leaders are taking people somewhere, providing direction in the small and silent places of families, workplaces, or churches.

Our new heroes think and act differently, possessing a different mindset and a local skill-set for leading. These everyday leaders do not outsource problems to distant experts who think and plan for them. They learn from the successes of others but they blaze a new trail with a new mindset.

This mindset draws upon God’s wisdom to create local solutions (James 1:5). Wisdom — the skill to choose the good and the right — is the quality most prized by local leaders, a wisdom rooted in a reverence and awe of God (Proverbs 1:7).

How is this wisdom developed? Everyday leaders grow wisdom by cultivating a local skill set of four practices. First, they’re lifelong learners — treating their neighborhoods, businesses, or ministries as God’s classroom. These leaders don’t have to go someplace else to learn but skillfully take advantage of God’s classroom of the local place.

Our new heroes practice the art of collaboration — knowing that one person doesn’t have all the answers but there’s wisdom in the community as people work together. Thirdly, everyday leaders are cultural detectives, seeking to understand their context and act wisely within this context. Finally, our new heroes work with others to practice ministry innovation — wisely crafting innovative and local solutions.

When everyday leaders posses the mindset of relying on God’s wisdom and the local skillset of wisdom-generating practices, we will reverse the tide of out-sourcing local challenges to the distant expert and grow local leaders who craft local solutions to local problems.

Multiplying everyday leaders is the natural and required ministry of church and ministry leadership. Church leaders exist to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). God’s goal is not to create a class of ministry experts but to equip and release everyday believers to be local heroes in their local settings.

For this to happen, we must change our mindset and train everyday leaders in a new and local skill set. This will release everyday Christians to take initiative, display character, and give direction in the local — where they live, work, play, or worship.

In our image-conscious culture, where personalities are cultivated as “brands,” these new heroes share more with Bach than Tic-Tok. These everyday leaders imitate the example of the composer Johannes Bach who signed every work with these words: soli deo gloria — all glory to God.

My next blog will include a story about a local hero — an everyday Christian taking initiative, displaying Jesus, and giving direction.

This blog is an adapted excerpt from Bill’s up-coming book, The Ways of the Leader, on NavPress/Tyndale Publishing.

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