Leadership is the source of much conflict in the world and unfortunately also in the church. Poor leadership can harm those inside the church, and bring a scar to our witness to those outside the church. We always want to be cultivating leadership that is effective and displays the compassion and servant manner of our Lord. Our first major series of 2020 is on leadership. We asked several pastors to choose a book that has helped them in leadership and share its influence. These are not book reviews. A couple of notes about the series will be helpful. Many of the books discussed will not be from Reformed Christians. Some are not from Christians at all. Because these posts are lessons in leadership and not book reviews, we asked the pastors to share the positives of the book and what they have used in their life and ministry. We told them they don’t need to qualify what they don’t like or isn’t helpful. We are making that disclaimer, now, for the series. So, for example, a book from the world of business would obviously have principles that we wouldn’t rightly apply to church life. Lastly, while these are pastors writing about leadership with other pastors and elders in mind, these posts will be useful and profitable for most readers in many areas of life where leadership skills are needed.
Here is our first installment, from Jeff Landis, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in San Jose, CA.
Stephen Covey is a well-known author among those who seek to be effective in time-management and productivity. His books have been best sellers, and many have used his calendar system published by FranklinCovey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is his best-known work. When I first read it over twenty years ago it had a significant impact on my own habits. Each time I have read it since, I have been reminded of Covey’s important and helpful insights. Over the years I have had interns and an associate pastor read it because of the value of Covey’s help.
Covey believes that private victory precedes public victory. We will never be able to make significant positive contributions in our various roles unless we first focus on the mastery of the habits that lead to private victories. When these habits are in place, we are able to achieve effectiveness in our public roles and make a positive contribution in our family, work, church, etc. As a faithful Mormon, we would not recognize the late Stephen Covey as a true believer, but his common grace wisdom and principles are worthy of our attention, especially as we are striving to become better leaders.
Covey’s first habit is one that we Reformed leaders understand, each of us is responsible for our responses. Habit 1 (Be Proactive) is a call to proactivity, but it involves more than merely taking an initiative. Covey points out that the word responsibility – response ability – is the ability to choose our response (p. 71). We cannot blame anyone else for our poor or sinful responses. No one has the power to make us respond in a particular way. We determine how we respond because we are responsible beings.
This principle has been of great value to me personally and in my ministry. Irritating and negative people do not have the power to make me respond in a certain way. When I choose to respond with anger, impatience, or some other sinful way, I can only blame myself for my poor response. No one can make us sinfully angry or unloving or frustrated. We choose to respond to others in those sinful ways. Leaders, especially in the church, must take responsibility for their responses and when we fail, make our repentance as public as our failure.
Busyness is a badge of honor in our society. As a culture we have associated busyness with hard work. Pastors are not immune to this kind of thinking. When we put in 50-60 hours per week, it is easy to assume that we have been busy doing the Lord’s work. Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind) and Habit 3 (Put First Things First) remind us that we may be busy doing the wrong things! It is not hard to be busy, but it requires discipline to be effective.
Effectiveness starts with determining what is the end; what is our priority. Habit 2 requires a pastor to move from management to leadership. Management keeps programs going efficiently. Leadership looks at what the church is doing and asks if these are the right things.
In the chapter on Habit 2 Covey quotes Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” (p. 101). He fleshes out this distinction in a story of men cutting their way through a jungle. The managers are concerned that saws are sharpened, work schedules are maintained, and progress is made. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree and shouts out, “Wrong jungle.”
This principle has been very helpful to me over the years. The church needs both managers and leaders, but I believe that leadership is the church’s greatest need. We are Presbyterian and so we expect that leadership will come from the Session, but the high caliber men we have as elders have many other responsibilities to focus on. Only the pastor has the time and influence to evaluate the work the church is doing and determine if the church is in the right jungle. I remember a time at one of our Session Retreats that I told my session that I believed we were in the wrong jungle. It is not enough to manage the work of the church, pastors need to lead by asking if what the church is doing is the right things.
Habit 3 says that effectiveness also requires that we put first things first. This follows naturally after determining what is the right jungle to be working in. This chapter deals with Covey’s time management matrix. He contends that most of us spend too much time focusing on crisis management, short term issues, or worse, on things that are not important or urgent. The result is that we don’t have time to focus on the most important quadrant of our time – those things which are not urgent but are important, such as planning, looking for new opportunities, or spending time with other church leaders. This area is vitally important for ministry but often is set aside until we find time to do it, which often means it is not done.
After reading this chapter, I began to see that too much of my time was being spent on things that did not result in significant gains for the Kingdom. I was busy every day, but the busyness was not focused on the right things. I began making changes by establishing a quarterly day of prayer and planning away from distractions for quiet thinking. I also set aside an hour on Saturday to plan for the coming week to be sure that I have set aside times to do the things that will yield the greatest fruit in my ministry. This has been essential for me and my various roles in life. It is hard because it means a pastor must be willing to say “No.” We cannot do our work well if we are saying “Yes” to every opportunity that comes to us. Leaders always have more opportunities than we can possibly fulfill well. Learning to say “No” and putting first things first, makes us more effective.
Habit 5 (Think Win/Win) could be an important chapter for pastors that are struggling with some session members or church members who strongly disagree with them. When you yell out “Wrong jungle,” there will be pushback and disagreement. Most church members do not like change, even if they believe it is probably right. This chapter lays out common sense ideas on how to deal with such situations. It is closely related to Habit 6 (Seek First to Understand). In church conflict we too often dig in our heels, assume we are right, and disregard what our opponents think. Covey is a great advocate of interdependency. This is achieved when we see value in others and their opinions. Much grief in the church could be spared if both members and leaders took time to understand each other. In some circles, pastors are infamous for not being very good at listening. We are paid to be counselors and are often ready too soon to provide it. Careful listening to counselees and other elders or disgruntled church members will give us great insight that will allow us to respond in a meaningful way that addresses their concerns. There will always be people that disagree with you. Effective leaders make a point of listening to them until they truly understand their opponents or detractors. By the way, my wife recommends this habit for all husbands as well!
Habit 7 (Sharpen the Saw) is an area of weakness for me and I suspect many other pastors. This is dangerous because according to Covey this is the habit that makes all the other habits work. Covey advocates a regular focus on renewal in four key areas – physical, social, spiritual, and mental. These four things would fall into the time management matrix of things which are not urgent but very important. As leaders it is far too easy to become engrossed in our work to the detriment of other very important things. Our job is never done; there are always more things to do, but when we fail to sharpen the saw it is to the detriment of our relationships and work. When I have ignored this habit, my ministry has suffered. The answer is not more hours but more effective use of my time. Covey speaks to leaders in similar situations. As a repenting work acholic, I needed this chapter to remind me that I can only be effective if I pause and find renewal. When I prioritize the time to sharpen the saw, I find I am more focused, more energetic, more positive, and more effective in my labors and most importantly, in my relationships.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I highly recommend. It is insightful and filled with very practical applications that church leaders can benefit from. There is much more required of faithful pastors than preaching good sermons. We lead from the pulpit, but leadership is required in many other ways for the good of the church and her mission. I believe Covey gives us some common grace principles that if implemented will enable us to lead better, for the glory of God.