These suggestions will help you think as an effective leader.
These suggestions will help you think as an effective leader. (iStock photo )

Leaders think differently than non-leaders. Leaders perceive life differently. They process experiences differently, and clearly remain out in front of the pack.

To lead the way, you have to be out in front. You don't have to be out in front in everything within the church or organization you lead, but definitely regarding the most important priorities that will help the church grow and keep it healthy. People who are out in front think differently than those who follow. That does not indicate that leaders are better than followers, but it does mean they're different and it definitely means they think differently.

When I coach our staff at 12Stone, we talk about how a leader thinks. There are many ways you can express the idea, but here's how I say it.

Thinking like a leader, in its most foundational approach, looks like this:

  • Making progress
  • Solving problems
  • Helping people

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My constant focus is about making progress; that is, growing the organization by reaching people, and growing people. When you lead (make progress), you cause motion, and motion causes friction, and friction leads to problems that need to be solved.

The whole point is to help people. It's fascinating how easy it is to get caught in the machine, spend money, work hard and not really make an impact in people's lives. I have good friends who are part of churches who do the same thing, with the same people, over and over again. They are wonderful and godly people, but not leading.

When I'm working, I'm thinking about how to make progress, solve problems and thereby help people. This may be a helpful framework for you and the leaders you coach.

Let's break it down and see what that looks like in a little more detail:

1. Make progress. In order to think about making progress, you need to start with vision and direction. Where are you going and how will you get there? It's important to prayerfully think that through. Making progress requires movement and movement requires direction. It's like taking a walk. You can't take a walk unless you know where you are going. If you take a walk, but don't know where you're going, you will end up walking in circles. Unfortunately, this is how some churches pursue progress. They are walking, they are busy, but they are not going anywhere.

If you head out for a five-mile walk (vision), I guarantee you have a plan (direction) in mind. You start at point A and end at point B. You choose a route, get prepared (put on your tennis shoes), and set aside a certain amount of time. You thought about it and made a plan!

Making a plan about how to walk from point A to point B is simple. Making a plan to lead your church from point A to point B is complex.

It's complex because you don't know what you might encounter along the way. It might start raining, you might come across a large vicious dog, or you might sprain an ankle.

That requires solving a problem, a skill that will consume a large quantity of your thinking time.

2. Solve problems. Effective leaders solve problems. They don't push them back up to their boss unless absolutely necessary, and even then they always come with some ideas and solutions to present for consideration.

Leaders are not afraid of problems. In fact, good leaders get very uneasy if life gets comfortable. If you are leading a church and there are no problems to solve, the only good news that I can tell you is that you are about to have a problem. But that problem will be an unnecessary one that is related in some way to the church being stuck, not making progress.

Big problems related to a big vision and making progress, require serious, dedicated and creative thinking. It may be a budget deficit, or a critical staffing issue, or a problem at the board level. Whatever the case may be, good leaders think in terms of solving problems.

Problem solving (related to making progress, not problems due to lack of leadership) usually consumes a significant amount of your time. There are three practices that will help you think effectively:

  • Schedule think time to solve problems.
  • Write as you think.
  • Test your thinking against wise counsel by seeking advice.

3. Help people. The point of spiritual leadership in a local church, the reason to burn all this think time, is to see lives changed for good according to God's purpose. Simply put, you and I want to help people, that's what good leaders do. That's God's purpose and what motivates us.

This requires time in thoughtful prayer, asking God to grant favor and blessing to your work. When we meet with God for intimate conversation, we all acknowledge that as prayer. In the same way, I believe that leaders also think with God. That's a unique element of prayer where you strive to get the mind of God, passionately seeking to know His thoughts about reaching people.

He has given you a good mind in order to think, but when it comes to life transformation, there are some big questions still to be answered, such as, you can't help everyone, so whom does God want you to help? There are many ways of reaching and helping people, and since no one church can do them all, which approach (ministries) does God want you to lead?

Loving people, helping people and seeing lives changed is a lot about heart, but that also requires a great deal of focused thinking.

I hope you find this framework for thinking like a leader helpful.

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

For the original article, visit danreiland.com.

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