As a boy, I grew up in New Mexico, about equal distance from Denver and Dallas. Early on, I developed a love for both the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys. One of the reasons I enjoyed watching the Cowboys, was the class that the organization had. Tom Landry was absolutely a class act, as was Roger Staubach. The team's unity, sportsmanship, and overall character was amazing. Obviously, they were not perfect, but as far as football teams go, they were much better than their peers.
In the late 80's, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys, and promptly began removing what made the team great. They had a good run of success for a few years in the early 90's, but then became one of the more mediocre teams in the NFL. There have been many articles written, and a lot of water-cooler conversations about what has caused the decline of the Cowboys. Usually, there are many reasons listed, but at the top of every list is usually one name... Jerry Jones.
Whether you love the guy or can't stand him is not really the focus of this writing. I have been in ministry as a vocation for nearly 20 years, and I have learned that we (including myself) could take a few lessons in leadership from the mistakes of Jerry Jones. Now, hear me out... I'm not hear to bash the man... Just to point out some areas of similarities in leadership mistakes that we often make in church leadership. I'm sure there there could be many points to make, but I want to discuss 5 of them for the sake of this writing:
1. Don't Micro-Manage -- Jerry has a bad habit of having to have his hand in every part of the Cowboys organization. While it may seem like that would be a good idea regarding leadership, it actually has taken a toll on his organization. No one person can possibly handle all of the decisions, tasks, and work that it takes to make any organization (including churches) operate to its top potential. The Lone Ranger approach to church leadership is a dangerous one. Why? Well, Like Jerry, we may experience some great success early on, and begin to think that we did it all on our own. In ministry, there will be times of great movement of the Lord, and then there may also be periods of dryness and discouragement. When we realize that growth and progress in ministry are not because of a personality or a building, but rather a move of God, we are on the right track!
2. Trust/Listen to Your Workers -- One of the biggest mistakes that Jerry Jones has made in leading the Cowboys is the way he decides to try to "lead" by coming down from his box during games that he feels are not going well. I'm sure that he probably does this with good intentions, but to the rest of us, it plays quite differently. I think that most of the world views that as more of a "my coaches and staff are not getting it done, so I'm just gonna do it myself" message.
In our role as church leaders, we must trust and listen to our volunteers and paid staff. There is a reason that these people were chosen to fulfill leadership in our churches... because they know how to fulfill those roles! Obviously, there are times when a person is not a good fit, or does not fit with the team, and adjustments need to be made. However, if you hire someone to take care of financial records, lead the youth, or even drive the bus, it is very important that you let them blossom in their respective roles. If we stifle their growth by wanting them to do everything the way WE would do it, they will not be with us as staff or volunteers very long. Trust them to do their job. Guide their direction, but let them spread their wings and fly! All of us are better off when we allow that to happen!
3. Realize That You Don't Have All The Answers -- Time has proven that Jerry Jones does not have all the answers when it comes to putting together a winning team. Like Jerry, NONE of us have all the right answers. Sure, we can point to things that we perceived "success" in during our own ministry experience... that's easy to do. However, we have to understand that what may have worked for us in one place or one time may not be the answer to current ministry needs where we serve now.
As humans, we tend to get rather set in our ways. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all resistant to change in how we do things. Why? Well, because making adjustments to how we operate forces us to admit that our own plans were not the perfect solution. The best leaders are those that can take on this kind of change with enthusiasm, rather than angst or dread.
4. Admit when you're wrong -- Honestly, this ties in very closely with number 3. There is a bigger issue here that we as leaders need to address... and that is learning to admit when we are wrong. Obviously, we can make adjustments on our own without admitting defeat to others. However, one of the biggest problems many church leaders face is the perception that pastors and church leaders have it all together... that we have all the answers. I have known a lot of church leaders that relished in that perception, and did everything they could to keep it in place. The problem is that you can only uphold an image like that for so long. Eventually, our human side is going to come out... often in an ugly way, destroying this perception.
I have found that by admitting my mistakes and accepting responsibility for them destroys that kind of perception altogether. For me, this has been a very good thing. I want the people that I work with and lead to see that I am just a man... an imperfect man that will fail often in life. When people see that in us, I believe that it helps them to see that what really makes ministry possible is the perfect Spirit of God working through imperfect people. ALL of us will fail in our relationship with God. Modeling the effects of God's restoration and forgiveness in our own lives will always serve as encouragement for the others around us as we move through life.
5. Know when It's time to move on -- This is a tough one. People thrive on comfort in our culture. When we get established in a place of ministry, our own pride often gets in the way when our effectiveness in a leadership role begins to wane. The prayer of most Cowboys fans has been that Jerry will sell the team and move on. Why? It is because they realize that the organization is not going to change unless the leadership is willing to change. Jerry may or not realize this, I have no idea. Jerry may not care because he is still making a lot of money off of the team. Whatever the case, Jerry has not even mentioned moving on to something else.
Now, as church leaders, this is slightly different, as ministry should not ever be viewed as a "for profit" operation. However, we all know people (or have done this ourselves) that are simply continuing in their ministry position because they need the paycheck and do not know what else to do with themselves. There are a few ministers out there that are able to remain very effective after 10+ years in a place of ministry. The sad truth is that most people that stay in a church ministry setting for very long get set in their ways, and refuse to change to meet the changing needs of the communities in which they serve.
Long tenures look good on a resume, but I think we need to be in consistent prayer, asking the Lord to help us evaluate our effectiveness in our role as ministers. Why? Well, because God will often reveal things to us that we would not admit on our own. I believe that is how people can have a long and effective tenure in leadership. We have to allow God to reshape us to His needs... not allow our own desires to shape the course of our life.
I do not know about you, but when people hear my name, I don't want them to shake their head and say, "Wow, I remember when God used their ministry in dynamic ways, but that was so long ago." I do not need it to be about me, or my name. However, I do want to be able to look back at life and realize that I did not get in the way of what God was wanting to do. I would much rather look back and see all the ways that God redirected me, and the fruit that the redirect produced.
Sometimes, that redirect may come in the form of God telling us that it is time to move on from our current ministry role. Yup, starting over is hard, but it forces you to completely rely on God... and that can never be a bad thing! Often, the best thing we could do for ourselves, and the ministry in which we serve is to realize that is time for change.