Learning How to Lead Yourself

The most difficult person you and I will ever have to lead is ourselves. Sure, there may be others who frustrate us and drive us crazy, but you and I are the real problem. I believe the apostle Paul summed it up best when he said, the things I should be doing I don’t do, and the things I shouldn’t I find myself doing. That is often all too true in my own life. But, if you’re going to be a leader worth following, it starts with leading yourself first. Here’s some of the best ways you can do that.

  • Learn how to manage your time. Aside from being a person of great character, I’m not sure anything adds more value to your leadership than time management. Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day, but those who learn to manage their time well get a lot more done than those who don’t. If you struggle in this area, I highly recommend you pick up Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Productive People.
  • Learn how to build relationships. Early in ministry this was an area that I wasn’t very good at. I often valued accomplishing tasks over building relationships. I quickly learned this was a big mistake. If I was ever going to be a good leader, I needed to slow down and get to know people. John Maxwell says it this way, “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”
  • Learn to set goals. Did you know that people who write down their goals are much more likely to accomplish them? Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals is a great way to hold yourself accountable and be more productive. When you don’t set goals, you never know if you’re winning or losing.
  • Learn how to handle conflict. Every leader deals with conflict at some point, and that’s especially true for ministry leaders. Leaders have to make tough decisions that can often be unpopular or seen as unfair. If you have a hard time with conflict, you’re going to be stressed out in ministry. Marshall Shelley wrote a great book on this topic, Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do with Well-Intentioned Dragons.
  • Learn to be teachable. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone with a ton of potential who thinks they have nothing else to learn. Leaders are constant learners. There’s always someone who knows more than you, so use the opportunity to learn from them.
  • Learn to submit to authority. Even when you think you’re in charge, chances are there’s someone you have to answer to. You’re almost always going to have a boss. So, you have a choice to either reject that authority or embrace it. If you can’t learn to embrace it, you’re going to have a really hard time leading, especially in a church.

What have I left out? What would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know. While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get more tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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2 thoughts on “Learning How to Lead Yourself

  1. Tom Bostic

    I greatly appreciate your work and your willingness to help small church servants to grow and success. That’s hard work! I wanted to comment on this most recent articles, because this is so very raw to me at the moment. But let me set the table first–the congregation I serve is like stepping back to Mayberry. Small town in an agrarian atmosphere. One school, town council of 3 and no mayor, a weekly local newspaper that still tells who ate at whose house last Sunday, etc.; and the local churches still cooperatively hold several combined programs and services regularly, without fighting or competing! All of that is very pleasant and generally helpful. Also, you need to know that I’ve been here for 23 years this month. When I came we had a mimeograph machine, rotary telephones, and an electric typewriter and the services averaged about 120. All of that (well, most of that) has been changed slooooooooowly over the 23 years. And we do have our successes. We average consistently over 200. We have visitors every week. We are very community-minded, we serve others well, and we have some great success with local youth, averaging over 150 for this last semester, of which I am very proud.
    BUT–we see such little progress in leadership. I read this morning, “Great leaders do not create followers; great leaders create more leaders.” I believe that. And I also believe I am failing miserably in this area. We have 22 members on our joint board of elders and deacons. At this last Sunday’s monthly meeting, the 5 elders attending (the first time all year so far) and only 6 of 17 deacons attended. That’s fairly typical. I can identify some of the reasons for poor attendance–some our fault, some theirs, but most of it is out of my hands. As a preacher for a traditional independent Christian Church I am not a board member, only an ad hoc and ex officio attender. I do not vote, only advice. I do not set the agenda, though I do contribute to it. And I do have a report that is required each month with stats, upcoming events, and then needs that I think should be addressed. The meeting is not argumentative, its light and often has lively, helpful discussions. And it is almost always over in an hour and a half. But many, many month we talk about the same things. Month in and month out we will bring up the same issues, spiritual or physical, we will talk all around it, but then we don’t move. We are waiting on an estimate, but tht guy didn’t show up; or we are waiting on a report, but he forgot it. And on it goes.
    Let me say this: I know I’m not a leader. I never wanted to be, and don’t desire to be. I love to preach and teach, and I’m pretty good at it. And in my own view (and the view of most of the Christian Churches, though not all) of scripture I do not call myself a pastor (the French word for “shepherd”, also a description of an elder in the NT). But I struggle with people who say they will serve but then don’t. People who commit but in word only. I have been tempted to break ties with my roots and just go out on my own, start my own congregation, be more corporate and follow business models and not scriptural models. But I then fight with myself over whether that breaks my personal commitment to my view of scripture. I idealistically wait for men to “get it”, to rise up and serve as the Lord calls them, but they just aren’t getting it. Maybe I’m not the preacher and teacher I think I am. I do not know. I just know I’m very discouraged and have no clue where to go next, how to “right this ship”, get back on track. I feel a lot like the octopus on roller skates described in a recent book–“a whole lot of movement but very little of it forward.” Thoughts? Advice?


      Thanks so much for the kind words. I have to wonder if you’re being too hard on yourself. You have good attendance in what sounds like a very small town. You’re also able to get along and work with other churches and pastors within that small town. That’s sometimes a miracle within itself. I don’t know of a church that doesn’t struggle to produce church leaders. It’s really hard work, and takes at least two willing participants. I would say that it sounds like your church board has too many people on it. The more people the longer it takes to make decisions. I’m not sure if you’re able to remedy that, but I would certainly recommend it. There also needs to be some accountability for those who don’t show up. Every role has requirements and showing up to meetings is a part of that. If they need to be there, hold them accountable, if they don’t need to be quit asking them to show up. In each meeting I would come up with action steps based upon what was discussed and assign a person to oversee each step and make sure it gets accomplished. Add a time table for each task as well. I’m not sure if you have the authority to do that, but that’s somewhere to start. If you have further questions or if I can help, please shoot me an email.

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