the shape of leadership

Becoming Healthy Leaders

Our beliefs and actions shape how we treat others

Andrea Lathrop on April 17, 2024

I want to be a healthy leader, one who trusts God, advances His mission, and treats people with dignity.

Yet I sometimes find myself leading in ways that are unhealthy, quietly manipulating people to accomplish my ministry goals instead of simply loving them as Jesus loves.

Early in my ministry as a youth pastor, I developed high hopes for an outgoing student who seemed enthusiastic about bringing friends to church. I wanted her to do amazing things for God — and for our youth group.

However, when she struggled with normal, developmentally appropriate issues of adolescence, her evangelistic batting average dropped. That’s when I became aware of subversive questions in my heart.

Was this teenager still worth my time and attention? Should I move on and invest in someone with more potential? Beyond increasing attendance, what were my discipleship goals?

More than 20 years later, I am still learning that how I answer such questions can mean the difference between a healthy and unhealthy ministry perspective. As a wise mentor once asked me, “Do we use people to grow ministry, or do we use ministry to grow people?”

In corporate leadership, people are often little more than resources for achieving objectives. But for Christians, people are the objectives. Love for God and others has always been the biblical standard. These things go together.

The apostle John writes with such clarity there should be no confusion on the matter:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).


Why We’re Unhealthy

If the standard is clear, why is leading healthily so hard? In my ministry, I have noticed three things that contribute to convoluted leadership:

1. Impatience. As Pentecostals, we don’t simply believe the gospel; we feel the compulsion to share it with others. Historian David Bebbington identifies activism — the emphasis on evangelism and mission — as a hallmark of evangelicalism.

This is a good thing. So many people have not yet heard the gospel! Their spiritual needs should be our urgent concern.

And yet, that urgency often tempts us to impatience. We look for quick conversions. We treat co-workers insensitively, as if they weren’t doing enough to move the mission forward.

An emphasis on urgency can make patience a challenge. It helps to remember the gospel’s work in individual lives can be like seed germination — long, gradual, and hidden (Mark 4:30–32).

As leaders, we must practice patience with those we serve without losing our sense of urgency.

2. Pressure. Our lives are noisy and busy. People disappoint and hurt us, and those wounds compound quickly. Meeting a budget, managing staff, and responding to crises can be challenging. And Sunday is always coming.

Prolonged pressure tempts leaders to release it in unhealthy ways. We focus only on the best and brightest in the congregation. We elevate people with public gifts and charismatic personalities, relying on them to move the church forward.

In corporate leadership, people are often little more than resources for achieving objectives. But for Christians, people are the objectives.

Ironically, this only increases pressure. Scripture uses rich metaphors to describe the Church. According to the apostle Paul, the Church is one Body whose members have different functions (1 Corinthians 12:12–26). Peter describes it as a house in which people are the building blocks (1 Peter 2:5).

Neither a lone pastor nor a few leaders can withstand the pressures of ministry. Only the unified body and household of Christ can do that. As Paul puts it, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

We release the pressures of ministry by releasing ministry to the whole congregation.

3. Bad Theology. Who we understand God to be determines our leadership trajectory. It is a compass directing the course of our lives.

I used to believe, subconsciously at least, that God was a taskmaster. Such a false belief drives us to perform, fearing God might otherwise become angry with us. And as leaders, we end up driving others in the same way.

A biblical view of God has implications too, however. If we believe that the Lord is our shepherd (Psalm 23:1), for example, we will shepherd others as He has shepherded us (John 10:11; 1 Peter 5:2).

Theology matters for leadership, so let’s pay careful attention to how beliefs about God shape our lives and leadership.


How We Become Healthy

So, how do we become healthy? In my journey to healthier leadership, I pay attention to three things:

1. Paradigms. A paradigm is a mental framework or way of thinking. Our lives move in the direction of our most deeply held paradigms. They inform the way we treat ourselves and others.

For example, if we think of ourselves as owners, we end up treating others as property. If we think of ourselves as means to God’s ends, we treat others as means to the same end.

To a degree, we are means, conduits of God’s mission to others. But we are also ends, the recipients of God’s love — not just at the moment we decided to follow Jesus, but continuously. The same is true of the people we serve.

The priesthood of all believers is an important biblical paradigm (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). It implies both service (means) and equality (ends). When we keep that in mind, we cultivate a healthy view of power and authority.

Good paradigms move us toward forms of leadership that promote the flourishing of all.

2. Rhythms. The pace of modern life is fast. It requires us to hurry.

Hurry can be a good thing, especially when you’re in danger. As a lifestyle, though, it keeps us from cultivating gentleness. We’re tempted to ride roughshod over ourselves and others when hurried.

Sabbath — regularly setting aside work for times of rest — is an antidote to hurry. It is a practical way of gaining perspective, processing ministry wounds, and improving theology. Intentional rest keeps hurriedness out of our hearts. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Slowing down is also a way of experiencing God’s gentleness. Sabbath relieves the pressure that builds up over the workweek, reminding us God runs the world, not us. It places us on the receiving end of His provision.

If we need rest to experience God’s gentleness, we also need it to deal gently and thoughtfully with others. A personal experience of sabbath provides rest to those we lead and serve.

3. Endings. In the life of a church, especially its staff, everyone will leave at some time. Positions are temporary, but relationships shouldn’t be. Endings give us a chance to prove we are not users.

That’s easier said than done.

Whenever possible, we should celebrate those who are leaving. Even when we feel they shouldn’t leave, we can thank people for the contributions they have made to God’s kingdom.

Celebrating transitions makes it more likely others will do the same in their ministries. Healthy leadership tends to beget healthy leadership.

Rather than using people to grow ministry, healthy leaders use ministry to grow people. That shift in practice and perspective makes all the difference.


This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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