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John Upton’s Kingdom Vision: Reflections on Leadership

john275Each month, Executive Director John Upton records a Kingdom Vision video. Interested in past videos?

You may view the YouTube Playlist or view past videos + transcripts. You may follow John’s Baptist World Alliance travels on his Facebook page.


With summer coming on, I think summer is a perfect time for all of us in leadership roles in churches, whether you are a pastor, chair of deacons, or a deacon, or a Sunday school teacher, or a youth leader, a children’s leader – it doesn’t matter what your role is in the church – it’s a good moment during the summer to kick back a little bit and reflect on what does it mean to be called of God to be a leader in church.

I’ve had opportunity in recent years to travel much of the world and all across Virginia and across the US and to observe leadership up close and to observe some things that I find that make leaders effective and some things that I think distract from a leader’s leadership. So, I just thought I’d share just a couple of things for your reflection this summer.

One of the things that I discovered that is essential for a leader is that leaders create opportunities. It’s not that we do the transforming; it’s that we create an environment of discovery, and in that environment of discovery, transformation occurs. I learned this when I was an associate to a Pastor who was extremely wise and extremely good -and to this day, is a key mentor in my life.

Because when I served as his associate, I would come in with problems and issues and concerns, he never once supplied me with an answer. He always expected me, when I brought these concerns to him, to provide him with some solutions. And then we would sit down, and he would ask very important and probing questions that would have me refine those solutions.

So what he helped me do as a leader was he helped me to discover possibilities I would have never dreamed of, even inside my own self. And I have carried that forward in my ministry ever since. Leaders are people who create opportunities for discovery – that’s significant.

A second thing that I’ve discovered that leaders need to be – we tend to think that leaders have to be the best performers. I’ve actually discovered that’s not necessarily true. I used to go to Austria and would meet with Jerry Jones. And one of the things I enjoyed doing with him in Salzburg, they would have a school where they trained the conductors of orchestras and symphonies and we would go to their final exams and watch a conductor perform with the same orchestra, the same piece of music and under each conductor it was amazing how different the performances were.

What I discovered is those conductors were never world class performers of any particular instrument, they were all excellent musicians, but they weren’t world class performers of an instrument. But what they did bring, they knew how to inspire the orchestra. They knew how to work with the different groups and blend them together. They were people, who weren’t the best performers, but they had skills working with people, they had skills of bringing inspiration.

And one thing I’ve learned, and even hiring staff for myself, isn’t necessarily to go find the best practitioners to work with practitioners, but to find those who can inspire practitioners and those who can work well with them and all of their talents and giftedness.

A third thing I’ve learned about leadership is that leaders are those that don’t mind the mess. The one thing to be, in my opinion, cautious about, and actually it’s very dangerous to your leadership, is if you have to comfortably in control. As a leader, we have to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Because frequently what comes to us are the things that are ambiguous, the things that are a bit messy and aren’t so easy to solve. If we could solve them, then someone who had this before it got to us should have taken care of it so we may have a systems problem.

But when it gets to us, it’s ambiguous, so we as leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and we have to find that the work the Holy Spirit is in the mess. If I’m in need of control, then I know who’s in charge, it’s not the Holy Spirit; it’s me. But if I can work comfortably in the mess, then I know that God’s Spirit is at work and I have to follow that Spirit.

So leaders for me are comfortable with the uncomfortable, leaders aren’t necessarily always the best performers, but they know how to inspire and they know how to work well with people, and leaders create an atmosphere of discovery.

I’d like to get your thoughts on that. If you could email me sometime, I’d love to hear what you think on that.