Leader to Leader

Getting There Together

November 3, 2016 | Posted by Will Miller

Years ago I was offered a job teaching in rural Thailand. As usual, teaching afforded me the opportunity to learn more than I ever gave back to my students. Much of what I learned was related to the culture differences between this developing world culture and my native Western society back home in the United States.

One lesson centered on leadership and group participation. Being an American (and a young man) I was quick to size up my local school and to identify all its weaknesses and to begin drawing up objectives for helping this little rural rice-patty-town to do better. When I presented those plans to the leadership of the village and school, I was floored that they were slow to deliberate on my suggestions. When I mentioned that I thought many of the proposed changes could, and should, be made very quickly, I was greeted with something just warmer than indifference. “Well,” I thought, “they must resist change just like many Americans do.”

One week I was enjoying a chat with one of the school leaders when I learned why the faculty and village were slow in considering my suggestions. It wasn’t that they thought my suggestions weren’t helpful or valuable, it was that they were deliberating how to get buy-in from the wider community. When I asked this leader why the school didn’t just move ahead with their own reforms and then allow the village to “catch up” once they saw an improvement in student performance, he said it was because Thai people do not simply want to “get where we’re going; they want to get there together.”

We may be tempted at times to push our own agenda and allow the masses to catch up to our golden vision of the future. This is NOT leadership that is consistent with our Lord Jesus who took 12 men in his inner circle and he made sure that he kept them on the same page with him. He took them all the way to Jerusalem with him even though they did not understand his mission or vision for the future, but they all arrived together. We may all be headed to Jerusalem; but we all need to get there together!

  • Check in with your staff and key lay leaders regularly in order to discuss the vision and direction of the congregation’s ministry;
  • You’ve heard it many times before, but OVER communicate the vision and direction you mean for the congregation to take;
  • Don’t just listen to those who agree with the vision and direction, but especially listen to those who are not on the same page with where you are leading the membership so that you can avoid pitfalls and bring those with a differing opinion to the bargaining table on purpose. Those who disagree on some point with your vision may actually bring a perspective that saves the congregation from making an error;
  • Listen. Listen. And ask questions. In allowing others to work through their thoughts and ideas, you will have an opportunity to come to agreement between pastor and people.

Will Miller
Will Miller is Senior Pastor for Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Memphis, Tennessee. His passion is to see Christians engaging their urban context with the healing of the Gospel in the compassion of Jesus Christ.