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Leading a church is like going to the moon

By Clay Morgan

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” Andrew Carnegie

In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed an eager crowd at Rice Stadium in Houston about his ambitious plan to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” he said.

In setting out to achieve one of the most ambitious goals in history, Kennedy demonstrated what every leader must understand: the difference between leading and managing.

The truth is that many of us in local churches have to act as both leaders and managers. We need to understand the difference in these skills and why it matters and then learn how to adapt your leadership style.

What does a leader do?

Leaders are people oriented. They are most concerned with people, development and effectiveness. Effective leaders address the “why” questions. They envision the future and inspire change.

Leaders set the culture around them and provide direction for the organization as they:

  • Communicate the big picture and prioritize goals
  • Provide focus and set clear expectations
  • Handle conflict and monitor morale
  • Create a positive team
  • Make the hard decisions
  • Share credit and take blame

Direction comes from leadership skills, while management skills provide the systems that allow an organization to grow and succeed.

What does a manager do?

Managers are task oriented. They are concerned with processes, procedures and efficiency. Effective managers address the “how” questions. They clarify complexity, focus on efficiency and emphasize today.

Managers keep tasks and processes on track as they:

  • Schedule work and delegate tasks
  • Oversee resources
  • Coordinate efforts
  • Monitor task completion
  • Hold people accountable
  • Clarify processes and procedures
  • Provide feedback on performance and enforce discipline

Leaders can be good managers by focusing on tasks, to-do lists and the hours people work. They cannot be good leaders, however, if they fail to address their people’s wants, needs and fears.

Author John Acuff has talked about the “wow and the how.” A great vision caster may throw out big ideas, really “wow” stuff. It takes a clear-thinking manager to figure out how to accomplish the big ideas. If you are not gifted as a manager, place people who can support your vision in that role. One method to help with this process is to use personality tests to create balanced teams.

A big part of church leadership is continually taking the macro view of things to ensure that everything is on track. For managers and team members caught up in everyday details of work, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Leaders have to watch out for straying efforts, remind people where the track is and show them the way back.

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Take your moonshot

When President Kennedy spoke about putting a person on the moon, many people thought he was crazy. America was way behind in the space race. No one knew where the money would come from. Such travel required equipment that had not yet been invented. Scientists and engineers weren’t sure how to get the astronauts where they needed to go or how to get them home once they did. Failure meant human lives might be lost.

President Kennedy led by acknowledging the obstacles. He also acknowledged that it would take more than one person to go to the moon. He didn’t build the rockets. He had the vision that inspired everyone to rally together and make the seemingly impossible possible.

People thought President Kennedy was crazy when he shot for the moon. Leaders dream big. What's your moonshot? TWEET THIS TWEET THIS

What is your moonshot? What are the questions you should consider before investing? And what day-to-day tasks must you oversee to achieve the vision you feel called to realize? Who will help you get there? If you lack a staff, recruit a team of volunteers.

Your organization can achieve tremendous accomplishments. Consider the big things, keep an eye on the smaller things, and embrace the space between leading and managing.

Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is an author from Dallas, Texas, who spent a decade teaching college courses in the social sciences before becoming a consultant in communications and organizational strategy. Clay enjoys writing at the intersection of culture and spirituality. He has done ministry with college students for years and loves finding creative ways to engage millennials.

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