Lecture 15: The Optimistic Visionary

Lecture 15 – The Optimistic Visionary: A Man with Binoculars

It can be difficult for Christian leaders to maintain a positive outlook. Multiple obstacles, difficulties, discouragements, and frustrations with ourselves and with others can pull us down and create an extremely negative “can’t do” attitude. As this can often happen so slowly that we don’t even notice it, let me hold up the mirror of positive leadership to help us examine ourselves and to encourage a return to more biblical attitudes and actions.

1. Positive leadership Is Cheerful

When people think of you, what image or picture immediately comes into their minds? When they hear your name, it’s as if a little passport picture of you pops out of their mental files. What does that picture look like? Is it glum, sad, hopeless, and depressed? Or is it happy, joyful, and cheerful? Or is it robot neutrality – a Stoic of the Stoics?
The positive leader possesses and projects a happy attitude and appearance. He’s not Mr. Happy-Happy-Happy all the time-time-time; he knows there is a time for sobriety and sorrow. But on the whole he is Mr. Optimist rather than Mr. Pessimist.
He enjoys his work, he looks forward to each day (or most days), and he tries to find the silver lining on the darkest clouds, a smiling face behind the darkest providence.
He faces problems in the church and in individual lives with optimistic hope, trusting that God’s Word and Spirit can make the most impossible situation possible.
His cheerfulness is not a matter of natural temperament, although most people God chooses to be leaders do have a cheerier disposition. The joy of the Lord is His strength. He builds His happiness out of His knowledge and experience of God. He rejoices in his own salvation by grace, his own fellowship with the Lord, his knowledge of God’s Word, and his divine calling to the ministry.
A sunny character and joy-filled words attract people and empower them. Much easier to follow such a person than someone who looks like a Tornado and who speaks like an undertaker.

2. Positive Leadership Is Climbing

In Scotland, there’s a hobby called “Munro-bagging.” A Munro is a mountain that is over 3000 feet high and “Munro-baggers” spend their leisure time “bagging” (climbing) these Munros. They plan, organize, train, buy supplies, enlist friends, rise early, drive many hours, and then they climb…and climb…and climb. After bagging their first Munro, most usually aim for 10, then 100, then 200, until, after many years, all 283 peaks are conquered. And all this while the rest of us are enjoying our Saturday morning sleep-ins.
Positive Christian leaders are Munro-baggers rather than sleep-ins. They are not content with the comfortable status quo, or with managing gradual decline. They are looking out for, planning, or taking on the next Munro.
I’m not talking here of personal ambition or careerism. No, this Munro-bagger’s passion is to help others climb higher, grow stronger, move onward, upward, outward, etc. in their Christian faith and life.
He doesn’t want to leave people where they were when He found them. He wants to help them “bag some Munros.” He can look back on a congregation’s past achievements and attainments with pleasure, but he doesn’t rest on that. He’s looking for new challenges, new Munros to climb with his people.
He looks at each individual and family, as well as the whole congregation, and asks how he can help them to progress, grow, and mature. What aspects of a person’s character could be developed? What areas of a family’s life could be improved? What service opportunities can be provided for this person? What unexplored area of Scripture should be studied? What outreach or mission can we attempt? What relationships can be strengthened?
Isn’t that the spirit of Christ’s leadership? And the apostles?
And it’s not just pastors who can do this. Young people and women can do this too to some degree in their own spheres of responsibility.
What spiritual Munros are you planning to bag? For yourself? Your family? Your congregation? Your friends?

3. Positive Leadership Is Confident

I once attended a mountain-climbing church camp in the Scottish Highlands where we were trying to bag a number of Munros.
On the second day, we set out on a fairly ambitious trek. About halfway through, the mist and rain enveloped us, separating us into small detached groups going in different directions, and very soon all of us were lost.
At one point, a bedraggled handful of us decided that the way back to base was over a particular mountain. We started climbing, but when we got about half-way up we could hardly see in front of our noses and decided to re-trace our steps. On the way down, we were relieved to meet our camp leaders on the way up the mountain.
“Oh!” we said, “So we were heading in the right direction after all?”
“I don’t know,” replied the Commandant, “We were just following you. You seemed to know where you were going.”
Needless to say, we immediately lost any remaining confidence in our leaders, and spent the rest of the week, which was filled with similar disasters, doubting, second-guessing, and double-checking all our leaders’ plans. It was not enjoyable.
A positive leader has to convey a certain degree of confidence. He knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and what he’s going to do when he arrives. Without this, who’s going to be inspired to follow his direction and instruction?
This is not about self-confidence, a confidence in personal abilities, but a confidence founded in the sovereignty of God and the promises of His Word.
We can build people’s confidence in us by demonstrating a high degree of consistent competence in our calling (in administration, communication, organization, etc), by living a holy life, and by developing a reliable steady witness. But we especially build confidence by how we react in times of crisis.
When a respected elder falls into immorality and apostatizes, the positive leader doesn’t panic, throw in the towel, and wonder out loud, “Where’s God?” No, while grieving over the sin, and the shame brought upon the church, He expresses confidence in God and His providence. He will say with the apostles, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19); “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). He demonstrates His calm faith in Christ’s promise: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
When a little child dies of cancer, of course he sympathizes and weeps with those who weep, but He also directs the distressed mourners to the sovereign, good, and wise character of God, to the sufferings of Christ, and to the sure hope of eternal life. He doesn’t fall to pieces and misrepresent God as helpless, clueless, and loveless.
Doubting, hesitating, prevaricating leaders will replicate themselves in others. But a confident leader inspires confident people, their confidence not being in the leader, but in the One who leads the leader.

4. Positive Leadership Is Clear

The positive leader has clear principles and convictions that he will not compromise. Yes, there are secondary issues and debatable questions, but there are also non-negotiables. The positive leader does not hide these things or waffle when asked about them. People who have known him for a while know where he stands on the most important questions.
He also has clear language. He states his understanding of God’s word with as clear language as he can. He strives to use language that is as simple as possible without sacrificing accuracy. He uses short rather than long sentences; short words rather than long words; concrete rather than abstract terms; illustrations rather than philosophical terms. His motto is “Brevity + Simplicity = Clarity.”
Clear principles and clear language are impossible without a clear conscience. This was something Paul strove for constantly (Acts 24:16). Whenever I hear someone waffling or prevaricating on whether something is right or wrong, or whether something is true or false, I immediately wonder about the person’s conscience. Is there some compromise in that person’s life that’s making it difficult for them to explain their position without their conscience protesting?
The leader also communicates positive energy by having a clear vision about where they and the church are going. Like Joseph, they are future-focused and forward looking (Gen. 41:25ff).
Two stone masons were asked what they were doing. The first said, “I’m cutting this stone into blocks.” The second replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Vision Statements

What about vision statements, formally writing out personal or congregational aims? Because of its associations with business marketing and with questionable church growth strategies, people are understandably cautious or even opposed to writing a vision statement. Others say, “Just do the daily work and God will take you where you’re meant to go and be.”
But there are some practical advantages to thinking this through and even stating vision formally. Pastors and churches that have done this have found vision statements useful for:

  • Making decisions
  • Limiting tasks
  • Prioritizing goals
  • Setting budgets
  • Setting goals and measuring progress
  • Timetabling
  • Staff recruitment
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses
  • Preventing diversions
  • Overcoming discouragement
  • Motivating
  • Uniting people
  • Reforming

Bill Lawrence outlines the vision development process as follows:[footnote]Much of the material on vision is taken from Bill Lawrence’s Effective Pastoring, (Nashville” Nelson, 1999), 153ff.[/footnote]

  • Pray
  • Start with the Bible
  • Look at the community around you
  • Look at your resources
  • Look at yourselves
  • Look to God
  • Develop your vision
  • Communicate your vision
  • Organize to accomplish your vision
  • Pursue your vision
  • Evaluate your vision
  • Update your vision

Questions to ask in setting vision include:

  • What should we do? What does the Bible command us to do?
  • What can we do? What abilities, talents, gifts, resources do we have or are we likely to have?
  • What will we do? Is there the necessary commitment and determination to accomplish this?
  • How will we do it? What are the means we will use to reach these goals?

Vision statements should be:

  • Brief
  • Clear
  • Simple
  • Concrete
  • Results-based (not action-based)
  • Involving (encourages participation)
  • Agreed (not imposed)
  • Long-term

The Saddleback Purpose Statement: “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christlike maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and live mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name.”
Other vision and purpose statements:

  • Someday we’ll see a computer on every desk and in every home (Microsoft).
  • To become America’s store of choice through the commitment of each employee to provide customers the very best in quality, value, selection, and service (Nordstrom).

5. Positive Leadership Is Communicative

Weak, negative, fearful leaders hear the phrase “Knowledge is power” and think, “Yes, the more I know and the less they know, the more powerful I’ll be.” The positive leader hears “Knowledge is power” and thinks, “How can I empower people by sharing knowledge with them.”
I’m still amazed at the way some pastors and elders try to keep people from knowing what’s going on in the church. Of course there are some things that should not be shared, but the default should always be share, inform, communicate.
So much trouble results in churches when elders and pastors try to starve people of information, when there’s a “We know what’s best for you” kind of attitude.
It’s almost impossible to keep people from knowing things today. So what’s the point in trying? They only get suspicious and then feel angry and distrusted when the information does eventually get out to them. Then you are on the back foot trying to explain and defend yourself.
The positive leader gets on the front foot and defaults to communicate rather than conceal.

6. Positive Leadership Is Courageous

A fearful leader is not a leader. I’m not saying a leader never fears. Of course he does. I wouldn’t follow anyone who never felt afraid. Such a man is not brave but a fool. When I say “a fearful leader is not a leader,” I’m describing someone who is characterized by fear, overwhelmed with fear, never gets past fear, is dominated by fear, and makes decisions based on fear.
A positive leader is someone who fears but doesn’t stop there, paralyzed and useless. Rather, he takes his fear to the Lord, confesses it, and seeks courage to overcome it and to act bravely.
Animals can smell fear. But so can humans! People will be able to tell when cowardice is dominating and directing your decisions, words and actions. They will smell the fear behind your favoritism, excuses, and waffle. They will lose respect for you, stop following you, and even start intimidating you. That’s why I said, “A fearful leader is not a leader.” No one is following him, regardless of his title.
If we focus on pastoral ministry, courageous leadership is demonstrated in evangelism, in preaching the whole counsel of God, in dealing with discipline cases without prejudice, in reforming the church, and in taking unpopular stands against sin in the church and in the world.

7. Positive Leadership Is Compassionate

This vision of positive leadership may have built up a caricature in your mind of a person who is self-assured, self-confident, and maybe a bit self-centered. However, I want to demolish that by emphasizing lastly that a positive leader is a caring and compassionate person. He is not self-centered but other-centered.
Speaking of pastors in particular, I’ve seen people try to lead congregations through preaching alone; leading from the pulpit. Others have tried to lead through being effective administrators; leading from the computer, you might say. And then of course there are the dictators; leading through tyrannical abuse of power.
However, none of these work long-term. A positive leader is out among his people, present with them, caring for them, and providing for them. And that’s not just when illness, bereavement, or problems arise; that would be reactive leadership. No, positive leadership means getting out in front of the problems and trials, getting to know people in the calm, not just appearing in the storm. It’s building relationships over years so that trust and credibility is present when the real difficulties do arise. The positive leader is not just waiting for trouble; he’s positively investing in lives and families over the long-term.

Conclusion

There are many leadership types in the Bible but, on the whole, the most commended leaders are those who demonstrate this positive approach to their high calling.