The Ten Commandments of Leadership: Leadership Lessons for Church Leaders from my Time as an Army Leader
I have recently transitioned to a new ministry. In so doing, I have taken some time for reflection. After spending about four years in church ministry and eight years in the United States Army, I’d like to share with you some reflections on what I believe to be transferable leadership principles that guided me while serving in the world’s premiere fighting force. I could have made the list twice as long, there are things that are important that have been left out. However, these ten could help you as a leader of God’s people (I hope). Some you will see echo biblical principles, others are simply anecdotal and come purely from my experiences.
1. Thou shalt not ask more of others than you do yourself.
This one should go without saying. However, I’ve seen Army and Church leaders expect more of others than they do themselves. What kind of message does that send to your people? It says that you’re lazy. If you are calling people to read their Bibles and pray everyday, then you should be modeling that in your life. There’s nothing worse than an Army leader who tells his Soldiers to charge the hill and they stand in the back. Lead from the front even when it means it could cost you your life.
2. Thou shalt not ask others to do something that you are unwilling to do.
One time I was cleaning the barracks in Germany along with my entire unit after there was a huge drinking party and there were bottle caps at the bottom of a urinal to be cleaned out (it was a punishment). It was disgusting and I had no gloves. I was a young Private and I saw my Sergeant stick his hands into the urinal to grab the caps in order to clean it. Sometimes you lead by doing things you never thought of in Seminary or Leadership School. Picking up trash, cleaning urinals, or any other unglamorous task are ways that you are able to lead. If you got into leadership for glamor and glory, then you shouldn’t be in leadership.
3. Thou shalt not procrastinate needlessly.
Some things you can leave until tomorrow (see below). Some things you need to accomplish today. Maybe it’s that report you’ve been dreading, the frustrated church member you need to call, or the weapon you need to clean. These are things that aren’t fun but are necessary to accomplish your mission. When you needlessly procrastinate a task, you get what could be a bunch of small tasks that will set your time back incredibly. When you let things fester and wait until the last minute it affects you emotionally and professionally. Sometimes it will feel like a weight on your shoulders until you finally accomplish those tasks. Oftentimes, I have found that when I procrastinate then start the tasks I’ve put off, an emergency emerges and then I’m really in trouble! Be like Nike, just do it!
4. Thou shalt put others needs above your own.
This can be a difficult lesson and one that is dangerous for ministers. Why? We can often spend our lives putting others needs above our own. We should absolutely care for ourselves, but I’m referring to those times where we think our preferences should usurp those of our congregation or when we need to choose between reading an extra chapter or going on a visit. There are times when it is tempting to do what is easy and convenient, but leaders care for those they are leading. This sounds a lot like caring for others and our neighbors. Jesus said something about that, didn’t He?
5. Thou shalt love your present ministry and not the one you want.
I spent time in a few different units in Germany and the United States, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone thinks that the Unit they are in is worse than the one they just came from and the one they are going to. I’ve heard similar things from Pastors on occasion. No Church has everything figured out and no local congregation is without sinners. Jesus died for each local church. We should be grateful for God’s call and provision. Do not be envious of others and seek God’s direction for where you are. Love the flock that God has brought you to and love them as He has… be willing to die for them.
6. Thou shalt stay vigilant and not succumb to complacency.
“Hey Sarnt, complacency kills.” I remember hearing those words from one leader to another as we were getting our platoons ready for training… it really does kill. When Soldiers get complacent they make mistakes. When Soldiers make mistakes they are likely to get hurt, hurt someone else, or leave themselves vulnerable to the enemy. When we get complacent in our devotion, study, or leadership we give way for the enemy to attack and take hold. Stay vigilant and always watchful over yourself, your family, and your church. I’ve used this in my local church by pushing others to not be complacent. I’ve done this by what I say and do as well as calling others to push themselves further than they had anticipated going. Stay on your toes or else they’ll get stepped on.
7. Thou shalt not succumb to the great disease of mediocrity.
“Well it’s good enough for Government work”. I’ve heard that hundreds of times in the Army- I might’ve said it myself. But it’s a cop out. It should never be said. We are called to do our work as unto to the Lord. Likewise, when you cut corners in the Army or the ministry, you are saying that the mission doesn’t matter. Our mission as the church is to glorify God by making disciples of Christ. When we allow ourselves and others to be mediocre we are saying that those we meet and are trying to reach aren’t worth our best efforts. Whether it’s our preaching, worship services, websites, social media accounts, or anything in between… they all deserve our greatest efforts and attention.
8. Thou shalt put the mission first.
There were many days while I was in the Army that I didn’t want to get out of bed for Physical Training (PT). It was early (6:30 am), often cold, wet, and took some effort. You need to find motivation to get up and get going. Whether the mission is to prepare for war or reach people for Christ, it must come first in all things. That means we train, we rest, and we fight. As the church we must train our people, we must allow them to rest, and we must push them to view their lives as missionaries who are called to reach their neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers with the Gospel of Christ. Why? The Army doesn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in training and equipment so that you can sit in the rear with the gear. Neither does God set aside a people for Himself so that they can on the sidelines.
9. Thou shalt keep the people at the forefront.
If you’re like me then tasks can often rule your life. I create spreadsheets, write articles, study the Bible, and read books. All too often we can allow our to-do list to get in the way of the people in whom we are called to shepherd. In the Army, it was easy to stay in the office to answer an endless amount of emails and write up Operation Orders. As the Pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in planning the next event, fixing the website, or adjusting the sermon. However, God has called us to teach our people, pray with them, and discern how they are doing spiritually. We are unable to do these things if we are stuck in our cave with the shades closed.
10. Thou shalt leave the things you can for the next day.
Above I say not to procrastinate. However, there are things that can wait until tomorrow. When I immediately got to my last Army unit, I discovered that my predecessor had left me a mess load of work. It wouldn’t have been a big deal except my unit was deploying within two months and I needed to ensure that over five-hundred soldiers had the proper security clearances. I worked all day through lunch and dinner for about a week to accomplish the work. I could’ve spaced the work out over the course of two or three weeks, but instead worked needlessly until 8:00 pm for a week. I’m okay with staying late to get things done that need to get done, but not everything needs to get done immediately. We need to be able to prioritize our tasks as Pastors so that we aren’t overwhelmed and so that we don’t let things go unattended. Balance is key to leadership in both the Army and the Church.