First and foremost, Christian leaders are followers. They trust the Holy Spirit’s lead, urging those in their care to join them as they go where God has called them. Seems simple enough. But how important is it to know exactly where you’re going as you follow the Spirit’s lead? Is good Christian leadership dependent on setting clearly defined goals?
Transcendent leadership principles
Bobb Biehl has worked with some of the most influential Christians of the last half century—Bill Bright and James Dobson among them. An executive mentor, Bobb is called in when pastors, nonprofit leaders, and corporate executives need the wisdom he’s gleaned from his vast leadership experience.
Bobb insists that there are transcendent leadership characteristics that apply regardless of your field, business, or denomination. “I might not know anything about the industry a leader works in,” he says, “but there’s one thing I do know: personal and organizational development.” Through the years, Bobb has noticed patterns in the lives of the most fruitful Christian leaders, and they defy many people’s expectations.
When God called Samuel to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse, Samuel was initially drawn toward the tall and handsome Eliab. But God insisted such superficial traits don’t necessarily indicate a good leader for God’s people. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him,” God said. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)
According to Bobb, such facile judgments persist in the church to this day. It’s easy to get caught up in the charisma or compelling speaking style of a Christian leader. But such qualities no more indicate a strong Christian leader than height or other physical characteristics.
Perhaps that much is obvious. But Bobb delights in dispelling one of the most common leadership myths out there. And that brings us back to the subject of goals.
Goals aren’t always necessary
“Frankly, you don’t have to have any goals in order to lead!” Bobb insists. “Once a church, company, or organization reaches a critical mass, it will grow just as fast if you don’t set any goals. You just need to solve the problems growth creates.”
There’s biblical precedent for the idea that we must manage the problems growth creates. When Jethro witnessed his son-in-law Moses’ unhealthy leadership practices, he told him he was heading toward burnout. “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (Ex 18:17)
Bobb points out that many of the challenges growth presents are often surprisingly mundane. “Your church won’t grow past your parking capacity. Your Sunday school program won’t grow past the supply of teachers you have.” If your church or ministry is in a period of growth, you need to anticipate the organization’s needs so you don’t inhibit future growth.
But if Bobb is right, why do so many leadership resources emphasize the importance of goals?
Identifying your leadership style
According to Bobb, myths about Christian leadership often develop because leaders are trying to squeeze into a leadership mold for which God didn’t design them. “There are basically three types of people,” Bobb explains. “Goal-oriented, problem-oriented, and opportunity-oriented. You can be any one of those three and be a good leader.”
When people typically think of a leader, they imagine someone who is fixated on setting and reaching goals. But that’s just one type of leader. “Goal-oriented leaders are ‘add it’ types,” Bobb says. These leaders look at their church, ministry, or organization, identify benchmarks they should add, then work hard to reach them.
But that doesn’t account for all the other types of leaders God uses. “Problem-oriented leaders are ‘fix it’ types,” Bobb says. These constant evaluators can quickly identify both problems and solutions—and they’ll lead the way when it’s time to take care of pressing issues.
Then there are the opportunity-oriented leaders, or, as Bobb likes to call them, “‘grab it’ types.” These leaders, the rarest of the bunch, are happy to wait quietly until the perfect opportunity arrives, and then—they pounce. “Some people will never set a goal. They just jump on opportunities—and that’s okay!”
It’s not just leaders who fit into these categories; it’s people in general. Failing to understand how God has made each of us differently can have potentially disastrous consequences in the church.
“Say you have a church of 1,000 people. You stand in front of the congregation and say, ‘We’ve set these goals for the year.’ Out of those 1,000 people, I’d say that only about 150 of them will jump on those goals. Those are the goal-oriented people. 800 of them are problem solvers and they feel just plain sick thinking about all the goals the church failed to meet last year! And then there are 50 people—those are the opportunity-oriented people—who say, ‘wake me up when you have something interesting!’”
Even if we, as leaders, are following the Spirit’s lead by pursuing a certain direction for the ministry or organization he has placed under our care, we may impede our progress by communicating only to goal-oriented Christians.
“In my opinion, of all the adults I meet, about 15% are goal oriented. The speakers are typically the goal-oriented types—and they want you to think that way too! But 80% are problem solvers and 5% are opportunity oriented. When you focus solely on goals, you’re alienating 85% of your audience!”
Dreams are better than goals
So, If goals are overrated, what’s the alternative? How do you move a church or ministry forward?
“Leaders need a sense of direction. You have to be pulled by a dream. That may or may not include concrete goals along the way.” But by relying on God’s guidance, staying true to the vision he’s imparted, and understanding your unique leadership style, you’ll be well on your way to tackling the challenges that lie ahead.
Pre-order Bobb’s collection of leadership resources and save! Get Bobb’s wisdom on leadership, mentoring, strategic planning, and more. From key insights into leading small and large groups alike, to advice about individual growth as a leader and a Christian—Biehl covers a multitude of subjects relevant to daily life. His insights aren’t just for pastors, but are accessibly written for anyone who wants to grow as a leader and disciple. Pre-order now.