“Why are we always the last to leave?”
Kids in church leadership families ask this question every week. They typically don’t mind showing up early to set up. It’s a small price of admission for the chance to play 1,000 games of tag in a vacant building! But by the end of the day, and after eating all the leftover Sunday school snacks, children catch the “I’m bored and tired” bug. They just want mom or dad to lock up the ministry doors and head for home. It makes sense. There’s always next week, right?
Are you familiar with the pains of “first in, last out” leadership?
Maybe you or your kids are the ones asking, “Can we go home now?” It’s true; over-commitment and a lack of boundaries by well-meaning servants cause plenty of unnecessary strain. Lots can be written about church leaders who sacrifice personal or family health on the altar of ministry. Even more can be written about children who are turned off from faith because parents or pastors chose to be poor role models.
**Spoiler Alert** Today’s blog is NOT going to tackle these issues.
However, this post might give you some practical advice to avoid the pitfalls of “first in, last out” leadership.
The Apostle Paul did a good thing telling the body of Christ about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. It was particularly wise of him to tell leaders to take their role seriously (cf. Romans 12:8). “Lead diligently” is a great guideline, but what does that mean in practical terms? Serve consistently? Be thoughtful? Stick with church through thick and thin? Help anyone and everyone? Show up early and stay late? There’s a lot of room for interpretation as to what “diligent” actually entails.
“Spoudē,” the Greek word for “diligent” used by Paul, emphasizes the importance of leading earnestly and carefully. Godly leadership requires character and devotion in action for the sake of others. For this to take root among followers, wise leaders model a “first in, last out” approach.
I recently read a book by my friends and ministry colleagues, Pat Cimo and Matt Markins. In Leading Kidmin: How to Drive Real Change in Children’s Ministry, they argue an important point:
Becoming a change agent starts with the heart of a leader … it starts with you. (Pat Cimo & Matt Markins, Leading Kidmin)
This statement by Pat and Matt stuck out to me because many years ago I worked for a church leader who led by Christ-like example – a true model of “first in, last out” leadership.
- She demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit consistently.
- She invested her time and attention in other people’s development.
- Her heart was humble and bold.
- If you needed something, anything, she had your back.
- Her work ethic was impeccable.
- Her commitment to church and family were both high priorities.
- I rarely beat her into the office or left after her at the end of the day.
- When we ran events together, she was there for the start of set-up and the conclusion of teardown.
- No task was too lowly for her … ever.
- She modeled and multiplied God-honoring leadership like no one else.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young [or whatever age you are!], but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
Every leader needs a certain level of resolve to face what needs to be faced in order to accomplish what God has called him or her to accomplish for His name’s sake. Don’t be surprised if your leadership footing feels unstable much of the time. Don’t give in to the demands of others when you know what’s right and good. Always take the high road – be an “on the level” leader even when it’s crazy hard. And when, not if, someone pulls at your shirt to leave before your job is done, stay committed to the task at hand from start to finish.
By adopting a healthy “first in, last out” leadership approach, you will be well on your way to setting a lasting example for the people in your care.
(Speaking of which … I think I’m the last one left at the office today. Time to head home!)