Leadership Relevance


Are you a relevant church leader? If you are leading people to Jesus and their lives are being changed, then you are relevant!

The discussion of relevance is like looking at a piece of classic artwork. It’s so subjective. When my wife Patti and I toured The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia a couple years ago we stood before breathtaking paintings. We saw incredible pieces from greats such as Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, and dozens more. They were magnificent.  Everyone had their own opinions but everyone also knew the greats from the also-rans.  Leadership relevance is like that.  There is much that is subjective, but ultimately everyone knows what’s working and what isn’t.

We try to package relevance and that never works. For example, I wear jeans and untuck my shirt.  But trust me, that does not make me relevant. (My 18 year old son and 20 year old daughter remind me of that fact on a consistent basis.)  You can’t buy an iPhone and become a relevant leader.  I have one of those too.

Relevance is not a product. It’s not about production. It’s not about a certain way to design your Sunday morning service. If you start using a table for your notes instead of a podium while you teach, you are not instantly relevant.  I know Billy Crystal said “Its better to look good (marvelous) than to feel good” (Saturday Night Live, Circa 1985). But remember that Crystal is a comedian. Yeah, he’s funny--that’s his job.  Some leaders would rather look good than be good. And that’s not funny.

Relevance isn’t about program or systems. We stopped calling first time guests not because “no one does that anymore” but because of the size and scope of our ministry. We stopped because of new ways to contact people online that are more effective with people who are drawn to a large church.  In smaller church environments, calling first time guests can be highly relevant.   In the case of program and systems, quality is relevant. Doing what you do extremely well at the right time with the right people is relevant.

Irrelevant leadership means what you do doesn’t matter.  Irrelevance is when you work hard and just spin your wheels. Nothing changes. That’s irrelevant. Church leader, please get this, if you are leading people to Jesus and their lives are being changed, you are relevant!

At its core relevance is about connection. There are some things that help you connect and therefore increase your relevance as a leader.  There is so much that could be said here, but let me just get things started. You can increase the list of ideas on your own.

Embrace technology.

My mom died at age 66.  That was in 1997.  While going through her papers I found that she had recently signed up to take her very first computer course. She “messed around with computers” in the travel agency she owned, but that was back in the “DOS days” and she had someone do that for her. She never really jumped in.  It just wasn’t her thing. But somehow, even in her mid to late sixties, she knew that to make a difference in business she had to become computer literate. It’s not about the computer however, it’s what you do with it.

It’s not about the iPhone. It’s what you do with it.  Leonard Sweet would say I’m an immigrant when it comes to technology.  My kids are natives.  I’ve learned how to use the tools, it’s a way of life for my kids. You don’t need an iPhone to Twitter.  As an immigrant, I didn’t jump on Twitter immediately, but when I saw how it helps me connect, I was in. I had to experience it to understand it. My kids were impressed. Although my daughter says, “Dad, you have to quit stalking me on Twitter!”  Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are!

Jump on Facebook and Twitter because it helps you connect with people. It helps you communicate. It helps you stay in touch. And you can do so at the speed of light with huge numbers of people.  That’s relevant.

Listen to young leaders.

If you are a twenty-something, this goes for you too. You need to listen to your friends and peers.

I led a small group a couple nights ago at Andrew and Jennifer’s house. They are a sharp young couple who lead a small group of about 8 couples. So there we were, all huddled in their living room after eating egg salad and tuna fish salad sandwiches. Andrew led in worship and I taught on the topic of Spiritual Gifts at their request.  We had a great time.  All that was wonderful, but the highlight of my evening was talking and mostly listening before we started.  Listening, learning.  Getting and staying connected.  That is relevant.

I recently wrote about listening to young leaders, especially those on your staff. Just because they are young doesn’t make them relevant. In fact, young leaders can be very irrelevant. But young people are the closest natural link to relevance because they are the closest connection to the future.  That is relevant.

Be really good at what you do.

I’m often asked if church choirs are relevant. Choir or no choir is not the issue. Whether or not the choir is good or bad is the issue.  If the choir is bad, it’s irrelevant!  It’s irrelevant because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t accomplish anything. No one’s life is different. In fact, a bad choir can be worse than irrelevant, it can kill a worship service.  If people cringe in your worship experience, praying for a power failure so the microphones quit working, that’s irrelevant.  On the other hand, I listen to hot choirs that truly inspire people and lives are transformed. People connect with that. That is relevant.

You can’t do everything, so do what you do really well.  Less is more. It’s better to extend your global mission efforts to one country and make a difference than fifteen countries and barely make a dent. That’s relevant. It’s better to lead a children’s ministry that the kids love and can’t wait to be there than to have cool videos and have the kids be bored. Cool videos may be part of genuine connection and relevance for you, the point I’m making is that relevance isn’t in the video, it is doing what you do well so that you connect.

Figure out who you really are.

It’s important for you personally, and for your church corporately to be self-aware, but let’s just talk about you.  Know yourself.  Be yourself. Get comfortable with that.  When people sense a genuine spirit about you they can connect with you. That is relevant. You may not be the best leader, but if people like you that’s a start.  Not everyone will like you, but people will like you best when you are yourself.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t have to grow, change and improve. We all do. I’m suggesting that it’s very difficult to grow, change and improve if you have not given yourself permission to be you. You only have so much energy. Don’t burn it all up trying to please everyone and replicate “stuff” you think is relevant.

I’m not suggesting that everything you currently do is relevant.  I am saying that one of the first key steps is to get freed-up so you don’t lose sleep worrying about what people think. Just be yourself and do your best. If you do the things that matter, and people’s lives are changed by the power of Jesus Christ in your ministry, you are relevant.

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